What first springs to mind when you hear the word “dance”? The excitement of dancing to an irresistible beat? Embarrassing memories of showing yourself up on a dance floor? Or ballet lessons as a child? Or maybe you think more of films like Billy Elliot. Of the chorus line in musicals, or of the Strictly phenomenon.
As more and more people recognize the impact of the arts on wellbeing, dance is one of the fastest growing forms of “arts for wellbeing”. So why and how might it be particularly helpful?
The more physical and mental health are seen as interdependent, the more dance for wellbeing will continue to grow. Dance is a flexible form of exercise – different dance forms require more or less fitness, energy and stamina than others. Dance can improve physical confidence for people of all ages – research has shown benefits for older people and for people who have Parkinson’s disease. Various dance initiatives for people with Parkinson’s can improve balance and flexibility when people may be unsteady and stiff. Dance can help with overall fitness and with weight loss. It can be an intense workout, but it can also be a gentler and more gradual way of taking exercise. An average fitness routine of stretching and bending might soon become boring, but dance is more fun. Music adds motivation and stimulus and sets pace. As you dance, you may start to feel more supple and responsive so that moving in time to the music becomes instinctive. Dance is interactive. Even if you dance alone, you are interacting with the music. It’s more memorable and responsive than simply listening: this way you connect more with the beat and rhythm and feel part o the music.
Dance is multi-sensory: hearing music, feeling the floor or ground beneath your feet and seeing movement. Dancing outdoors adds more – nature sounds, air and sun , trees and grass. All this stimulates the mind and lifts mood. And dancing outdoors is a growing trend. I recently heard about Dance Free, an initiative arranging outdoor dancing in Lincolnshire in cooperation with One You, a community health body. There are one-off and regular events in locations across the county, some on the beach. Participants wear headsets, so to passers-by it must look like they are dancing in silence! Another idea I came across was ballroom dancing in parks in Japan. Outdoor dancing has become popular partly because there’s less likelihood of contracting Covid, but also because it feels more relaxed and is an opportunity to experience nature. But some people prefer dancing indoors, where they feel less conspicuous. There are all different possibilities.
Sometimes impacts differ across dance styles. Ballet could be very mindful because you need to focus and concentrate on particular steps – so too could ballroom dancing. Country and line dancing can be very cooperative, a shared group experience. Or you might prefer freestyle, modern dancing. Simply stream some music or try the radio, warm up a little first and start dancing. This can feel very spontaneous, which is liberating in itself.
Do you have any thoughts or experiences of dancing to share? Just go to Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you.