“Get up off a that thing, dance till you feel better”
Well it appears that James Brown was right when he first sang these lyrics in 1976 because now research proves that dancing is good for you! This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise – we have recently explored how science can validate the healing benefits of music, and how visual art can expand consciousness. Now, health practitioners and scientists are recognizing that cultural practices such as dancing – which have been with humanity since the beginning of time and are kept alive by tribal communities and artists today – hold a deep benefit for individuals and society alike.
Music-making, and movement to music, are activities central to ritual, courtship, identity, and human expression cross-culturally.
– Frontiers in Psychology
Since most dancing occurs while music is playing and at social gatherings, it is important to recognize that dancing is an integral part of any community. Humans are social beings and research shows that people are more happy when they are integrated and engaged within a supportive network of relationships. Dancing is a form of exercise, which is known to release endorphins that reduce pain. Dancing also causes our brains to secrete the “bonding” hormone, oxytocin (also known as the “happy” or “love” neurohormone). High energy dance that includes synchronized movements with others will increase positive results.
The basic benefits
The Better Health Channel lists these basic benefits to dancing:
- improved condition of your heart and lungs
- increased aerobic fitness
- improved muscle tone, strength and motor fitness
- weight management
- stronger bones and reduced risk of osteoporosis
- better coordination, agility and flexibility
- improved balance and spatial awareness
- increased physical confidence
- improved mental functioning
- improved general and psychological wellbeing
- greater self-confidence and self-esteem
- better social skills.
Popular festival culture integrates dancing, music, and art, into a community expression that everyone can relate to. These festivals are modeling new ways for people to relate which synthesize ancient tribal ways with modern human networking. The synergy of these events being combined with workshops and yoga, contributes to the effect of the whole being greater than the sum of it’s parts. Experiences such as these are extremely valuable in this time – as we collectively explore sustainable approaches to creating our global village.
The psychosomatic aspect to health must also be factored into the discussion of why dance is good for us. Psychosomatic medicine is an interdisciplinary medical field exploring the relationships among social, psychological, and behavioral factors on bodily processes and quality of life. I myself have had an experience of how dancing daily can help to sustain well-being under challenging circumstances.
Shortly after hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, I went to the city to help with the rebuilding efforts. We spent long hours, from early morning until late, working in moldy houses and hearing the traumatic stories of survivors. There were over 20 of us that had flown in to the city from all over the country. At the end of each day everyone was exhausted and eager to go back to their hotel and get some sleep. My friends and relatives from New Orleans warned me that going to bed without dancing would “make me sick”; that it was important for me to move the “energy” through my body rather than let it stagnate inside me. By “energy” they meant the grief absorbed through hearing stories, and seeing the destruction of peoples’ homes.
Being a huge fan of the culture and music of New Orleans, it was easy to convince me to go out for some drinks and dancing to the wee hours of the morning. Despite the fact that alcohol is not that beneficial to my health, and even though I averaged a mere four hours of sleep each night, I was one of the few people from my group who did not get sick. I feel strongly that the combination of dance, music, and socializing allowed me to release stress and keep a strong immune system during my time in New Orleans.
Dancing is like dreaming with your feet
Dance as a Spiritual Practice
Martial Arts like Qi Gong and Tai Chi are moving meditations similar to dance that are known to enhance presence and energize the body. Dances of Universal Peace combine singing with movement and prolonged eye-contact in a coordinated expression of mutual respect. Ecstatic dance is more of a free-form movement with improvisation, where boundaries melt, creativity breaks out, beauty flows, communities collaborate and ritual is reinvented. Swing, salsa, tango are associated with courting and romance. Break-dancing, belly-dancing, African dance, flamenco, ballet, pow-wow dancing, and others are all an expression of culture, ceremony, personal discipline, physical stamina, and entertainment.
If you can walk you can dance, if you can talk you can sing.
– African Saying
Dance is as diverse and expressive as any art form can be. It has been said that life itself is a dance and with practice we can move more gracefully as we respond to all the changes that come our way. Even if it is just cranking up the tunes by yourself in the living room, it is important to acknowledge the importance of dancing in your life. Whether it’s James Brown, electronic dance music, devotional music or whatever tickles your fancy, make sure to cut loose a few times a week. Research and history (along with James Brown) tell us that no matter what you’re going through, dancing will sure make you feel better!