Dance and Emotion

By Mary Evans Simler

There has been much research over the effect of dance on the brain. Dance can increase memory; dance can help prevent Dementia and Alzheimer’s; dance helps decrease stress, and improves positive feelings. Dancing is good for the heart, the lungs, and the muscles. Dancing is one of the best full body workouts you can do. All of this is true, but it is also so much more. Dancing is a “full body workout,” mind, body and soul.
Take the mind: A 2001 study of 469 senior citizens (75 years and older) was conducted to see if physical and mental activities influenced mental acuity; dancing beat out other activities with a whopping 76% reduced risk of dementia. Dancing uses parts of the brain in a different way. It takes extreme focus to learn a new step or routine . Exercise the mind even further by adding beats and rhythm to maintain, and finally add in traffic maneuvering skills from a crowded dance floor. Dance is like a moving puzzle that is always changing and keeping its players on their toes. In teaching kids, dance can help with understanding math skills, increasing problem solving, and boosting their alertness and ability to focus.
How about the body? Dancing requires balance, working all the small muscles in your core as you maintain balance with a partner or control a spin. Increase arm strength as you hold a frame or add embellishments to your movement. Dancing works the muscles in your legs in all your movement and increases flexibility. As a person with Degenerative Arthritis, dance helps me stay active and keeps my joints loose. It is low impact so a good workout for all body types, and whether moving slow or fast it will improve your breathing, increase lung capacity and give you a great cardio workout (see all the Zumba classes across the country).
Dancing is excellent for the soul! Over my 18+ years of teaching dance I think this is the part that stands out the most. Confidence is the biggest boost I see. People, kids and adults, come in to learn dance. Maybe they don’t feel prepared or ready, maybe it feels like a challenge, but ultimately it is something they accomplish. It can build confidence, from just learning something new to performing your skills to a group of people. I have seen extremely shy kids begin asking others to dance, chat with someone new, and volunteer to demonstrate skills for others to learn. People learn to be leaders and learn to work with others. Also good for your soul is the happiness dance can bring. It is almost impossible to learn a new step or sequence in a dance, lead or follow a partner, listen to the music, and still think about the rough day you had at work. Dancing has been shown to dramatically improve the mood of a depressed person. With the endorphin rush of exercise, the social connection and the music, dancing is good therapy!
Dancing is a great addition to your daily life. Find the dance that suits you, there is at least one for everyone. Think of the music you like to listen to for a start, then find a style that uses that music. Or just go out and try different dances and places until you find your bliss. Bellingham has so much to offer in terms of dance, so go on Dance Your Happy!

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