Why Dance? Guest post by Mary Fitzgibbon, Creative Arts Therapist
If you ask people why they dance, you will often get such answers as:
"I love dancing because it’s fun and it makes me feel good"
"When I broke up with my partner, I took up dancing to get out and meet people"
"I love the connection" or
"I love to express myself through dance"
These positive feelings are due to systems in our brain and body that activate and release beneficial chemicals during dancing. Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin and Endorphins are the chemicals responsible for inducing feelings of happiness and euphoria.
Dopamine is related to motivation and fulfilment through achieving goals. Having a higher level of Dopamine increases our sense of self-esteem and enthusiasm.
Serotonin is responsible for making us feel significant and valued. These feelings develop when people are part of a community or group that they feel connected to, such as the dance community. Being part of the dance community provides a sense of belonging, grants opportunities to meet new people and make meaningful connections.
Oxytocin supports feelings of intimacy, trust and strengthens relationships and social bonding. Oxytocin is known as "the cuddle hormone,” so there is no surprise that partner dancing is great for elevating feelings of connection, Kizomba being the clear winner here due to its close embrace and playful nature.
Endorphins are released as a result of body movement. E.g. Exercising. They help alleviate pain as they diminish your pain perception and provide you with an extra boost of energy. Endorphins help with fighting depression, encourage relaxation and assist in feelings of comfort. We all need a bit of that!
In addition to the release of these happy hormones, there are many physical benefits to dance, such as improvement to flexibility, balance, coordination and agility as well as muscular strength, tone and endurance.
Studies have shown, more so than any other activity, that frequent dancing aids in keeping the brain active and healthy. This reduces brain deterioration and subsequent illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Dancing is undoubtedly beneficial physically, cognitively, psychological, socially and spiritually. The points I have introduced are just the beginning of an enormous list of the benefits dancing introduced to people’s lives, discussing them all may lead to this becoming an essay. However, what interests me the most as a therapist is the connection, communication and healing that can be created through dance.
Kinaesthetic Empathy can be created when you have shared movement. Shared movement is when when people mirror each other’s movements which activates our "mirror neurons". These form the basis for empathy and compassion between people, which in turn creates connection.
In a dance class, the music starts and, as the beat and the rhythm are infectious, they set the tone for synchronised movement. When the warm up begins, the instructor progresses through a set of movements and the participants will follow, mirroring the instructor. Bam! A sense of connection has now been activated in your brain. From there, more opportunities for connection continue to develop as the participants work on mirroring the movements of the instructor. This group of dancers develop a sense of cohesion and connection through a set of simple few movements, and over time transforms into friendships and community.
You might be thinking “yes, great... what’s the big deal?” The big deal is that in our society there are a multitude of people experiencing a sense of isolation and loneliness. The increasing number of incidents around depression, anxiety and stress are alarming, yet there is a very simple and effective way to help resolve these social issues, dance.
The benefits of frequent dance have been known since long before modern dance.
Indigenous people all over the world have intrinsically known this, they did not need to study science to be convinced of the benefits. It's a fundamental part of indigenous life and community since it is a natural and effective way to be healthy - physically, cognitively, psychologically, socially and spiritually.
So please, do yourself a favour and start dancing. What you will find, is that you may enter feeling flat and lethargic, but you will leave feeling naturally energised by the healing power of dance.
Mary Fitzgibbon - Creative Arts Therapist