When we think of dance class more as a rite of passage for young girls than as movement therapy for any gender and any age. But, there are many benefits to engaging your body and your mind with some music and movement. Here are three ways that dancing can boost your brain!
1. Dancing strengthens neuroplasticity
Long term dance practice improves the brain’s ability to form new neural connections to change and adapt. Learning new steps, coordinating with music, moving hands and feet, repeating steps on the right and the left, all of this boosts the connectivity between both cerebral hemispheres.
Learning new choreography from week to week, and engaging in a social activity, keeps your neuropathways constantly changing and forging new connections. Proteins are produced within brain cells that spur the growth of new neurons and new cell connections, actually making the mind more supple.
2. Dancing boosts memory
Dancing works with spatial memory, a cognitive process that enables you to remember different locations as well as spatial relations between objects. It requires you to remember steps, combinations, and rhythms. Several studies have shown that dancing is linked to a reduced risk of dementia. In a study by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, they found that dancing is associated with 76% reduced risk of dementia among the participants.
Dancing increases muscle memory, the ability to do something without being able to explain how to do it. Think of riding a bike. The processes that are important for learning and memory of new skills occur mainly in the brain, not in the muscles. The motor cortex, responsible for controlling movement, develops strong connections between neurons that serve as the representation for motions, and these connections make memory better and easier to access.
3. Dancing makes you happy
In general, physical activities from running to ballet, release endorphins, brain chemicals that increase feelings of euphoria and increase our pain tolerance. However, research at the University of London indicates that dance boosts your mood more than exercise alone. You can burn 300-800 calories per hour dancing, and dancing to music provides a rhythm and satisfactory patterning. Listening to music that we like is an enjoyable experience; moving to it is even better.
Dancing is a way to bond with others. When one dancer’s movement and music expresses joy or sadness, others experience that as well, boosting our emotional regulation and feelings of empathy. Dance is a form of expression and can help process feelings. People who dance together or watch a dance performance feel connected with a group.
Dancing has always been an important part of my physical and mental health. Since I can remember, going to the dance studio was a way to destress. It’s one of the few places where you can drop your baggage at the door and drop into your body, completely focused on the music and the movement.
Legendary psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi investigates the “optimal experience,” proving that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. Flow is a state of happiness we experience when we are in complete engagement in a creative or playful activity. Dance is my flow! And the friends I have made at the studio have been friends for life.
If you are in the Rhode Island area, and you want to dance with me, sign up for my upcoming workshop that kicks off in September at Distinctive Dance, Etc. North. Here are the details!