The Benefits of Learning Dance (on other areas of Your Life)
Keep Dancing to Get Physical, Mental, and Social Benefits
Let’s face it. Human beings love to dance. In every culture, in every religion, and every country, dance is a part of life. Whether it’s the Irish river dance, the Indian Kathak dance, or ballroom dancing, it’s easy to find people of all ages enjoying dances all over the world.
In fact, dance is one of the oldest human activities and seems to have been around as long as people. History records that different types of dancing have been part of celebrations, ceremonies, and rituals in almost every recorded civilization. Ancient Egyptian tombs show many examples of dancing, as do cave drawings. Scrolls, paintings, and art throughout history mark our desire to dance.
It seems that some part of the human spirit simply compels us to dance. And now modern science shows that dancing is not only instinctual, it’s also a way to stay healthier and happier at every stage of life. Today, dance can be formal and highly technical, or loose and freewheeling, like tap. No matter which type of dance you choose, with regular lessons and activity, you can expect to derive some tangible physical and mental health benefits.
Dance seems to be a part of our DNA. So it may not be surprising to find that some studies report that regular dancing is actually a time-honored way to stay healthier, well into old age. Modern research also shows time and time again that dance may significantly reduce the risk of disability and dementia in the older dancer. And while many types of physical exercise can keep people healthier longer, many studies show that dance has particular benefits that other activities don’t provide, especially mental acuity and increase memory. Few exercises studied, including walking and yoga, have been found to have such a meaningful impact on our psychological and physical health at every age.
Why is dance such an exceptionally productive activity? Many researchers hypothesize dance combines a wide range of activities in unusual ways, producing different results. After all, dance requires participants to focus on balance, movement, grace, posture, controls, agility, coordination, flexibility, syncopation, rhythm, and memorization, all in time to the music. These complex and joyful activities appear to combine in ways that create and extend good physical and mental health well into our sunset years.
Other recent research has determined that spending just 1-2 hours a week dancing combines exercising the mind and the body in ways that improve cognitive skills in older people. The hours spent dancing were also shown to improve older people’s memory notably and increased their ability to learn and retain new information.
History and science tell us, again and again, that dance is a way for the young and old to stay active, keep fit, stay flexible, and even improve mental alertness. Dance allows participants to build social, physical, creative, and mental skills. But perhaps most importantly, as any dancer can tell you, dancing also happens to be a really fun way to exercise.
How Does Dance Improve Your Health?
Yes, dance provides an excellent, low-impact aerobic workout. And yes, it also strengthens the heart, lungs, and circulatory system. Dance provides an added benefit of constantly varied movements, which is one of the best ways to build core strength, increase coordination, improve balance, expand flexibility, tone muscle, and develop exceptional spatial awareness. As an added bonus, because dance uses so many parts of the body, most types of dance can be modified to work around different types of physical limitations.
Dance Improves Cardiovascular Health
Most types of dance provide an excellent, low-impact cardio workout. While many types of exercise can get your heart racing, dancing can help you reach your target heart rate without feeling like exercise. Just a few hours of dancing every week will help most children and adults to improve heart health. However, if you suspect a heart issue, or have a history of heart problems, check with your physician before starting any new types of exercise.
Dancing Increases Strength And Endurance.
Not only does dance improve your health, but it also helps you build muscle strength in almost every part of your body. When you dance, you move your body in ways that require your muscles to resist your body weight. Completing steps, leaps, twists, and turns are all ways you build muscle through the resistance of your movement. Over time, dance will help you develop lean muscle and strength in your arms, legs, and core. As you continue to dance, you will find it easier to move more energetically for extended periods as you build your physical endurance. Your muscles will gradually become stronger, enabling you to dance longer and more vigorously without tiring. All types of dance are effective methods for building stamina. As you continue to dance, you’ll find you’re stronger, more toned, and more energetic.
Dance Improves Bone Health
While the benefits of improved tone and muscle strength are easy to see, improved bone health may not be so obvious. Dance is a great way to increase bone mass and may be especially beneficial for dancers at risk for current or future low bone density. When you dance, your bones and muscles work to resist your body weight. All the twists, turns, and side to side movements are effective in increasing the bone strength of the leg bones that bear the majority of your body’s weight, including the tibia, fibula, and femur. Because up to 90 percent of peak bone mass is acquired by age 18 in girls, consistent dance in childhood is a great way to increase bone mass, and ward off osteoporosis in later life.
Dance Helps with Weight Management
To stay fit and at your healthiest weight, you must keep moving. Physical activity and full-body fitness are foundational for any weight management program. Many people find dance is an excellent way to exercise because it provides a whole body workout without the kind repetition or monotony found on a treadmill or a gym bike. Dance also offers the kind of calorie burn needed for steady weight loss. And finally, because dance also builds lean muscle as it burns calories, it’s also a great way to tone up and stave off extra pounds in the future.
Dance Increases Energy Levels
If you’re finding that you feel listless, apathetic, or just plain tired, dance classes may help. Dance is an exercise that can stimulate the production of good hormones like serotonin. It can also lower the level of the hormones that make you feel cranky or even depressed, like cortisol. Dance also requires concentration and memorization, which means it requires you to shift your mind away from day to day issues and immerse your mind in dance. No wonder so many dance students describe dance class as the best part of their week. Many students leave class feeling happier, more relaxed, and more mentally balanced.
Dance Improves Flexibility
There are three basic types of fitness: strength, endurance, and flexibility. Increased flexibility not only benefits you in dance, but it also helps you avoid injuries in other sports. Flexibility allows you to keep your joints loose and use every part of your body in everyday situations. When you’re flexible and able to move your body freely, you tend to move more during the day and engage in more types of activities without the deterrent of physical discomfort or fear of injury.
When it comes to flexibility, dance is one of the most effective exercises available, Whether you’re studying ballet, tap, or hip hop, most forms of dance require participants to perform moves that include bending and stretching.
The stretches in warm-ups are also designed to increase flexibility during dance and reduce stiffness after practice. Every type of dance class helps students achieve a better range of motion for all the major muscle groups. As each dancer’s range of motion increases, more muscles can flex and extend. That means that dancers naturally become more flexible by simply dancing.
Why is Dance Appropriate for All Ages?
While dance is a wonderful activity for young students, dance classes and dancing is an activity that works for all ages. Whether you’re a toddler, a teenager, a Millennial or a Baby Boomer, dance offers some real benefits to every age group.
Dance Delivers a Gentle Workout
While professional dancers must exercise at elite levels, beginners and people who dance for pleasure will find that dancing is a gentle and generally painless way to exercise. That’s because dance is designed to engage the mind and body at almost equal levels. While you are moving your body, you’re also concentrating on technique, movement, and variation. You’re not trying to lose more weight or run faster. Instead, you continue to master movement and expand your skill sets.
Because dance is not repetitive, dancers are subject to fewer injuries. And finally, because dance requires you to vary periods of movement with periods of holding still, it’s less likely to exhaust beginners. Unlike more traditional cardio workouts, you don’t have to sweat profusely to get a good workout.
Dance Increases Agility and Grace
For anyone familiar with dance, it should be no surprise that dance classes increase agility and grace at any age. After all, a graceful person is said to “move like a dancer” or be as “graceful as a ballerina.” Most dance classes begin with a series of stretching exercises designed to warm up your muscles, increase flexibility over time, and allow you to dance without injury. These same exercises will increase your ability to move and react more effectively.
You’ll also become more aware of the way your body moves and improve your posture. As you become more advanced, you’ll notice that you walk straighter, move faster, and generally look and feel more confident and graceful.
Dance Improves Balance and Spatial Awareness
Whether you’re young, old, or somewhere in between, you will discover that dance is a great way to improve your balance. Not only will you improve your muscle tone, but you’ll also become more aware of your center of gravity. Your posture will improve, and you’ll become more physically confident and more graceful. Regular dance classes will help you gain better control of your body. All of this combines to help you improve your spatial awareness, so it’s less likely that you’ll knock into other people, trip over small bumps, or even bump into corners. Over time, with regular dance lessons, you’ll become less likely to stumble, trip, or even fall.
What are the Mental Benefits of Dance?
Dance is one of the most cerebral exercises available. Physical skill is not enough. Dance requires you to use your mind and your creative skills in new and unusual ways. It also involves memorization, focus, interpretation, and syncopation to music. All of these activities provide real mental benefits.
Dance Builds Social Skills
While most dance doesn’t require you to be part of a team, it is a social activity. Whether you’re shy or outgoing, you’ll find that being part of a dance class is a bonding experience that can increase social skills, foster a positive outlook, and increase self-esteem.
Social engagement is a vital part of a balanced lifestyle, and dance classes offer lots of social interaction. Dancers bond over shared activities, improving their personal dance skills, and the love of dance. Because dancers are interacting during a collaborative physical activity, interactions tend to be more social and less competitive.
Dance Promotes Sharp Thinking
One of the most challenging parts of dance is also one of the most beneficial. In addition to the physical benefits of exercise, the memorization and focus required by dance actually increases blood flow to the brain, which promotes the growth of new neurons and activates the connections between existing ones. It turns out that staying in sync with the music is an effective way to build the brain power of younger participants and lower the risk of cognitive decline in older dancers.
Dance Lifts Your Spirits and Improves Your State of Mind
For many people, dance is a joyful activity that they look forward to all week. Others feel more relaxed and mentally balanced after a dance class. And it’s no wonder. Research supports dance’s ability to lift your spirits. After all, dance is a social activity that requires you to interact with instructors, partners, and other dancers in ways that can promote the release of the feel-good hormones’ oxytocin and serotonin.
Dancing that requires physical interaction and touching, like partner dances, can lower your blood pressure and pulse. The time spent focusing on physical movement, memorizing steps, and staying in sync with the music is also an immersive mental experience. That means it requires you to take your mind off the stresses of your day and gives you a break from your worries.
Dance Improves Social Skills
Working with other dancers, listening to instructors, and performing dance in front of others are all ways to help people improve their social skills. If you’re shy, dance is a way to promote social interaction and help build the confidence needed to perform. It’s a great way to alleviate performance anxiety. If you’re an extrovert, dance requires you to listen, to cooperation, and pull back in ways that allow you to get tuned into your dance partner or your dance troupe.
Dance Improve Short-Term Memory
Dance is an excellent way for young and old to improve their memory. In research published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, doctors studied seniors with no signs of memory loss or impairment. These participants were assigned into three exercise groups: brisk walking, stretching, and balance training, and dance. The survey participants attended three classes a week. The goal was to study how exercise, especially aerobic exercise, improves memory and cognitive functions and protects the brain from aging.
At the end of the study, brain scans were used to measure results. Dance participants fared better than other groups, with less deterioration in the brain, compared with the other two groups in the study.
This study proves what many dancers already know. Time spent memorizing movements, focusing on steps and turns, and listening carefully to music are all ways to improve your memory, sharpen your cognitive skills, and keep your brain in great shape.
Getting Started with Dance
Dance is accessible to most fitness levels, making it an inclusive activity. You don’t have to be fit, athletic, graceful, or young to begin dance classes. Beginners’ classes are designed for all levels of fitness and allow each dancer to advance at their own pace. Dance is also an activity that builds on what you already know; moving, walking, waving, turning, and even listening to music.
You can also choose the style of dance that fits your preferences and your personality. If you love the classics, you may want to try ballet. If you’re looking for face-paced fun, tap may be your dance. In dance classes, you may find that you can dance in a group, with a partner, or on your own. Dance can be a competitive activity or simply a great social outlet. It’s a recreational and sporting choice that works for all age groups, at all skill levels. And dance is not seasonal, and classes are indoors. That means it’s an activity that you can participate in all year long.
Dance is also a skill and activity that can serve you throughout your life. Learning to dance will not only increase your social confidence, but it will also improve your fitness, your posture, and your coordination. It’s also a skill that comes in handy at social events like parties and weddings, where dancing is often a central part of the celebration.
The gear and clothing required will depend on the style of dance you focus on. Tap class requires tap shoes, and ballet requires slippers and ballet clothing. Some classes require specific outfits, but others allow dancers to simply chose clothes appropriate for exercising without impeding movement.
Getting Started in a Dance Class
If you think dance classes are right for you, keep these tips in mind to get the most out of your time in class.
Start by asking yourself some questions about your goals. Do you want to improve your fitness? Burn calories? Increase aerobic fitness? Are flexibility, grace, and agility a primary goal, or are you most interested in socialization and group dance? Do you want to dance in competitions, or is dance just for fun? How often can you attend class, and how fast do you want to progress? Should you take one dance class or two? Sometimes one dance complements the other. Often proficiency in one or more type of dance is required to move on to more complicated or advanced dance classes.
Here are some other considerations to keep in mind:
- If you have a medical condition, are overweight, have joint or fitness concerns, or are over 40, see your doctor for a check-up and discuss your plans for dance class.
- Dress in layers. You may want to take off some layers as your body warms up.
- Complete all warm-ups and stretches before starting. Follow your instructors’ directions carefully to avoid injuries.
- Feed your body. Make sure you have a nutritious snack before class. Even if you are trying to lose weight, make sure your body has the fuel it needs to function effectively.
- Stay hydrated. Drink water before, during, and after dance classes.
- Listen to your body and go at your own pace. Don’t push your body too hard, and work with your instructor to make sure you avoid injury or unnecessary soreness or joint pain.
- Wear professionally fitted shoes appropriate to your style of dance.
- Watch your form. Most classrooms have plenty of mirrors that will help you review your posture, style, and movements. If you’re having issues, discuss your challenges with your dance instructor to find ways to move in ways more appropriate to your dance.
- Watch others. While you must follow the instructor, it’s also helpful to keep an eye on other dancers. After all, many will have the same challenges and issues that you have. Watching them may help you understand how to address your movement issues.
If you’d like to learn to dance and you’re in New Castle County, Delaware, please contact Radiance Dance Studio. We’d love to share the joy of dance with you!