How can dance be defined ? Many definitions are given by diverse sources. Taking them into consideration has led to understand dance as being an artistic and rhythmic movement in a given space that is usually in accord with a given music. Some people dance to express their emotions or ideas, some others find through dance a way to exercise or increase their performance, some look at dance as a way to socialize or have fun while some others are simply pulled in by the music. Actually, although those who dance are overwhelmingly motivated by one aspect of the discipline, dance has combined benefits including socializing, mental well-being, mental health and physical health. As we have discussed the social benefits in a previous article entitled ‘’Dance or the Art of Meeting Others’’, we will focus here on both the mental and the physical benefits of dancing.
On one hand, dance provides undeniable physical benefits. First, dance is an activity that has, depending on the frequency of the sessions and on the intensity of efforts, advantages at least similar to those of sports. A study of 2015 called the Energetics of Dance was led by Dr. Nick Smeeton and Dr. Gary Brickley from the Department of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Brighton. The researchers analyzed the results that came out of a group of 15 dancers aged from 24 to 38 who tested for the purpose of the study several activities such as ballet, ballroom, contemporary, salsa, street and swing dance as well as swimming, running and cycling. The sessions equally of 30 minutes each revealed different results: an average of 293 calories were burnt in swing dance while 264 calories were burnt in running, 258 calories in cycling and 249 calories in swimming. Swing dance which is the most intense of the aforementioned dances has led to the most calories burnt in a 30 minutes session. Nevertheless, the other dances as ballroom, contemporary or ballet have revealed periods of what is categorized as ‘’high and severe intensity exercise’’, thus an effort that can be easily compared to cycling for example. Here lies the difference between dance and other physical activities. Second, dancing usually implicates the movement of extensive parts of the body unlike the majority of sports. The arms, the legs, the back, the hips, and the neck among others: every muscle and every joint may be called upon during the dancing process. Flexibility as well is a must for any dancer and especially for dances as ballet, contemporary or ballroom dancesport: the ‘’portes’’, the ‘’ronds de jambe’’, the ‘’pointes’’, the ‘’drops’’ and other movements require a lot of both flexibility and strength. Hence, by practicing these dances, you are nurturing both which will tend to keep you fit and in a good shape and health.
Third, dance helps preventing and curing diseases. As any sport, and furthermore as a discipline that is, by nature, more demanding due to its various and extended movements, dance (and dancing regularly !) is an efficient way to prevent and even cure heart diseases, diabetes and high pressure. An article of November 8, 2018 entitled “Diabetes and Depression in Lebanon and Association with Glycemic Control: a Cross-Sectional Study” was published on “The National Center for Biotechnology Information” website. The latter is a website managed by the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health that advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. The article is based upon a study conducted on 436 diabetic patients in Lebanon and that examines links between Diabetes mellitus, “a chronic non-communicable disease characterized by hyperglycemia and is associated with chronic complications affecting the overall quality of life”, glycemic control and depression. In the context, the International Diabetes Foundation estimates that in 2017, around 585 400 persons are diabetic in Lebanon whom amount to about 14.6% of the population. The study hence emphasizes, that with such a big number, the consequences of Diabetes which are “long-term complications affecting the retina of the eye, the nerves, and the kidneys, and may lead to higher risk of cardiac diseases or strokes”, are of particular importance in Lebanon. The article says that the causes of Diabetes are due to “a result of many factors including obesity, sedentary life style, and genetic predisposition.5”. Hence, dance may be an adequate solution in order to treat both the causes of Diabetes as sedentary life style and its effects as depression which was observed on 29% of the patients tested (notwithstanding the fact that depression may be, as well, a factor leading to diabetes). From one to another, a study of May 20, 2014, entitled ‘’Dance Therapy in Patients with Chronic Heart Failure: a Systematic Review and a Meta-Analysis’’ was conducted on 183 patients among them 62 patients who followed a dance therapy, 60 a classic exercise therapy and 61 as an observation group.
The results showed that the dance therapy patients, unlike the other patients, have enhanced their control over exercise capacity and improved their health-related quality of life. Let us note as well that the balance, the control over the body and the coordination of the movement procured by dancing help people at risk or suffering of osteoporosis to better manage the fragility: prevented falling, harmless falling, strengthened and stretched muscles.
On the other hand, the mental well-being includes primarily mental health. The latter is importantly affected by dance-related effects as dance may be, in some cases, a way to prevent and to cure mental health diseases. Preventing is preferable to curing would say the wise man. Well, dance does both ! A scientific article called ‘’White Matter Integrity Declined Over 6-Months, but Dance Intervention Improved Integrity of the Fornix of Older Adults’’ was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience on March 16, 2017. Neuroscientifically Challenged is a website that defines the Fornix as ‘’a bundle of white matter fibers that arches around the thalamus. The fornix originates in the hippocampus, where it emerges from a collection of fibers called the fimbria. It then stretches up and around the thalamus toward the front of the brain’’ and the White Matter as ‘’areas of the central nervous system’’ mainly containing ‘’axons [or connections] and glial cells [or non-neuronal nervous system cells] ’’ in the brain. The neurodegeneration of the Fornix is associated to amnesia and Alzheimer disease. Thus, we can define the Fornix as being an essential component of the White Matter regarding its role linking to cognition abilities and memory. Moreover, hereof article mentioned that ’’White Matter is considered one of the primary mechanisms underlying age-related cognitive slowing and memory decline (Gunning-Dixon and Raz, 2000; Madden et al., 2012)’’. In other words, preserving White Matter integrity is to preserve cognitive performance which starts to decline at around 55 years old.
The study aforementioned which lasted for 6 months was tested on four groups of elderly people appointed at dance, walking, stretching or walking with nutrition. According to the organizers, ‘’Sessions were conducted in an appropriate dance space and were taught by experienced dance instructors. The choreographed dance combinations became progressively more challenging over the course of the 6-months program. Group social dance styles were selected (i.e., Contra and English Country dancing) to minimize lead-follow roles. Instead, these social dances required participants to move between partners during each dance. Each participant learned and alternated between two roles for each dance, increasing the cognitive challenge’’. In brief, four indicators have been used in the experience: the Fractional Anisotropy (FA) which is associated, when abnormally low, to the loss of fiber integrity (Beaulieu, 2002), such as in Alzheimer’s disease cases (Medina et al., 2006); Radial Diffusivity (RD),when abnormally high, is linked to White Matter degeneration (Song et al., 2003, 2005); Axial Diffusivity (AD) which relates to axonal integrity; and Mean Diffusivity (MD), which is, when abnormally high and when paralleled with RD and AD increases, is a sign of White Matter degeneration (Beaulieu et al., 1996; Beaulieu, 2002; Concha et al., 2006). The results were meaningful : ‘’FA in the fornix decreased in both Walking and the Stretching group, but in the Dance group increased on average by 0.68 × 10−2 (see figure below). […] RD and MD increased to a significantly lesser extent in the Dance group compared to all other’’.
The study concludes by a particularly positive note for dance: dance implicates a multimodal stimulation of the brain including ‘’aerobic exercise, sensorimotor stimulation, and cognitive, visuospatial, social, and emotional engagement [… which is of] greater benefit for WM integrity than aerobic exercise alone (i.e., Walking and Walking + Nutrition). This is in line with recent findings that combined exercise and cognitive interventions have more benefit for cognitive, physical, and mental health in older population than each intervention alone (Oswald et al., 2006; Law et al., 2014; Bamidis et al., 2015; Lauenroth et al., 2016). Combined cognitive and physical interventions may also have more long-lasting effects (Rahe et al., 2015)’’. The concrete consequences of such results on preventing and curing mental diseases are underlined by correlative studies that found that “ballroom dance has also been associated with a protective effective against dementia onset in older adults (Verghese et al., 2003) and reduced depression in community-dwelling older adults with depression (Haboush et al., 2006). Indeed, there is increasing interest in dance as a therapeutic intervention for various clinical groups (Dhami et al., 2015), such as in Parkinson’s disease (McNeely et al., 2015) and dementia (Ballesteros et al., 2015; Adam et al., 2016)”.
Finally, mental wellbeing is as well demonstrated through psychological wellbeing. In 2018, 300 000 million people suffer from depression according to the World Health Organization. First, dance helps fighting against depression and anxiety or state of distress. As referred to in the first paragraph of this paper, in the example referring to the article “Diabetes and Depression in Lebanon and Association with Glycemic Control: a Cross-Sectional Study”, about the third of diabetics in Lebanon, around 585 400 persons, are potentially affected by depression in 2017. More globally, in Lebanon, about 693 659 persons or 17.3% of the population is depressive in 2017. Depression may lead to “low mood, not getting any pleasure from doing daily activities, and having weight and sleep changes, in addition to other symptoms”. A study of September 23, 2009 entitled “Dance movement Therapy Improves Emotional Responses and Modulates Neurohormones in Adolescents with Mild Depression” was made on 40 Koreans who averaged 16 years old of age. The study tested a dance therapy on the students during twelve weeks in order to assess the eventual effects of dance on mild-depression state. An article published on greenmedinfo.com on February 5, 2018, commented the findings of the study: “Serotonin concentration increased from dancing, and dopamine levels decreased, suggesting that dance therapy may stabilize the sympathetic nervous system. Researchers concluded that dancing may “beneficially modulate” these important brain chemicals, and improve emotional health in sufferers of depression”. Another similar study of June the first, 1984 entitled “Effects of Dance on Anxiety”, examined the effects of modern dance on anxiety. The study which lasted for three months showed that dance training significantly reduced anxiety within the pilot group.
Second, dance may be a way to psychological rehabilitation and self-esteem reconstruction or enhancement. To illustrate, a study of August 28, 2018, entitled “Dance and Movement Program Improves Quality-of-Life Measures in Breast Cancer Survivors” was driven on 35 women who have benefited from a treatment in the first 5 years following the diagnosis of a breast cancer and who have survived it. The study observed women rehabilitation through dance therapy during a three months’ program and concluded as follows: “the program that addressed the physical and emotional needs of women following treatment for breast cancer substantially improved a breast cancer-specific quality-of-life measure”. In other words, the women were able through dancing to rebuild, to some extent, their self-esteem including a better perception of their body’s image and self-confidence by assuming their body as is and by acknowledging others’ acceptance. Third, simply to feel good energizes mental and even physical health. Socialization, contact with others, fun, and even effort, discipline and respect of rules provide a unique positive sensation. Per the study “Therapeutic values of dance movement and its influence on psychomotor development of deaf persons as a form of socialization and integration with the environment” (which title explains it all) published on January the first, 2002, young deaf people were brought through to participate in dance activities. As a result, their opinion and behavior were compiled at the end of the study: “The self-consciousness of participants after practice manifested itself by relaxation (50%), joy (30%), and resolution in taking decisions (15%)”. An article of Markham Heid to the Time published on July 5, 2017, and entitled “Why dancing is the best thing you can do for your body” corroborates the same idea: “Touch is the first sense that emerges during infancy, and the more experts examine the benefits of massage, holding hands and other forms of human-to-human physical contact, the more they find that touching improves well-being and reduces stress and anxiety”. This especially applies, in our opinion, in tango dancing where the ”Abrazo” or embrace plays a key role in the movement. Tangueros and Tangueras (or tango dancers) have to be, through the connection and in such a subtle way, highly aware of the partner’s body and energy. This will allow both quality and transcendence. Marcus Julian Felicetti underlines the main benefits of hugging each other in an article entitled “10 reasons why we need at least 8 hugs a day” that was published on August 10, 2012, on mindbodygreen.com. He assumes that, among others, a deep hug leads to a feeling of trust and safety, “instantly boosts oxytocin levels, which heals feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger, lifts one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness, [and] strengthens the immune system”. During a milonga or tango soiree, eight hugs are the minimum guaranteed !
Fourth, music by itself has many benefits regarding mental health and especially psychological wellbeing. An article of Kendra Cherry entitled “10 Surprising Psychological Benefits of Music” published on November 18, 2018 on verywelmind.com summarizes these benefits. In brief, the article assumes, backed by scientific studies, that music can, among others, improve one’s cognitive performance as increasing the processing speed or enhancing memory; reduce or help to manage stress; help eat less as in restaurants with soft-played music, people tend, in a relaxed setting, to be more aware of their fulfilled-state; help reduce and manage the pain, especially in the event of a surgical operation; help to sleep better, especially after listening to classical music for 45 minutes; and improve the mood and motivation, when playing fast-track music during sport exercises for example.
To conclude, dance combines many elements including the movement, the music, the place, often the contact with others and culture. Each element apart has its own benefits and its own character that can survive alone. However, dance is that magical stick that brings them all together and thus let them exhale their essence in an euphoric way. Through this paper, we tried to address and emphasize on the main benefits of dance. Those where divided into three: First the physical benefits of dance including benefits comparable to sports, benefits in contrast with sports and the sui generis benefits of dancing regarding curing and preventing physical diseases; second the mental health benefits of dance through a study published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience that indicated that old persons where able to inhibit neurodegenerative effects due to age and to prevent diseases as Alzheimer and Dementia through dancing sessions; third, the psychological benefits of dance including the fight against depression and anxiety especially among young students, self-esteem reconstruction or enhancement especially for breast cancer (or other similar diseases) survivors, and last the feel-good sensation especially through human contact, socialization and music. These benefits travel across the body and spirit through dance. They actually show that when there are values emanating from the top of an activity as dance like respect, fun, commitment, effort, reward, smoothness, strength or gallantry, they can pop-up in such a sparkling way !