Mental Health Benefits of Dance 2021
It’s widely known that dance is a great form of exercise for people of any age. Whether you’re a recreational or professional dancer, keeping moving is fantastic for your physical health.
But what about your mental health? As dancers, we all know that feeling of coming out of a dance class energised, with a huge smile across your face.
So what is it about dance that benefits our mental health so much?
The science behind our minds and dance
Whether you’re up on the dance floor at a wedding or in a dance class, your body releases endorphins and dopamine when you’re exercising. Endorphins, which stave off feelings of depression (https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression#1), and dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward and pleasure, all contribute to that positive feeling you get after you’ve been dancing.
One Swedish study by Örebro University looked at 112 girls, aged 13-19, who suffered from conditions such as depression and anxiety. Fifty-nine of the girls were randomly chosen to dance on two days a week while the other participants didn’t make any lifestyle changes.
The study showed that the group that danced showed an increase in their self-esteem. These positive effects even continued for four to eight months after their dance training ended. In total, an amazing 91% of the girls felt that the study had been a positive experience for them.
There are many scientific studies looking at the mental health benefits of dance, such as ‘The effects of dance over depression’ (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22053537/), which demonstrated that depression levels decreased in university students who took dance classes.
A study into the effectiveness of Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) in adults with depression concluded that it was an effective treatment. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6509172/)
Moving your body to the music
Whether the music is slow and graceful or bouncy and energetic, music in a dance class can, in itself, help to improve your mood. The rhythms give your brain something to focus on and studies have shown that music alone can provide short-term relief from depression.
Alongside the mental health benefits shown in studies across the world, dancing can help socially, allowing us to connect more with other people. We can make new friendships at a dance class or even re-connect with old friends. This can, in turn, aid our mental health.
According to a study conducted by the University of Oxford, dancing alongside other dancers “lights up brain pathways”. As a result of this, dancers experience a sense of unity and community.
Don’t forget that, when you’re in a dance class, it’s not like joining a social group or therapy group. Because of the structured nature of a dance class, there’s no need to feel compelled to make small talk with others in the class, as you’re all focused on the teacher and their instructions.
With your brain pathways lighting up, dancing alongside other people breaks down an invisible wall between you and a stranger. An increase in social bonds and friendships among dancers can contribute to improved mood and overall wellbeing.
Dance is for anyone and everyone
In 2018, Dame Darcey Bussell (ex-Royal Ballet and former Strictly Come Dancing judge) created a BBC documentary focusing on the mental health benefits of dance. In Darcey Bussell: Dancing to Happiness, Darcey visits a number of groups who use dance as therapy.
In the documentary, Darcey met with Manchester teenagers on a therapeutic dance project and travelled to a care home in Edinburgh to understand how music and movement were being used to help with dementia. Darcey also met with Silver Swans® in Bury to hear how their ballet classes, specially designed for the over 55s, were helping the dancers to keep active and social.
At the University of Hertfordshire, Darcey spoke with dancer-turned-scientist Dr Peter Lovatt (a.k.a. Dr Dance), who has even written a book on the subject called The Dance Cure. He is at the forefront of dance research that is showing how dance can be used to improve mental health. The results are even demonstrating how dance has a positive effect on people with degenerative conditions, such as Parkinson’s.
Dr Lovatt’s research has shown that levels of happiness even remain present for as long as a week after dancing.
Keeeep dancing! Whether it’s dad dancing, taking a ballet class or having a little boogie in your kitchen to your favourite tune, in the words of the famous song from the musical Mack and Mabel – Tap Your Troubles Away!
Remember that dance should never replace seeing a mental health professional. It can, however, be used to help contribute towards a healthier mind.