FOCUSING ON THAT DANCING
It’s the time of year when many will be having their annual reconnection with moving the old bod in time, or nearly, to music. Making an impression on the dance floor at annual gatherings, office parties, Christmas and New Year festivities. Maybe they feel that this is the only opportunity that they have for this particular activity.
There are many who look uncomfortable on the dance floor, possibly being ‘persuaded’ to join in. They may envy those whose movements are fluid, appropriate to the music and carried out with either a huge grin or a look of totally being in the zone – they are dancing as if nobody is watching, or they are perfectly happy for others to bear witness to their skills.
For some, dance forms an essential part of their lives - ranging from street dance or zumba to the far more sedate tea dances. Whilst for others, a regular dose of salsa, line dancing, ceilidhs appear in their diaries.
There may be those who feel excluded from attending such happenings as they don’t have a partner with whom to dance, but so many can be danced as a part of a group, so not necessary. I went to a wedding in Sri Lanka some years ago. The groom was the best known singer on the island and the music was fabulous provided by his group, joined on stage by another. It was a wonderful mix of Sri Lankan and western music. The only problem was that traditionally, only the men danced. Only the men drank – copious amounts of whisky. As the only westerners present, the bride’s sister placed wine and champagne on our table stating that just because they couldn’t drink, they didn’t want to inflict their beliefs on us. A combination of the wine and music and feeling great wearing a sari for the first time, I was moving in time to the music in my seat. The groom’s mother came over, asked if I liked dancing – let’s break the rules – and took me to the dance floor – along with my daughter-in-law and her mum. We then found out one possible reason for the women not joining in. The men saw it as an opportunity for much fondling, touching and even a bit of pinching! It became a bit like a dodgem ride at the fair. Avoiding the most blatant fondlers in order to enjoy the music and dance. They do say that dance unites people and gives them a common language even when their spoken languages may be different. I am not quite sure that this was the case here. The bruises on my behind the next morning bore witness to the fact that I had suffered for my dance.
I have zumba’d and danced at ceilidhs and have friends who regularly line dance – and many women, as described by Joyce Grenfell many moons ago, dance ‘bust to bust’ at the afore mentioned tea dances due to a dearth of male attendees. There certainly wasn’t a dearth of men at that wedding, though I was wishing some of them were at the other end of the island.
WHAT BENEFITS DOES DANCE OFFER TO US?
Researchers in Sweden have looked into how dancing can help with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. OK, the study only involved 100 teenage females struggling with anxiety and/or depression, so would benefit from being followed up by a larger none gender specific study covering as many age ranges as possible. However it did show that ‘the girls who took the dance classes improved their mental health and reported a boost in their mood. These positive effects lasted up to eight months after the dance classes ended. The researchers concluded dance could result in a very positive experience for participants and could potentially contribute to sustained new healthy habits.’
There is more research taking place into the neuroscience of dancing as a Psychology Today article reports, even though this is a relatively new field. Researchers are endeavouring to find out just how dancing can change and benefit the human brain. Maybe it will be more widely recommended by medics as a form of therapy which, as far as I am concerned, can only be a plus.
Probably more readily recognised is that dancing improves the health of our cardio vascular system, co-ordination and balance as well as muscle strength – and in some cases, flexibility. These improvements having been found to happen across all age ranges. The same Mindwise article reports that ‘Teens aren’t the only ones who can dance their way to mental health. Senior adults (and adults of all ages) can reap the benefits too. A small group of senior adults, ages 65-91, was recently studied in North Dakota. After taking 12 weeks of Zumba (a dance fitness class), the seniors reported improved moods and cognitive skills. Not to mention increased strength and agility.’
As the previous research pointed out, improves mental health. It has a feel-good factor which lifts the mood, especially important for many during the darker, often isolating days of winter. It’s enjoyable and a counterbalance to that social loneliness. As with other activities, once that first step – or dance step – is taken, it will become easier to get out and to a class as the incentives will outweigh the reluctance and possible initial shyness or concerns about fitting in or ‘being good enough’.
If dancing with a partner – previously know or not – we can learn to trust that partner and take or follow a lead. A process which helps develop a more positive confidence in yourself and therefore a more positive self-esteem. Memories of my Dad here. When my Mum died, he went round to tell a friend whose husband had died a couple of years previously. They went on to meet each Saturday evening. Clarice prepared a meal and Dad took a selection of his vinyl LP’s and they waltzed, fox trotted and even managed a quick step with the furniture pushed well back. How they both missed those evenings when they could no longer drive.
Chair dancing is being introduced into residential homes where mobility may be limited, or residents are confined to a wheelchair. The upper body is moved and exercised to music – often with singing thrown in for good measure especially if some of the ‘oldies’ are used. It enables those who may spend a good part of their days sitting next to others but not communicating with them to take part in an interactive group activity. Socialising that may not otherwise happen. Hopefully a lifting of mood takes place, enabling a more positive outlook on their current circumstances, plus, if the ‘oldies’ are used there will be a mind wandering back to happier, more healthy times and a rekindling of those precious memories,
WHAT OF SOLOISTS?
I am not thinking of prima ballerinas here, rather those who would not choose to go to a class, for whatever reason.
You don’t have to go beyond your door to enjoy the physical and emotional advantages of dancing. OK, you do dip out on the social side, but two out of three isn’t bad.
I have a few different dance play lists that I like to use. They include some slower and some faster numbers. I sing, I dance, I stretch, I reach my arms up to increase my heart rate, I move slowly, I move quickly. I usually choose to dance bare footed, with a furry feline giving me one of those ‘What on earth are you doing NOW sort of looks.’ There are one or two tracks that were used in the aerobics classes that I used to attend at the gym and I automatically go into the movements that used to accompany the tracks and work through a good chunk of the routine. I guess that the previous practice has allowed my muscle memory to click in, supported by digging around in my remaining grey cells, so hopefully if I dance regularly both my body and my brain will benefit. I know it always makes me feel good and provides a break from sedentary writing or working with my counselling, hypnotherapy clients.
Sometimes my mind just switches off from more serious things, yet at others, it seems to hone in on ideas that I may have been struggling with. This seeming to happen without any specific pointing it in that direction. I just go with the flow without forcing either option to click in. Either way, the good old happy hormones click in and the stress hormones are kicked into touch. I guess the icing on the cake would be a dancing buddy. No reason why this shouldn’t be so – for me, or for anybody else who doesn’t choose to go out to classes.
My current dancing is a far cry from the many tap and ballet lessons I attended as a child and the aerobics classes of more recent years. However, it serves the same purpose and is appropriate for me at present. It is probably closer to the expressive dance that we did on my teaching course. However, I can actually be quite creative following the lead of the music and unrestrained by eyes other than those of my cat! I am able to lose my inhibitions and express myself – so long as I don’t dance when the postman or bin men are due!
Hopefully, as suggested by Peter Lovatt of the Dance Psychology Unit at The University of Hertfordshire, the dancing is helping my brain to find new ways of thinking and creates new neural circuits.
WATCHING AND DOING
I love to watch dance – especially ballet and I am hooked on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. I miss it when a series has drawn to a close and the winner holds the glitter ball aloft. I also love to dance and fling myself around as if nobody is watching. I will continue to do so especially as there are claims that by doing so, I am supporting my brain to age more slowly. A piece of research that I hope rings true for me.
If you are a party dancer only and haven’t tried dancing for health, go on, give it a go. There are plenty of options available for you to choose from. Support the well-being of your body and your mind at one fell swoop and get the happy hormones flowing as the icing on your cake. Enjoy.
As Oprah Winfrey said – ‘Every day brings a chance for you to draw in a breath, kick off your shoes, and dance.’
Guided visualisation for relaxation, tracks for therapeutic support or specific issues, positive affirmations – both written and spoken.Get Downloads
I offer therapy and treatments for a range of issues. I work with individuals and couples for counselling.View Treatments