I was teaching a dance class last evening and while we were working on a new combination, a sequence of events took place that got me thinking! In fact, I thought it was so significant that I wanted to create a blog about it! But…I started getting pretty in depth with it, so it’s now a short blog series!
You see, dancing has been my whole life. I’ve been working in the dancing universe for many years and I love it! But, over time I’ve either forgotten…or perhaps just took for granted…the enormous impact that the world of dance has had on my journey in life. Last night, I was brought back to reality about all the benefits of dance – not only on the body, but the mind, soul and overall well being of those taking dance classes.
Last evening, after explaining this new combination and answering questions, it was time for the class to put the combination into action. I put on the music, counted out the intro, and the class started to execute the combination. However, the execution was not what I had demonstrated or explained…not even remotely close! Arms were moving in the wrong direction, steps were out of sequence, and I thought to myself for a moment… “What happened? What did I do wrong in demonstrating and explaining the combination?”
Once the music stopped, I asked the class this very question. Surprisingly, they looked at me with confused expressions on their faces. They didn’t even realize their arms were moving in the wrong direction or that the steps were out of sequence. Their brains were overloaded and concentrating so hard on what was to come next that they missed the here and now. This all brought me back to the realization…the reminder…of how many moving parts there are in a dance combination.
It’s actually quite hard for the brain to segregate and separate out the arms moving in one direction, legs in another, remembering posture, holding my core, turnout, and of course the epaulement (head movement). I realized it was going to take a few more times of doing this combination for all the parts to come together and work as one cohesive, fluid phrase.
This situation also brought me back to remembering how much dance helps to improve so many aspects of the mind, soul, and overall well being of our dancers.
Let’s start with the mental benefits of dancing. As shown in my example above, there’s no question that dance helps with multitasking. Getting the brain to concentrate in great detail on multiple tasks at one time to produce exceptional results takes time and practice. But, there are so many more benefits dance has on mental health, and I’m going to list my top three for you.
- Memory– One single complete dance can have over 1000 dance steps put together to make the end result. Most dancers are not only required to memorize the “drill” combinations to improve their technique, but they are also required to remember these 1000+ steps to perform at the highest of their ability level. Let’s not forget…many dancers that truly LOVE dance are taking multiple classes! It is memory on steroids and it trains the brain to work in unique ways to remember these steps and tasks. As an example, let’s take the theory taught called marking. It is not uncommon to see a dancer counting or talking to themselves, or moving through steps to help memorize or recall the order or sequencing of the dance steps. This is a technique taught to dancers that can also benefit them in other aspects of their life such as school, theater plays, or even tasks you would like them to complete at home (in my house…we still call them chores).
- Mood- Dancing releases endorphins in the body to help improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression. Unlike taking a basic exercise class, dance encourages you to express your feelings and release stress. I can’t count the number of times a student has come up to me at the end of class and said, “I really needed this today. I had such a bad day at school and I feel so much better now.” Most of the time they don’t even know why they feel better. The emotion of the day is put into class, they work hard, they break a sweat, and the endorphins are released which in turn improves their mood.
- Math- Yes, there is math in dance class! Dance is constantly working on pathways, different formation shapes and counting. Now here is where the brain benefit comes in! Dancers are not just working in these pathways and formations, they are encouraged to problem solve how to make, create and travel into these shapes and formations using a specific movement or traveling step. Honestly…my brain overloaded a little bit just typing this out! Imagine how a school age dancer feels trying to figure it out and accomplish the task using not only their math brain, but their creative brain at the same time! Counting is not just a 5, 6, 7, 8 and you’re done. In today’s dance class, we’re asking students to break counts down into more complex syncopations and rhythms. Then, on top of that, we’re asking them to use their bodies to express these syncopations and rhythms with movement.
Who says dancers are not smart? Not anyone that has taken a dance class or knows a dancer, that’s for sure! They ARE smart, they think outside the box and they come up with intuitive ways of solving problems. Dancers are great at multitasking and pay very close attention to the small details to produce amazing results. These skills are learned inside the dance class. The amazing thing…most dancers don’t even realize they are learning these amazing life skills to improve their brain function and mental capabilities. They are just having a great time dancing and enjoy the way class makes them feel!