The healing power of dance is recognized across the globe.[i],[ii] Common evidence-based benefits of world dance include, but are not limited to, improvements in muscular strength, endurance[iii], balance, flexibility, agility[iv] heart rate[v], and memory[vi]. Although predominantly viewed as a physical form, dance can also incorporate intrapersonal and interpersonal elements. The advantages within mental, social, and emotional aspects of dance are gaining attention. One domain that I find particularly incredible is that beyond the body, dance has the curative power to heal our mind, heart, and soul and ultimately enhance mental health overall.
The journey towards self-acceptance is often a long and difficult one. With contributing factors such as body image and self-esteem, individuals may waiver in their self-love. Many global styles of dance do not assert a typical body type, hence, supporting the beauty in diversity. Regardless of style, main prop for dancing is your own body. With time, individuals report an acceptance an appreciation for their bodies and true selves. [vii],[viii]
Regardless of your ability level or learning style, dance gives you the opportunity to work on goals, experience a healthy challenge, and reap the rewards of accomplishment. It can be as simple as mastering a new movement or if you choose the achievement can be a complex combination of various elements of artistry including rhythm, technique, and athleticism vii.
Dance provides the opportunity to embrace individuality through artistry. If you are experiencing the humdrum lull of your daily routine filled with work obligations and personal responsibilities, you may be in need for a creative release. It could be as simple as the freedom of expressing their body as they let loose on a dancefloor. Or dance could serve as a conduit of creative expression through choreography. Moreover, when considering fusion dance, individuals are provided a smorgasbord of global elements to be artfully combined in a unique, creative expression.
Partaking in world dance provides two distinct yet curative benefits within the realm of culture. Involvement in a style that connects to one’s lineage provides an opportunity to embrace one’s heritage[ix]. World dance can serve as a link to family, childhood memories, and values, which can provide cathartic value. Particularly in the America, world dance may be the conduit to connect to cultural elements that may otherwise be dormant. vii Involvement in a world dance style from another culture promotes awareness, understanding, and sensitivity. While beyond respectful, dance can be a fun way expand your knowledge about cultures worldwide.
When words fail us, dance may still be an option. World dance can be a safe way to express pent up emotions.[x] Particularly when experiencing complex feelings, dance can be used as a method of both exploration and expression[xi]. In certain theatrical styles dancers have the opportunity to take on a persona which permits them to explore feelings they would not otherwise be comfortable confronting. For others, embodying a particular character is not required. Instead, they may create confident, exuberant dance persona of their own. Embracing this altered and empowered sense of self helps individuals to express themselves through movement over words.
Dancers often remark on the pure joy attained from this healing art. [xii] Dance can help to improve sentiments of hope and happiness[xiii]. Further, in addition to the perks of smiling and laughter, dance can be a powerful tool in combating depression and anxiety as well.[xiv]
Many turn to dance for an enjoyable exercise [xv]. Interlinking the mind and body, individuals who experience improvements in physical health may in turn achieve enhancements in mental health. Hence, physical benefits such as agility and flexibility can contribute to enhance self-perception and ultimately enhance mental health. Dance can also provide an outlet to sooth internal struggles. As noted in the expression and happiness benefits above, dance can provide a safe realm to reflect, connect, and release personal turmoil.
Several world dance styles are commonly taught in a group environment. Shared space, goals, and experience can increase a sense of kinship. v In addition to linking movements, a safe environment also allows for encouragement, assistance, and cooperation. vii
Dance provides an opportunity for a mental escape. When faced with a seemingly endless to-do list, dance provides a time to set tasks aside and tune into your mind and body. vii A world dance class provides a haven for individuals to put aside their responsibilities and release tension through emotional and physical means.
[i] Capello, P. (2008). Dance/movement therapy with children throughout the world. American Journal of Dance Therapy, 30(1), 24–36. doi:10.1007/s10465-008-9045-z
[ii] Hwang, P. W., & Braun, K. L. (2015). The effectiveness of dance interventions to improve older adults' health: A systematic literature review. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine, 21(5), 64-70.
[iii] Keogh, J. L., Kilding, A., Pidgeon, P., Ashley, L., & Gillis, D. (2009). Physical benefits of dancing for healthy older adults: A review. Journal of Aging And Physical Activity, 17(4), 479-500.
[iv] The effects of long-term aerobic dance on agility and flexibility. (1999). Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 39(2), 165-168.
[v] Min Jeong, K., & Chul Won, L. (2016). Health benefits of dancing activity among Korean middle-aged women. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health & Well-Being, 11, 1-7 doi:10.3402/qhw.v11.31215
[vi] Olivier A., C., Stéphanie, D., Virginie, L., Pauline, L., & Lena, F. (2011). Practice of contemporary dance improves cognitive flexibility in aging. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 3(13), doi:10.3389/fnagi.2011.00013/full
[vii] Ali, S., Cushey, K., & Siqqiui, A. (2016). Diversity and dance: Exploring the therapeutic implications of world dance. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 12(1), 31-47.
[viii] Acharya, C., & Jain, M. (2017). Psychological well-being and self-esteem: A study on Indian classical dancers. Indian Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(3), 389-391.
[ix] Dankworth, L. E., & David, A. R. (2014). Dance ethnography and global perspectives. [electronic resource] : identity, embodiment and culture. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York : Palgrave Macmillan 2014.
[x] Saito, K. (2006). The benefits of Japanese dance from a psychosomatic medical perspective. International Congress Series, 1287(Psychosomatic Medicine Proceedings of the 18th World Congress on Psychosomatic Medicine, held in Kobe, Japan, between 21 and 26 August 2005), 316-317. doi:10.1016/j.ics.2005.11.127
[xi] Heber, L. (1993). Dance movement: A therapeutic program for psychiatric clients. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 29(2), 22–29. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6163.1993.tb00408.x
[xii] Lakes, K. D., Marvin, S., Rowley, J., Nicolas, M. S., Arastoo, S., Viray, L., & ... Jurnak, F. (2016). Dancer perceptions of the cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits of modern styles of partnered dancing. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 26117-122. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2016.03.007
[xiii] Lakes, Kimberley. Complementary Therapies in Medicine Volume: 26 Issue 1 (2016) ISSN: 0965-2299 Online ISSN: 1873-6963
[xiv] Koch, S., Kunz, T., Lykou, S., & Cruz, R. (2014). Effects of dance movement therapy and dance on health-related psychological outcomes: A meta-analysis. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 41(1), 46–64. doi:10.1016/j.aip.2013.10.004
[xv] Muro, A., & Artero, N. (2017). Dance practice and well-being correlates in young women. Women & Health, 57(10), 1193-1203.
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Shainna Ali is a counselor educator and owner of Integrated Counseling Solutions in Central Florida. Dr. Ali is passionate about highlighting the importance of mental health awareness, assessment, and care in living a happy and healthy life. Her areas of focus in research and practice include identity and culture, emotional intelligence, trauma, and creativity in counseling. For more information on Dr. Ali please visit IntegratedCounselingSolutions.com