Whether you’re 60 or six years old, or whether you’re a professional dancer or just like to move on the dance floor, engaging in physical activities that involve dance can give your brain and mood a big boost. Dancing makes you feel good because it makes you feel alive. It’s also something you can enjoy at any point in your life, no matter what your ability.
Dancing of any kind combines physical exercise with the positive power of music and social engagement. Together, these yield major mental-health and brain benefits. Dance is increasingly used as therapy for developmental disorders like Down’s Syndrome, mood disorders such as depression, and neurological disorders as in the case of schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and dementia.
The social element is another big draw to dancing. It’s been scientifically proven that dancing helps with social bonding. The synchrony involved in dancing to a beat along with other people is a powerful way for humans to connect. It brings people into a social space where they can work together on a mutually enjoyable activity.
From better physical and mental health to a boost in emotional and social well-being, moving your body to the sound of music can transform your life.
Here are some of the specific benefits of dancing.
Dance is both a physical and an emotional release. Studies show that dance movements can allow you to escape and let loose, which helps your mental and emotional health by reducing stress, decreasing the symptoms of anxiety and depression, improving the sense of serenity, and boosting self-esteem.
Boosting cognitive performance and lowering dementia risk:
Dancing uniquely combines stimulation from physical and mental effort, as well as social interaction. Research shows that dancing can maintain and even boost your ability to think as you age. Scientists have found that the areas of the brain that control memory and skills, such as planning and organising, improve with exercises like dance.
Making you happy:
When you get social, you also feel happy. Dance can provide an exceptional way for you to relate to others on both a physical and emotional level. You don’t have to speak out loud to create connections with other people. Whether you join a ballroom or belly-dancing class, dance with friends, or get shaking with your kids or grandchildren, being around other people and laughing and chatting while dancing is good for your social and emotional health.
Improving balance and strength:
Dance requires complex cognitive coordination and functioning. It incorporates movements on all planes of motion and from all directions, which turn on and condition the muscles. This type of movement increases strength and improves balance through rhythm and music.
Activating the brain’s reward centres:
Dancing causes the release of feel-good neurochemicals such as endorphins in the brain. If combined with music, it activates the primal reward centres in the brain and activates the hippocampus, the part of the brain primarily responsible for the emotions and memory. The brain power you need to access for dance requires you to focus on both constant changes of movement and recalling moves and patterns. This is an excellent form of mental exercise, regardless of age.
Improving cardiovascular health:
All styles of dance make for great cardio workouts since your heart rate gets challenged from executing the different moves.
Teaching the language of movement:
Movement and rhythm come naturally to children, and the artistic side of dance gives them the opportunity to learn to speak the language of movement. Dance also helps them to learn discipline, because they have to memorise and execute specific steps and body movements that require practice and perseverance. They also learn teamwork by having to work with other dancers towards a common goal, which translates to many other areas in life.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.