The Many Benefits of Dance
Dance has many roots including cultural, historical, spiritual and religious beginnings. Dance can be performed with or without music. It can be fast or slow. Dance is expressive. The benefits of dance are that is is a wonderful form of exercise for body and mind. It is genderless and timeless but above all, Dance is Ageless!
Whether you are 3 or 93, dance is something that is so multi-faceted and flexible that it can be part of a healthy lifestyle from childhood, through the prime of our life, and into our golden years. Dance doesn’t need to be reserved for the 3 year old little girl who dreams of being a ballerina or for the first dance as “Mr. and Mrs.” Dance can be part of our lives regardless of age, gender, or ability.
Initial Connection to Dance
Babies respond naturally to dance. As parents, we have an inherent or “in-parent” desire to gently sway back and forth with our babies in our arms. Whether being rocked to sleep in a rocking chair or feeling the sway of being walked up and down the hallway at 3 AM, babies respond to gentle rhythmic movement. Even before my son could walk, I remember his smiles and giggles when I’d hold him and dance to a popular song of the time. Moms and dads, don’t be afraid to turn on the music, pick up your babies, and enjoy the benefits of dance! This bonding exercise between child and parent is a great form of exercise and provides a wonderful introduction to the benefits of dance for your child.
Continue Teaching Past the ABC’s
Just as important as teaching children their ABC’s is the importance of teaching children the benefits of dance and other exercise (D’s and E’s). As a Dr. Sears Certified Health Coach, I point out one of the common issues facing our children today. Dr. Sears calls it MDD, “Movement Deficit Disorder”. With reduced physical activities at school and more “screen-time” at home, our children are not moving as much as they should be. This is causing many detrimental effects on children’s health and behavior. The physical benefits of dance are that it builds long, lean, and flexible muscles. Dance can help build coordination and train the brain to learn sequences and build neural networks. It is a wonderful outlet for youthful energy. All of these are important aspects of childhood growth.
The next time the ABC homework is completed, turn on the music and teach some D’s and E’s. Dance and exercise as a family. If you don’t feel comfortable dancing, try incorporating one of the dancing computerized games into family game night. Dance doesn’t have to be in formal setting or classroom. Don’t wait until it’s time for prom gowns and tuxedos to get your child to enjoy the benefits of dance!
Dancing “Out of the Box”
Speaking of prom gowns and tuxedos, remember those awkward middle and high school dances? The girls would be on the dance floor most of the evening dancing the night away. It took a very brave young man to get out on the floor and perhaps dance a “slow dance”. The expressive nature of dance can be a bit intimidating to both males and females.
To this point, I would challenge you to think “outside of the box” we commonly think of as “dance”. Martial arts are actually forms of dance. As a female martial artist, I’ve taught many men and women, children and adults to “dance” in this style. Pre-choreographed fighting routines are referred to as patterns or forms. They are, in essence, a dance between an individual and an unseen opponent (a invisible partner, so to speak). While many forms of martial arts incorporate hard strikes, kicks, and blocks, when done correctly they are fluid movement that is performed with a certain cadence.
Softer forms of martial arts, such as Tai Chi Ch’uan, offer a more gentle form of exercise. The Japanese island of Okinawa is known for having the highest concentration of centenarians (those over age 100) in their population. Researchers contribute this longevity to many factors including their practice of martial arts.
So while your son or daughter may not be interested in ballet, hip-hop, or tap, I would suggest martial arts as an alternative dance form. It is a great physical and mental exercise for “older kids” too and makes a wonderful exercise for the whole family.
In Dr. Sears’ Prime-Time health, Dr. Bill mentions how he and his wife, Martha, first took up ball room dance in their mid 50’s. He lists numerous health benefits of dance including strengthening bones, muscles and joints, improving posture and coordination, and helping memory. Does any of this sound familiar? These are the same reasons why dance is good for young children.
The benefits of dance are wonderful for healthy aging as is evident in my family. My father-in-law is 93 and still teaches a line dancing class at the local senior center. My mother-in-law, who is also 93, still participates in the class. The benefits of dance have been an important part of their lives for many years as it has provided social opportunities, connection to the music of their generation, and physical exercise. While more subdued line dancing may have replaced “twirling around a ball room dance floor”, dance is still very much a part of their active 90+ year-old lifestyle.
As a dance fitness instructor, I will hear statements such as, “I can’t dance” or “I have no rhythm”. My response to these excuses is one that I heard years ago; “If your heart is beating, you have enough rhythm in your body to dance!” For the majority of people, the benefits of dance are not about performance or competition. It’s a way of moving your body for healthy physical exercise, stress relief, and possibly for social interaction.
Whether or not you have a partner to dance with, there are plenty of options to join others in dance. Most dance fitness classes or line dance classes don’t require a partner. Neither does belly dance! At my local community college, I met a wonderful group of ladies ranging in age from their 20’s to 60’s. We giggled together while exploring a new side of our femininity and learning the history of this ancient dance and its importance in many cultures.
Spiritual Benefits of Dance
While our human bodies may age in years, dance helps us connect to our ageless spirit. A healthy spirit is an entity of healthy aging that doesn’t have to adhere to the rules of linear time. The spirit of a 93 year-old line dancing can be just as youthful as that of a 3 year-old breaking out into spontaneous dance.
Young and old alike can experience the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of dance. So the next time someone asks you to dance, be ready to get up and say… YES! … to the power of ageless dance.
- Website, http://www.okicent.org/news/boston_globe.html, Accessed 2/17/2013
- William Sears, MD and Martha Sears, RN. Prime-Time Health: Little, Brown and Company 2010
- William Sears, MD. The NDD™ Book: Little, Brown and Company 2009
Lee Ann Cimperman is a Dr. Sears L.E.A.N. and Prime-Time Health Coach and a health and wellness advocate. She has taught fitness and martial arts for over 10 years and has coached children, families, and adults to build strong bodies and strong minds. As an adult, Lee Ann returned to school to follow her passion in life which is a holistic approach to health and nutrition mixed with culinary arts. She is the owner of Olive Tree Health and Wellness in Pittsburgh, PA which provides both national and local health and well programs, workshops, lectures and online classes.