“Huh. I should probably exercise before dinner… Better get a foxtrot in!”
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say those words. I doubt I ever will. But, honestly, it’s a statement that shouldn’t be completely dismissed as odd or out of the question. In fact, the physical benefits (as well as the mental and social advantages) all play a role in promoting the health of both individuals and their communities.
If you’re reading this, you’re more than likely a dancer or are, at the very least, interested in becoming one.
So, here’s the big question: why dance?
If you’re a seasoned dancer, I’m sure you already know why and could probably write this article better than I could. But, if you’re new to the dance world, let me tell you, the list of reasons is very, very long!
Whether you’re exploring ballroom dance as a new hobby for yourself (or you’re trying to rope someone into trying it with you), this overview should provide some insight on why dancing, in my completely unbiased opinion, is one of the most beneficial activities you can take up.
Ballroom dancing, as a whole, involves physical activity; each dance can vary in intensity (I can do a 5 minute rumba but please, for the love of all things good and holy, don’t make me do a 5 minute Viennese waltz). So, yes! Dancing does burn calories. When it comes to how many of those calories you’re burning, your weight, age, diet, and “dance intensity” are all a factor. Dancing salsa, a 140lb person can burn 405 calories/hour while 180lb person could burn as many 480 (source: fitnessblender.com). By the way, did you know that, to lose a pound of fat a week, you need to eat ~500 fewer calories/day than you expend through your metabolism and exercise each day?
Okay, so we know dancing burns calories, so what? I could just take some extra laps around the office instead. What makes ballroom better for your body?
As it turns out, kind of a lot.
Dancing is considered an aerobic or cardio exercise (it requires oxygenated blood to be pumped into your muscles). It stimulates and strengthens the heart and lungs, promotes physical endurance, and decreases the chance of developing various cancers, osteoporosis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Not only that, but it helps correct posture, improve balance and coordination, in addition to the fact that it is a low-impact activity and, therefore, much better for your joints!
When you dance, you get to enjoy the benefits of a workout you can do anywhere, anytime, with low risk of injury. It’s a great way to stay fit for all ages, shapes, and sizes and you don’t even need a gym membership to do it!
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Scientists have linked physical activity to mental health. Being active is good for your brain. You know what else is good for your brain? Music. And another thing: creative expression.
Now, what activity combines physical activity with music and creative expression? You guessed it:
I’m not just talking about increasing serotonin levels and reducing stress and anxiety. Dancing actually has the ability to make you smarter!
The New England Journal of Medicine released a report on the effects various activities had on mental ability in aging.
They discovered reading reduced the risk of dementia by 35%
Bicycling and swimming by 0%
Crossword puzzles (4+ times a week) by 47%
Playing golf by 0%
But dancing frequently reduced the risk by a whopping 76%!
So, why does dancing have such a positive impact on the brain? A partial answer would be that dancing helps to create and strengthen new neural pathways. As you age, various neural paths break down and are lost; but, if you have multiple pathways, the loss of one path isn’t going to be as damaging.
Here’s a visual for you: if there is an accident on the I-5 bridge, Portland/Vancouver traffic gets exponentially worse than it already is. Let’s say we created 3 or 4 more bridges across the Columbia, if I-5 had a closure, the traffic increase wouldn’t be as substantial (it’d still be a little bad though because, let’s be honest, it’s Portland).
The early evolution of dance is unknown and predates written history. Depictions of community dances can be seen at the prehistoric Bhimbetka rock shelters in India as well as in Egyptian tomb paintings (c. 3300 BC). As a species, we’ve been dancing longer than we have had a written language. Let that sink in as you *ahem* read this article.
Whether partner, line, pattern, or otherwise, dancing is inherently a social affair. You are going to meet with other dancers, instructors, friends, strangers- the list goes on. We dance to express ourselves, to tell stories, to attract mates, and to make friends; dancing is physical communication. And, when you begin to explore partner dancing, the communication between lead and follow is required to make the dance flow smoothly.
Okay, dancing involves being social. I get it. So what?
Hate to break it to you but social wellness is a huge deal (yes, even for us introverts)!
Those with strong social networks are more likely to live longer, have stronger immune systems, are more effective at handling stress (which often goes hand-in-hand with having lower blood pressure), and are even more likely to sleep better at night.
Didn’t know having healthy social interactions could help you sleep better, did you?
Beyond overall social wellness, there are more day-to-day social benefits. If people are not your “thing”, the dance community is a great place to force yourself to practice social skills: you will learn the ability to hold a conversation with a stranger for three and a half minutes, develop the boldness to ask someone new to dance, the humility to ask questions, and the self-confidence to not care whether or not you’re the best dancer in the room. Dancing develops you as a person.
Overall, dancing is a fun way to exercise, make friends, and develop yourself as an individual. It is healing and challenging all at the same time. Speaking from personal experience, choosing to put myself out there and learn to dance was one of the best decisions I ever made. And I can point you to a lot of dancers who would say the same thing.
by Hannah Fishback