When I was a music education major at Duquesne University in the early 1970s, I took a course called Eurythmics, which used rhythmic physical movements to teach musical concepts. One facet of the course was learning folk dances from around the world. Subsequently, folk dancing is one of my most pleasant memories of my college years.
Several years ago I wanted to experience that joy again. A Google search led me to the Phoenix International Folk Dancers, a group of people who meet weekly to dance and promote folk dancing.
When I first joined the group, I found the dances difficult and physically demanding. I couldn’t execute the moves gracefully. I couldn’t keep up with the other dancers. Looking around, I noticed that most of the dancers were my age and older—some well into their 80s and 90s. And it hit me—these were people who had been dancing since they were young, and they were now vibrant, articulate, physically active senior citizens. Coincidence?
A younger woman named JoAnne took me under her wing. She let me get in line next to her, and called out the steps for me. She took me aside and broke down some of the more complicated patterns. JoAnne encouraged me and assured me that if I kept trying, the steps would get easier.
JoAnne was right. I’ve now been folk dancing for seven years, and I can hold my own. I move more confidently, and my balance has improved. I’m even the designated leader for a couple of the dances.
It turns out that dancing, besides being fun, benefits your body and especially your brain. According to the Better Health Channel (http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/), dancing can
- Improve the condition of your heart and lungs
- Increase your muscle strength and endurance
- Help you manage your weight
- Strengthen your bones
- Improve your coordination, agility, and flexibility
- Improve your balance and spatial awareness
- Improve your brain function
Brain function is all about neural pathways. You want your brain to develop complex connections among the nerves. Richard Powers, an instructor at Stanford University’s Dance Division, says, “Dancing integrates several brain functions at once—kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional— further increasing your neural connectivity.” He suggests, “to (improve) your mental acuity. . . involve yourself in activities which require split-second rapid-fire decision making, as opposed to rote memory.” Think basketball. Playing an instrument. Learning a foreign language. And dancing. But not the same old dancing; constantly adding new dances to your repertoire will keep you expanding your neural network instead of relying on only the existing pathways.
And don’t forget—dancing is fun! Nothing is more joyful than moving about a dance floor gracefully responding to beautiful music, your body completely under your control. What better reason do you need to indulge in dance?
Do you dance? Or did you when you were younger? What prevents you from dancing now? What kind of dancing do you like to do? Please comment below to join the conversation.