My ‘fun’ practice that I truly enjoy is learning how to dance steps. There’s just something so silly about learning the Salsa, merengue and samba mixed in with hip hop, Bollywood and goodness knows what else, that makes me break into laughter and shakes off even my worst days. It’s non competitive, non judgmental, all the things we are supposed to emulate in yoga, yet somehow once you become a yoga teacher, there seems to be the assumption that you have to get it right or else. At least that’s something I’ve begun to notice over the years with the rules that seem to pervade still in yoga land.
I found this article in June and thought I would share it since learning to dance online and eventually certifying as a Zumba dance instructor during lockdown helped me to beat the blues and get active, especially during those long dark wintery months.
Dancing creates ‘fireworks in our head’ that boost brain and body
Dancing at weddings is banned, but whether you’re Strictly standard or simply throwing shapes in your kitchen, it is great for your health
24 June 2021
Thirty-seven-years ago, the film Footloose topped the box office charts in the UK. Starring Kevin Bacon, it told the tale of a small American town where dancing was prohibited, much like in the UK today now that Boris Johnson has banned us all from cutting the rug at weddings.
While it remains to be seen quite how the nation will survive without sitting 10 deep on a soggy dancefloor and rowing along to Oops Upside Your Head, the fact that dancing has been outlawed has been met with consternation, not least because it’s not really a wedding unless you get to throw a few shapes on the dancefloor.
Like a lot of families with little better to do over the past year, we have spent many weekend evenings enjoying a kitchen disco, not least as it helps to negate some of the day-to-day drudgery of a life lived in lockdown. Taking turns to put a song on, it’s been a chance not only to hear what my kids are listening to these days but also to see if their dancing is as good as what I believe mine to be. It’s not, for the record.
Humankind has danced for millennia. Whether it’s for fun or romance, rituals or religion, dance has evolved into a pursuit not simply for exercise and enjoyment but one of creativity, positivity and personal expression. Why do we do it? Well, that often irresistible desire we have to dance comes from what’s called sensorimotor coupling, or the reaction the part of your brain responsible for movement has to certain sounds. Like other forms of aerobic exercise, dancing also helps to increase the level of ‘happy’ neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine but, crucially, it also helps to stimulate those areas of the brain responsible for learning and perception, memory and spatial awareness.
Dancer turned psychologist Dr Peter Lovatt is the author of The Dance Cure – The Surprising Secret to Being Smarter, Stronger, Happier and founder of the Dance Psychology Lab, a centre for teaching and research in the science of dance and dancers. “When we dance it creates an electrochemical firework display in our head and every move we make creates a new flash, bang or an ooh and aah,” says the man known as ‘Dr Dance’. “And as dopamine levels go up, we can shake off some of those negative feelings and float into a euphoric state.”
You only have to witness the impressive physical transformation of some of the competitors on Strictly Come Dancing to appreciate what dancing can do for your fitness, but there’s also a wealth of evidence to highlight how beneficial it is for your mental health too, with dancing known to help to counteract anxiety and depression. Even the way we dance speaks volumes about how we’re really feeling. “Research studies in hospitals, schools and among people in the general community have shown that dancing can lead to a marked reduction of feelings of depression and anxiety,” says Lovatt. “It has also shown that a good boogie can increase positive feelings too. Dancing helps us to let go of pent-up emotions and body movement plays a really important role in the way we communicate our emotional state.”