Dancing away stress!
Roman Tolstokorov is a final year Psychology/Criminology student who came to study in Coventry from Lithuania.
If there ever was an example of how ‘the Coventry way’ has influenced our students, then Roman is a prime candidate.
The well-being of a student is something that Roman is passionate about. Talking to him coming to the end of his final year, and probably the most stressful time for a student, you couldn’t meet a more relaxed person. Why? Because his philosophy is to dance away the stress!
There is nothing better than a Salsa beat to beat away the exam blues.
Before he came to Coventry, Roman had already been a world-traveller, thanks to his love of dance. As a professional street dancer, he has taken part in World and European championships and in the heats for the Eurovision Song contest in Luthuania, so it was no surprise that parallel to his studies, Roman would find room for dancing.
“My dancing has taken me around the world and I’m extremely fortunate to have been to so many places and met so many interesting people,” said Roman.
“I am a firm believer in making the most of any opportunity that comes my way because every experience in life makes you into a more rounded individual and able to cope with most situations. However, in a world where more and more young people are experiencing mental health problems, not everyone has a stress outlet like dance, like I do, and this concerns me”.
Roman has made the most of his time in Coventry. He created the Criminology Society in his second year and organised a lot of interesting events, such as crime nights and an impressive guest speaker programme where different topics were discussed and debated. However, the pressure of fitting everything in around his studies meant that he could not be as active in the society and concentrated a lot more on his studies in his final year.
It was Roman’s need to help with mental health awareness which led him to focus on students’ well-being and he became heavily involved with the well-being community within the SU:
“Young people are under so much pressure, especially at University. It is hard sometimes for them to admit that they need help because mental health is still seen, sadly, as a stigma and I want students to be able to talk about their problems and not feel they have to cope alone.
“My coping mechanism is dance. That is why when I came to Coventry, I found a Salsa dance class to attend. Every Thursday night, I go to the Polish Community Centre and I find it an incredible stress-buster. The positive energy I get from it is such a stimulant. If I’ve had a stressful day, or I’m on the eve of a manic few days, I know that after a dance session, I can tackle anything. Not only is it great for my mental health, but for my physical health as well.”
As Roman was new to Coventry when he arrived, the dancing classes also increased his social skills, his communications skills and even his special awareness!
“It is amazing how many positive things you can get from a weekly dance class and you meet so many interesting people, young and old. We have an elderly couple who come to the class and they are so full of life and move around the dance floor like a young couple. They are amazing,” said Roman.
It is not just dancing that triggers Roman’s need to help others, but it was his placement year at a Psychiatric clinic in Lithuania which totally captured his imagination on how to help young people with mental health issues, especially ones with suicidal tendencies:
“I cannot stress enough the importance of doing a placement year as a student. It was the best move I ever made. The path to get there wasn’t an easy one as I had a mix-up with my Erasmus plans, so I spent a lot of time frantically trying to find a clinic that would take me on as a volunteer. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to get one.”
The volunteering experience that Roman gained from the clinic exposed him to new ideas and interesting and varied ways of tackling mental health, especially suicide prevention.
Roman said: “In my High School (gymnasium) I was educating students about suicide awareness and why it is important. This led to the idea that we needed a prevention programme in my hometown, which at first I had to initiate alone.
“When I proposed it to people working in the Council House they were initially reluctant, so I had to go directly to the Mayor and thankfully, he agreed to it.
“We gathered professionals working in a related field and had an official meeting. I invited the head of the Suicide Prevention Bureau in Lithuania to present the current prevention scheme and help us work on it.
“I must admit, I was extremely humbled that my thoughts on how to support young people with mental health issues were adopted by other schools and the local authority. I think it is because I am young myself and have experienced stresses and strains of everyday life that I can relate to students and let them know that it is all right to ask for help. You’re not going to be judged by needing someone to talk to when the going gets tough and I’d rather they talked to someone than take their own life because they felt unable to share their feelings.
“We live in a society where failure is not an option and I want to be able to tell young people that sometimes failing at something is not the end of the world. There are other ways in which you can tackle things without getting in a state about it – we all need a coping mechanism but we shouldn’t put so much pressure on young people without giving them the support they need when things don’t turn out how they expect”.
The mental health of young people and how to prevent suicide is the basis of Roman’s dissertation and he hopes that some of the ideas, theories and practice will come in useful one day when he goes on to do his Masters.
“I would ideally like Coventry University to take on board some of my suggestions on ways to help young people and maybe fit it within the induction programme.
“We recently had a mental health awareness week in Coventry and I was really impressed with the organisations that came in to talk about their work; Papyrus (The Suicide Prevention Charity) in particular.
“These amazing people volunteer their spare time to help others. Having someone to talk to at the end of the phone when you are in the depths of despair is a lifeline for some people and I want students to be able to have that support whenever the need it. To be able to catch them before they fall is something I feel very strongly about.”
Although Roman wants to go on to do his Masters, he thinks he would likely do it on a part-time basis to enable him to carry on working and do more volunteering work at psychiatric clinics:
“I do not want to take myself out of the loop and stop learning and having real-life experience, which is what doing a full-time Masters would cause me to do. I gained so much from my placement at the clinic, that I feel I would learn so much more by carrying on with that alongside my studies.
In the meantime, we know where to find Roman, especially on a Thursday night and if you think that Salsa could help you too, you’re more than welcome to join him!
The classes take place at the Polish Community Centre, Springfield Road, CV1 4GR every Thursday from 8 – 10.15pm and this is followed by social dancing until 11.30pm
You can also find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SalsaCoventryPage/
It could just be what you need to dance away the stress of student life!
If you are interested in volunteering and would like to know more about the opportunities available at Coventry University, please visit the CUSU volunteering web page at: https://www.cusu.org/coventry/opportunities/volunteering/