By Laurel Kallenbach
Maybe you’re mad about mambo or you’ve got disco fever. Does a samba really send you? Ever been wild for a waltz? Or jazzed from a jitterbug? Take away the inhibitions that hold us back [using EFT! -Rick], and everybody loves to dance – to move their limbs to music with abandon. There’s no doubt about it – dance lifts your mood and gets your heart pumping. Just a few minutes of swinging around the room will make you realize that dance is a great way to stay in shape.
“Dance gets you into your body,” says Nancy Cassman, a dance/movement therapist and founder of Express Your Self, a dance and movement center in Boulder, Colo. “In our society, people sit at desks and on couches all the time, and we’ve become very brain-oriented,” she points out. “Dance bridges the gap between the brain and the body so that you tap into your physical, emotional, spiritual and mental being.”
Cassman believes wholeheartedly that when you start moving your body, you’ll start moving the energy in your life too. One reason is that dance releases endorphins, so it functions as a mood enhancer. Part of her work as a movement therapist is exploring how and where people experience emotion in the body. In dance movement therapy, movement – especially the sensual, rhythmic response aroused by dance and music – is used as a way of bypassing the conscious mind and making contact with the inner emotional world. Through dance, hidden emotions can be expressed in a nonverbal way and accepted by the conscious self.
Move Your Body
“When you get into your body and use your senses, you naturally feel more grounded and more present,” says Cassman. “And, you’ll feel better – it’s that simple.” Dance’s physical benefits include:
- Increase in range of motion and flexibility.
- Lubricates connective tissue and joints to help you maintain better health.
- Stretches and strengthens muscles. You move in a variety of ways when you dance, so, many different muscle groups get worked.
- Improves circulation throughout the body and brain.
- Works the heart and lungs, thereby improving cardiovascular health.
- Burns calories, making it a fun way to manage weight.
The Soul of Dancing – Freedom of Expression
“I think dance is a spiritual experience – it’s a manifestation of joy!” Cassman says. “When you dance, you’re using your body; you feel alive, you’re happy. I think our purpose in life is to figure out how to use our bodies as instruments of joy. When you align your spirit with your body, you become a fluid, expressive, in-the-moment creature.”
Though dance has many of the same physical benefits as other forms of exercise, it goes one step farther. By adding rhythm and music into the mix, you add the element of inspiration. Plus, dance frees your creativity as you try out different ways of moving.
Most popular forms of dance let you open up your creativity and express yourself. For instance, Latin and African classes, while being highly aerobic, also allow time for you to ad-lib your movements with the lively music.
One of the hottest movement trends now is NIA (it stands for “neuromuscular integrative action”) – a type of dance that integrates mind, body and spirit. NIA classes blend movements from ballet and jazz dance, the martial arts, yoga and tai chi so students can achieve cardiovascular benefit; improve strength, balance and flexibility; and learn about breathing and consciously moving energy through the body. The results can be very freeing, since much of NIA is self-expressive.
Women also flock to belly-dancing, a sensual and ancient art. Belly-dancing encourages you to freely move the abdomen, an area that most women tend to hold rigid. Instead of sucking your stomach in, you thrust it out during belly-dancing, so you get to shed some inhibitions and move in ways that society tends to frown on.
Another advantage of dance is that it can help you feel more self-assured. When you’re dancing for enjoyment, you shed inhibitions and gain self-confidence in your body. “Dance helps tremendously in self-esteem issues,” Cassman emphasizes. “In my studio, I work with many shy and withdrawn children who literally come out of their shells after just two or three weeks of dancing,” she says. “As they free up their self-expression, they develop a much better sense of themselves. For instance, my daughter has a wonderful presence when she’s dancing, but she doesn’t feel so confident at school. So, we focus on how self-assured she is while she’s dancing, then transfer that feeling to school.”
The key to developing self-confidence through dance is to choose a class that’s fun and is suited to your skill level. Finding the right teacher is important too – you want someone who’s supportive and encouraging. “What ruins dance for most people is an environment where they feel slow or inadequate,” says Cassman, who adds that the right dance class will keep you motivated and help you gain self-confidence.
The Clothes Make the Dancer
When you’re choosing clothing to move in, keep in mind that you want to feel unfettered. Whether you choose tights, tanks or tees; a svelte unitard; or a loose, flowy dress, your dance clothes will be as much an expression of yourself as how you move. Here are a couple of things to remember:
Choose clothing that won’t bind or restrict your movement. You should be able to bend low or reach high and your clothing should provide both adequate coverage and maximum move-ability.
Be sure the fabric you wear is breathable. Organic cotton is always nice, although many stretchy fabrics will also feel natural on your skin. Also, be sure that an expandable, comfortable waistband allows you to breathe easily.
Whether you dance in a class, with a friend at a club, or alone in your living room, you’re having fun and being healthy. And, while you’re moving your arms and feet, you’re also moving your soul – because it’s hard to be sad when you’re dancing.
Rick comments: Dance represents to me the expression of power of the body, the matching of your vibration to the rhythmic vibration of the music, and the inclusion of NON-HABITUAL movement into your day. Indeed, if one of my coaching clients asks whether to work out on the treadmill or dance… I recommend DANCE!
(When I originally wrote this comment back in 2006, I had not thought of combining the two! Now, I dance on the treadmill at the gym! Sure, I took it slowly at first, 1.2 mph and just added some expressive movement with arms and legs. Dancing on the treadmill lead to Contact Improvisation, a form of non-performance, non-choreographed movement with objects, a partner, or in groups. It’s… yummy!
Remember, you don’t have to make it formal OR pretty. Move within what feels good to you. Just enjoy and…
Dance, Dance, Dance Your Dreams Awake!
Originally published Feb 5, 2006