The Benefits of Dancing
As an Anti-Aging/Wellness physician (also called an Integrative Medical Specialist) the health benefits of ballroom dancing have been a source of intense interest for me. Below I will summarize some of the major physical, emotional, spiritual and mental improvements you can expect to see as you engage in the the art and science of ballroom dancing.
Sergei and I have been training for years and I am finally allowing him to break through my barriers of too much physical and mental “strength.” As a physician I have to be strong, so learning to follow, to surrender – has been an interesting journey. I am working on developing soft power and effortless grace. One could say that Sergei is teaching me to be a softer woman. Dancing has the possibility to improve emotional and spiritual issues. Dancing to music produces mental order and contentment. Sort of like meditation, but better.
On occasion I have felt blissful solitude and peace as I dance. Many other times, dancing is a trial of strength testing my frustration tolerance as I struggle to learn something new. It takes much courage to keep working with yourself. Many times what I considered to be my worst lessons were the ones which taught me the most. So dancing develops frustration tolerance and discipline which are important qualities to have in this world, which seems to spin faster and faster.
My favorite organ is the brain. We are only as healthy as our brains. Dancing increases the production of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) like Dopamine (ADD medicine), Serotonin and Norepinephrine (antidepressant medicine), Epinephrine, Acetylcholine, GABA (tranquilizing medicine), and Endorphins (pain medicine). There appears to be a direct correlation: the more you dance, the less medications you need.
When someone experiences a traumatic brain injury (via a fall, sports injury, motor vehicle accident) the brain needs to be rewired to heal. Many neuropsychiatrists recommend dancing as therapy to speed and enhance recovery. Our brains can heal physically and emotionally via the process called neuroplasticity – which means the brain can change. If a brain scan was done at the beginning of your dance training and then redone one year after dance training, there would be much improvement in the health of your brain, including cognition and emotion.
Most of us are stuck in left brain thinking (logical) or right brain thinking (creative). Geniuses are known to have the ability to traverse back and forth between the left and right brain easily. Dancing requires the ability to develop the skill to go back and forth between the left brain (learning steps, positions….) and the right brain (dancing in a rhythmical way and expressing the music in your own highly individualistic way).
In decades past medicine dictated that we were unable to renew brain cells that died with aging. That edict has been changed and it is now known that when you learn a new activity like dancing, your brain actually makes new dendritic branches that increase intelligence and memory.
Dancing maintains your ability to balance which otherwise declines as we age. Then some people fall and break a hip. Oh my! But wait, dancing increases the flexibility of your tendons and ligaments, which enhances absorption of the 22 minerals needed to make stronger bones. Thus, dancing increases bone mass as well.
As time gently passes our lumbosacral spines fuse (lock up). The positions required to ballroom dance well maintain and increase the flexibility of your spine. There is also an increase in blood flow to all of your joints which helps create the synovial enzymes required to prevent osteoarthritis.
We see ourselves in those mirrors! So dancing makes us more aware of how important it is to stay or get lean. As a result many dancers learn more about nutrition and eat more whole (real) food. Because dancing is both aerobic and anaerobic, you burn calories and build muscle. With aging we lose about 1/2 to one pound of muscle a year. Muscle requires calories to stay alive, fat does not.
As we slowly improve, as our bodies and minds become healthier because of our commitment to something outside of ourselves ~ our self esteem improves. Socialization is a major component of happiness and ballroom dancing provides us with the opportunity to meet many wonderful and interesting people. We actually need 22 hugs a day which usually happens during a dance class in a socially appropriate way.
Ballroom dancing provides a sense of order and demonstrates how beautifully gracious we can be. Dancing helps us achieve flow which is described by one of my favorite books about happiness as developing a mind that seeks new challenges and makes an effort to meet them. When we find those opportunities for deep concentration, we forget ourselves and realize the most profound satisfaction.
Ballroom dancing has done this and more for me. I commend you to experience dancing for yourself.
Dr. Roberta Foss-Morgan