Dance and Your Brain's Health
Dance is a patterned movement initiated by your brain...
Your brain sends a message to your arm, leg, head, foot, etc..., to move on a particular count, beat, back beat, or syncopated rhythm, at a particular speed, for an assigned duration of time. Movement is enjoyed spontaneously (such as dancing at a party or at a wedding), or purposely (such as dancing in a group class where choreography is memorized and recall is practiced).
Regardless of the intention, dance is an excellent workout and a great way to do something fun with others. Dance, as an activity, adds to both physiological health and social well-being; but, dance in particular also benefits your brain's health. Did you know that?
Brain health has to do with the brain’s ability to learn and use recall, organize and plan, problem solve, focus, and remain mentally clear. Doctors tell us that as we age, our brain health changes too, as does our cognitive functions and that good nutrition, and exercise can help slow this process. But, scientific research provides proof to the claim that dance in particular improves brain health... and yet we still think about dance as something children do until they reach a certain age, and then they stop, and we as adults are too old to start learning.
Physiologically, dance elevates the mood, brings oxygen to the lungs, and expands the restricted range of motion we settle for during our daytime “sit, stand, sit” routines, and dance strengthens the body’s muscles and bones. Neurologically, dance increases alertness, reduces fatigue, and improves cognitive function. The process of learning dance steps (coordination and movement), remembering those dance steps, and recalling choreography quickly, is itself good for brain health.
Why would we ever limit ourselves when it comes to something as good for us as this? Because we forget what it is like to learn something new.
Learning and The Brain
Most of us are, in fact, inclined to think of dance as something you start as a child, and continue if you’re good at it. The irony is that you become better at the things you take time to study and practice. Dance is no different. The student at any age needs time to learn the movement, and then needs additional time to allow the brain to recall that movement, over and over again (practice), until the movement feels natural, and becomes refined. Given enough time and interest, I believe that we are capable of mastering any movement. However, most people give up before this becomes possible.
So… Why not start taking a dance class? Why not join a salsa class or a line dancing class? I know why. I know exactly what goes through your mind when you think about taking a dance class.
I know there is, or will be, an internal argument you have with yourself regarding funds, spending the time driving to/from (and during), what clothes to wear, whether or not you will know anyone, that you aren’t good enough, and that you shouldn’t go because you won’t look good… I know because similar thoughts go through my head when I look at taking a Zumba class and yes, I am a trained dancer. I feel anxiety right before I take a Zumba class. I also feel anxiety right before I take a jazz class, or a modern class. But then the class starts, and my mind becomes focused, and my body thanks me, and I feel joy... for days. The reality of taking a dance class is this: it will never be anything like the fear you have in your head.
Bottom line: if you wouldn’t discourage a child to take a dance class, then don’t tell yourself things that you are telling yourself about taking a class as an adult. Dancing brings joy to people and builds communities. Dance is also scientifically shown to be good for your brain, and now you know this!
Dance and Parkinson’s Disease (PD)
I want to mention this because many people do not know that dance is making huge strides in serving this community, and dancing is bringing back a quality of life that this community deserves.
Medical doctors have measured the effects of dance on brain health over the past decade and the results conclude that dance can help patients living with Parkinson’s Disease. Since dance is a visual art, I have included two short YouTube video links below so that you can see for yourself the effect dance has on patients with PD (I do not own the rights to either video and am using them for educational purposes only). I could never describe properly what you will see for yourself.
The first video summarizes a study that Stanford University conducted on the benefits of dance in patients with PD (and they are continuing their research on this). The findings are very promising. The second video was published by PBS NewsHour in 2010 (I included the year to give a better understanding of how long dance has been helping this community).
It is remarkable how much dance changes the lives of so many humans, and yet we continue to think of dance as being something for children, and something for children to do until they hit high school, or maybe until they stop advancing as quickly as they or you want them to. I am challenging this. I say that dance is good for everyone, and that children should be taught that dance is a lifelong lifestyle that, once learned, should be practiced during the course of a lifetime.
Taking a Chance on Dance
Dance is for everyone, at every age, and it benefits the mind as well as the body. Please let the connection of brain health and dance be the take away from the information I have presented to you. Talk to people about this too. There are 60,000 newly diagnosed cases of PD annually (http://www.pdf.org/parkinson_statistics), and dance is helping give some life back to this group of individuals. This disease is also one that isolates the patient; it is a tough disease. Dance brings people together to do two things: live in the moment, and move together in harmony. The proof is there. If dance is this beneficial to communities living with disease, be confident that it aids in slowing down the process of declining cognitive function as well. It also brings joy... for days.
Before starting any dance program, consult with your doctor. All forms of dance can be modified to include everyone at every level. And, like any new skill, it takes some time. Most of you, at some point, wanted to dance. There is no better time than now.