Monday, May 16, 2011

Why You Should Dance (with other people)

How’s your health? How’s your fitness? How’s your memory? When was the last time you really connected with your significant other? There’s a panacea for all these things that anyone can do, and it’s called social dance.

This may seem like a big claim, and it is. But the studies are out there to back it up. If you’re looking for a healthy and fun exercise, according to Discovery Health’s Activity Burn Rate Calculator, swing dancing can burn approximately 265-326 calories an hour for someone weighing from 130-160 pounds. Not enough? Dancing can help your posture, balance, and even help improve your intelligence and prevent memory loss.

Let me share with you some study results listed in an article by Richard Powers, an instructor and dance historian at Stanford.

The only physical activity [in a study of the effect activities have on memory loss] to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing.

                     Reading - 35% reduced risk of dementia
                     Bicycling and swimming - 0%
                     Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week - 47%
                     Playing golf - 0%

            Dancing frequently - 76%.
[Dancing] was the greatest risk reduction of any activity studied, cognitive or physical.

Why, you ask? Well, the answer is pretty complex. Simply stated, social dance is one of the most well rounded activities out there. As Powers wrote, “Dancing integrates several brain functions at once, increasing your connectivity. Dancing simultaneously involves kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional processes.” When you dance, as either a lead or follow, you have to be constantly aware of many things at once. You have to know how to move, where to move, when to move (I call this staying on beat). A dancer must make a connection with their partner and speak clearly (and listen) without ever saying a word. You’ve heard that 55% of any communication is body language, (Albert Mehrabian, UCLA), well, one can manage whole dances without saying more than seven. “Would you like to dance?” at the beginning and “Thank you,” at the end.

Which brings me to the final point, connection. While I know from reading I’ve done that dance is a growing, successful form of couple’s therapy, I don’t need studies or quotations to tell you about the importance of connection in social dance. As a former ballroom and swing dance teacher for the University of Idaho, the Swing Devils of the Palouse non-profit corporation, Festival Dance, and private dance instructor, I’ve spent countless hours teaching hundreds of people how to connect, communicate and move together. As one couple in a class I taught just last Thursday so aptly said, “This is the closest to my partner I’ve been in a week without a child between us. It’s nice to be able to just look into her eyes.” When you dance with someone, you have to be willing to accept who is leading, who is following and really open up to listening to both your connection to yourself and how that connection relates to your partner. Whether you know how to dance or you’re just beginning, it’s a wonderful way to learn and grow together. And do I even need to mention the benefits of that much physical contact, especially with someone you love?

If you don’t know where to begin or if you’re worried about those two left feet, I’ve got an answer to that, too. Start walking. Put on some music and walk to the beat. Put on some Michael Jackson and do your best moonwalk. When you realize that I’ve said “walk” four times in the last four sentences, you’re starting to get the picture. Now add a dash of attitude. There you go, you’re dancing! It’s that easy.


Discovery Health

Dancing Makes You Smarter

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