How Dance Can Improve Your Mental Health
Submitted by Austin Price, CCD Pre-Professional Program dancer and apprentice faculty member.
Many dancers know the euphoric feeling that occurs immediately after a good class. You’re sweaty, your muscles are aching, your throat is parched but you feel a sense of accomplishment. You have just completed a rigorous activity that is both beneficial to the body and the mind, and now that it’s over, you are celebrating your success.
I have been dancing for nearly 15 years now, and I can certainly say that I could not begin to imagine what my life would be like if I did not have dance. As a dancer that has battled anxiety my entire life, I can safely say that dance has been one of the most crucial elements in keeping my mind and body safe, as well as active. The question is, why? Why has dance been such an imperative part of my mental and physical wellbeing? Why does exercise improve one’s mental state as well as challenge their physical abilities?
Well, I’m not a medical professional but based on my experience and research, there are several reasons.
The first, and by far most popular, theory as to why dance can help balance the body and the brain is because exercise is shown to release dopamine and serotonin, which can improve mood. According to the American Psychological Association, “Physically active people often have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people.” But dance is not only shown to improve one’s mood – dance also improves long term memory.
As we age, it gets harder to remember names, places, and other details. Learning new things, like different moves and styles of dance, sharpens your brain’s ability to remember these kinds of details. This can help prevent dementia. More specifically, dancing produces challenges to the brain, including memory, coordination, attention, and cognition. According to Bethesda Health, “Recalling dance movements has been shown to stimulate several areas of the brain. When neuron activity in the brain increases, it opens new pathways for thoughts and ideas.”
Dance has proven to aid in the fight against anxiety and depression, sharpen one’s memory and cognitive skills, but it holds yet another hidden power that is often underestimated. Dance has the ability to bring people together.
According to a study by the University of Oxford, dancing alongside other dancers “lights up brain pathways,” which break down the invisible walls your brain builds up between you and a stranger. As a result, establishing these connections helps one experience a sense of unity. Social activities strengthen the bonds between people, and dance has proven to be one of the most popular and effective activities utilized.
While dance may improve the physical and mental wellbeing of one person, it also can affect how that person interacts with and relates to those around them, causing a social connection to develop and strengthen.
To read more about the positive effects of dance on the mind, visit these links below:
“Can Dancing Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?” Bethesda Health Group, 24 June 2021, bethesdahealth.org/blog/2020/04/10/can-dancing-prevent-alzheimers-disease/.
“Dancing Can Bring People Together, Say Researchers.” BBC News, BBC, 16 June 2016, www.bbc.com/news/education-36548184.
Goldman, Jason G. “Why Dancing Leads to Bonding.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 1 May 2016, www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-dancing-leads-to-bonding/#:~:text=Studies%20show%20that%20dancing%20at,synchronization%20that%20occurs%20while%20dancing.
Tarr, Bronwyn, et al. “Music and Social Bonding: ‘Self-Other’ Merging and Neurohormonal Mechanisms.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 1 Jan. 1AD, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01096/full.“Working out Boosts Brain Health.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/topics/exercise-fitness/stress.