Maybe you were that kid hiding in the corner of the room in the middle of dance class, willing the clock to tick faster. Or maybe you were the one vying for the coveted center spot to ensure the teacher’s eyes were on you. Or maybe you were just the one there for a good time with friends while your parents really stuck you in class to burn off that extra energy. Regardless, if this scenario sounds familiar, you are someone who found themselves in a dance class, either at a young age or later on in life. Maybe you never realized it, but the psychological, physical and emotional benefits of dance were implanted and had lasting effects. As time has gone on and science has improved, the data demonstrating the positive impacts of dance is more than enough to get you into dancing now whether you’re three years old and just getting started, or much older and looking for a new, stimulating activity.
Children are natural movers, this skill is developed before language. Children move in such a way because they’re excited, or angry, or any other emotion they are unable to articulate with words. This scenario often leads to dance class. On the physical side, dance has profound effects on children. With all of the jumping, turning and other physical demands, heart and lung capacity greatly increase, along with improvements in muscular strength and endurance. This translates to other areas of life as well, like playing with friends at recess or trying to pass the physical fitness test during gym class. However, unlike other activities, dance is a full-body form of expression with a greater range of motion, coordination and strength. It’s also no surprise that flexibility vastly improves through dance, which in turn helps prevent injuries caused by outside activities involving muscles that are overdeveloped and are too tight, often lacking pliability. Additionally, the ability to balance is further developed, which is incredibly beneficial in young children to prevent accidents. The physical benefits of dance in children are endless, and the healthier we are as children, the greater possibility we have in carrying those lessons into adolescence and later adulthood.
Dance focuses on body movement and emotional expression, which in turn helps reduce levels of depression on psychometric measures.
Aside from the countless physical benefits of dance in children, the mental benefits must also be noted. Dance is dominated by counts and full body movement, including both left and right sides of the body. Here is where children learn the basics- counting to the music and learning how to do an entire combination on the right side while not neglecting the left in an attempt to develop both sides of the body at the same rate. Another major structural aspect of a dance class includes knowing how to navigate space. It’s not acceptable to continually bump into other dancers, therefore, it’s learned early on that we as dancers can move freely, fully, and openly within the confines of our individual space. This idea directly relates to building social skills and relationships. Did you crash into your friend during that jump combination? How do you rectify the situation? Even in the youngest of children, this is the prime learning opportunity to apologize, move on, and try to avoid the same mistake in the future. This is also the time children learn to follow directions, respect authority, and develop self discipline. Do you want to improve and reach your maximum potential, while still having fun with friends in class? Discipline and respect will get you there- two life skills that carry on as we age.
The Bartenieff Fundamentals are part of dance somatics that mimic the development of movement in children. These Fundamentals focus on movement integration and harmony, while creating functional, expressive and efficient movement experiences. The practice dives deep into why and how the body is moving instead of simply just moving it. Athletes, actors, dancers, and musicians have all reaped the benefits of injury reduction, improvement in expression and an overall increase in physicality by engaging in the practice. An idea that began and focuses on the development of children continues to carry far into our adult lives.
As we get older, dance remains as valuable as ever, and more importantly, you never “age out” of the opportunity to begin dancing. If you’re one of the millions seeking a better quality of life through neurological, physical and emotional improvement, then dance class is waiting for you at any stage of your life.
On a smaller scale if a traditional dance class seems intimidating, “power posing” may be a good place to start. According to Harvard University psychologist Amy Cuddy, “postural feedback,” or the way we hold our bodies, can influence our emotional states and self assessments. Mimicking one of the common five power poses can increase our feelings of strength and decrease our feelings of fear, which is why powerful people are often the ones performing these poses for up to two minutes at a time for optimal results. It is recommended to engage in power posing before interviews and other high stress situations to help boost confidence and positive mental health symptoms overall. While this may not be dancing in the traditional sense, it’s a beneficial way to introduce movement into your life to experience the positive benefits without feeling overwhelmed in a dance setting.
Don’t be afraid to pick up dance later in life because there is more and more evidence proving that dance has positive impacts on the brain. For people suffering from depression, the most common form of treatment is medication combined with therapy. Dance might be the uncommon beneficiary that can help alleviate symptoms of depression, in the sense that movement is medicine. Dance focuses on body movement and emotional expression, which in turn helps reduce levels of depression on psychometric measures. If putting on your favorite song and committing to that three minutes of feel-good rhythms can help combat the overwhelming feelings associated with depression, then it’s certainly worth exploring.
On the contrary, dancers have the reputation of becoming obsessive, and the industry can wreak havoc on a person’s mental health. With the constant comparisons and self deprecating to strive for improvement, dance can potentially lead some down a dark path. Society can tend to focus on this aspect of the dance community, however, there is a reason why we dance in the first place- to bring joy; and that is not to be overlooked. While it is important to note the negative impacts dance can potentially have on a person’s mental state, that cannot completely overshadow the positive benefits on the human brain.
For people even older, dance supports motor abilities, intellectual and emotional brain function, which is also called Dance Movement Therapy (DMT). This idea is based on the concept that movement can be communicative and expressive as well as a well utilized assessment tool to evaluate how the mind and body are interconnected. Therefore, through dance movement therapy, a specialist can look at a person’s movements and assess their emotional state, enabling them to contribute to the treatment of mental health problems.
From a young age, many dancers are constantly working on their craft, refining their movement vocabulary and working their muscle memory to its maximum potential. In turn, dance has been found to boost memory. Studies have shown that dance is linked to a reduced risk of dementia. A study of over 469 people over the age of 75 indicated that “dancing was the only physical activity associated with a lower risk of dementia.” Dancing also improves cerebral health, specifically the cognitive function involving spatial memory. The study also suggests that maintaining an active lifestyle into old age can preserve motor, cognitive and perceptual abilities; so football may be out of reach, but we are never too old to simply dance and move our bodies.
There is a reason why we dance in the first place- to bring joy.
Dance doesn’t have to only take place in a studio. It can be done in your kitchen, bedroom, backyard, bathroom. If you are someone who is interested in taking that next step for some absolute beginner classes, there are countless opportunities to get your dancing feet wet in any and every style out there. Online platforms, like DancePlug, are offering virtual classes of all styles and levels to keep dancers moving even during the pandemic. Regardless of your ability or experience, there is a class, teacher and community out there for you.
There’s a reason why when we get good news we jump up and down or do a little jig. Dance is inherently in our souls as human beings. It’s a universal language that bridges barriers and provides a little light in the world. The physical, emotional and psychological benefits of dance are more than enough to get you into class, but if that’s too much too soon, play your favorite song, sway a little, and maybe it’ll brighten your day a bit.