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Here at Be Body Aware, we recognise the importance of including physical activity and self care as part of our daily/weekly routine, to enhance our well being. One of the activities we offer to improve the well being of our participants, is dance exercise. There are many studies about the health benefits that dancing stimulates such as, improving our brain function, lowering our stress levels, and enriching our creativity.
Dance has definitely impacted my health and well being. In the earlier stages of my career as a professional dancer, I didn’t realise the other benefits I had gained by doing what I loved to do. The first time I began to recognise the benefits of dance and its healing aspects was when I became involved in an outreach programme with Donald Byrd/The Group, in the late 1990’s. Our outreach programmes included dance sessions in Women’s Shelters and in schools, located in deprived areas, that could benefit from our services. It gave me an insight into how dance can bring relief from some of the participants’ daily challenges.
Dance has been beneficial for young offenders who participated in a programme with Dance United Yorkshire, which is a community organisation, based in Bradford. It has ‘helped troubled youths build life skills’, according an article in the Daily Telegraph (Clayton, 2019). The young offenders’ programme has proven to be successful at promoting more discipline, controlling anger and building skills to manage their behaviour. Dance United also work with a range of vulnerable people and use Contemporary Dance to explore ways to develop intergenerational and cross-community work with a range of people, from children to pensioners, (Clayton, 2019). Dance United utilise their knowledge of dance, in a wide range of ways, to assist individuals in improving their lives.
Sir Ken Robinson is an advocate for providing dance and physical activity in schools. He believes they should be part of our national school curriculum. His speech on ‘Why Dance Is Just As Important As Math’ (Robinson & Aronica, 2018), argues that movement and fostering the imagination are just as beneficial as Math, Science or Languages, for children. According to an article in Active For Life (Scandiffio, 2018), Sir Ken Robinson has said “creativity and exercise makes children happier, better able to concentrate, collaborate, have more confidence and increase their discipline.” In addition, “there are multiple studies that have shown how they improve achievement in math, science, and language courses.”
The film that deepened my interest in how dance improves our well being, was David La Chapelle’s documentary film ‘Rize’. It shares stories of how young people used dance to promote healthy emotions and behaviours, as they manoeuvred through some of the roughest areas of Central Los Angeles. The film shows how the dance styles of ‘Krumping and Clowning’ were practiced, on a daily basis, as a way to process destructive emotions such as anger, frustration, or fear. Dancing became a way for them to cope with incomprehensible situations that included losing a loved one to gun crime; being pressured to join gangs; seeing someone get stabbed or, having the misfortune of losing a loved one to the ‘streets’. I was amazed to see the dancers reach an altered state that heightened their physical abilities and transcend them beyond their day to day circumstances. As I watched, it seemed as though the dancers were able to catapult from surviving to thriving by connecting with an internal refuge that expanded their consciousness. The film has had a lasting impact on my life, even though I watched it over a decade ago. Rize initiated my curiosity about dance and it’s impact on our well being. Even though Rize sparked this desire, I didn’t start to fully explore the health benefits of dance, and other physical activities, until I began to recover from breast cancer. According to an article in the Telegraph (Halliwell, 2016), Dr. Peter Lovatt, a dance psychologist and Principal lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire, says that the reason dance makes us feel good is four-fold. “Dancing stimulates us physically and emotionally while there are also cognitive and social elements to it,” He also states, “You appear to get a much bigger release of endorphins when you dance than during other forms of exercise, it also connects with the emotional centres in the brain.” In summary, dance is a physical activity that I can recommend to implement as part of your daily/weekly activities to enhance your well being. Even dancing to your favourite music for five minutes, to start your day can make a difference to your well being. Give it a try!
Halliwell, R. 2016
Scandiffio, S. 2018
Robinson, K. & Aronica, L. 2018
Wilson, B. 2005