A few years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people can “dance [their] way to better health.” A University of Illinois at Chicago study, in partnership with the CDC’s Prevention Research Centers’ Healthy Brain Research Network, tested the effects of a Latin ballroom dance program for older sedentary adults. The study revealed that dancing can strengthen the brain in several areas. The participants reported improvements in memory and focus, in addition to it being a fun and social way to exercise.
My parents enrolled me in dance lessons at a young age because of the social aspect. I was painfully shy, and they thought the classes would help me come into my own and make friends. Sure enough, the dance studio and the stage became the places where I felt the most at home. In a roundabout way, the brain health benefits are what bring me back year after year.
I’m drawn to the mental challenge of retaining choreography and finding ways to regurgitate it with my own panache. I’m hooked on improving technique and balance, as well as merging musicality and movement. I’ve made lifelong friendships in the process. There’s another brain benefit that the article did not mention, and it’s the thing that made me fall in love with dancing—the sweet freedom and release it brings.
The thing that made me fall in love with dancing—the sweet freedom and release it brings.
I can best explain with an exercise. (Warning: This will require movement, but it’ll be worth it.) Stand up wherever you are at the moment. Plant your feet right underneath your hips. Take a deep inhale in while slightly rising on to the balls of your feet and allowing your shoulders to rise with you. As you exhale, let your heels find the floor again, press your shoulders down and soften your knees. Find weight in your arms, wiggle your toes a bit and ground yourself into the space you are occupying.
Relax and picture yourself as a strong willow tree. Your legs are resilient like its trunk. Your torso swaying and bending with your breath like branches in the wind. Your arms long and free like the leaves.
Now, move. You are your own willow tree blowing in a calm wind, dancing to the rhythm in your chest and feeling the freedom of the space around you. Perhaps, you’ll reach one arm up and the other down. Maybe you’ll alternate between bending and extending your knees and elbows.
Be silly or emotional. Sway wildly or calmly. Never mind how you look. There’s no wrong answer. Just move.
Never mind how you look. There’s no wrong answer here. Just move.
Do you feel that emotional release—the euphoric feeling of escaping while being present? That’s the brain benefit not mentioned in the article. Dancing releases endorphins that can relieve stress and boost your mood. There’s a healing quality in exercising free movement to connect your mind and body, and it’s the kind of therapy that is accessible to anyone, anytime.
During a time where human connection is controlled, dance has taken the spotlight thanks to platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Yes, I’ve been “elbow, elbow, shimmy and clap”-ed to death thanks to the “Something New Challenge” on TikTok, but I can’t help but smile when I see people of all ages, backgrounds and genders proudly and happily learning a routine, sharing their movement and inspiring others to join in. Dance is a universal language.
I can’t help but smile when I see people of all ages, backgrounds and genders proudly and happily learning a routine.
Learn the TikTok challenges. Blast some music and dance it out in your living room. Sway in the wind like a willow tree. Just move. You will feel so alive.
What is your favorite style of dance? How does dancing positively affect you?
Images via Shagari Gerard Jackson