Clinical psychologist by day, jive teacher by night

At Virgin, life is about more than what you do between the hours of nine and five on a weekday. Vikki Barnes, Clinical Psychologist, People Experience Team at Virgin Care, shares her twin passions – modern jive and positive psychology.

When I moved to Devon in 2008 for my doctorate, I didn’t know anybody and I decided I needed to do something to be sociable and meet people. I’ve always loved dancing, but I just didn’t know how to do it properly. So I found a modern-jive class, went along and fell in love with it instantly. I thought, yes, this is going to be a big part of my life.

As well as my regular weekly dance session, I started to go to national events called ‘weekenders’. You go to workshops all day long and every night there’s freestyle dancing. I met somebody at one of these events and we really clicked on the dance floor.

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He asked if I wanted to help him teach jive, and that was one of my first forays into teaching. I became a demonstrator for him, which means you’re on stage going through the moves with the teacher to show the dancers what to do.

I got a bit of a taste for teaching and began to get noticed. I started to get opportunities and it snowballed.

I wanted to speak on stage too, so I got a microphone, and eventually a local dancer and I started to teach together. I’ve done workshops and classes at weekenders in London, Manchester, Llandudno, Dublin – and even the Canary Islands.

I’m quite determined and I like to be good at what I do. When I went to that very first dance class I thought I would love to be on stage teaching at some point. It’s not like I had this mega plan and forced my way into it, I just thought it looked like loads of fun. It took a long time, but if you’re really dedicated to something, it happens. It’s the same with my job. My background is in clinical psychology, and I started out in the NHS in a range of settings, including children’s services, adult mental health, neuropsychology services and older adults. I joined Virgin Care when the company was successful in their bid for NHS children’s services in Devon about four years ago.

Throughout my career I became increasingly passionate about positive psychology and pursued my interest in the subject outside my day-to-day clinical work, which has paid off.

My role now is to embed positive psychology into Virgin Care as an organisation. I’m developing training packages to help our colleagues enhance their resilience and remain optimistic, because a lot of people at Virgin Care have really complex emotional jobs and sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated and positive at work. So now, instead of working with a caseload of up to 20 children and families, as I used to in a clinical setting, I now have the potential to work with more than 7,500 colleagues at Virgin Care, helping them to be their best selves at work every day. Hopefully, I can make change happen on a more global level. That’s the way I see it.

Work is intense and I don’t do things by halves, so I love having dancing as another part of my life – another side of me where I let myself go. 

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Dancing keeps you fit but it gives you a lot of injuries as well. Your feet, ankles and toes have to become very resilient. Jive dancing in particular can be really fast paced and there can be some crazy moves. You have to be quite robust.

But when you dance you’re just in this flow. Nothing else is going on in the world and all your troubles fly away. I don’t think about anything else when I’m doing it. That’s a real incentive to go, even if I’m shattered and I’m travelling around with work. If I’m at home, or even if I’m in London, I’ll find a dance class and just go.

You can dance anywhere. It attracts a mix of people from 16 to 96. It breaks down barriers. Everybody’s there just being happy and wanting to have a good time. There’s no other agenda. It’s how the world should be.

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