The Benefits of Dancing and Movement Therapy

By Elisa Furlan

reviewed by Kareem Mahmoud

Have you ever felt a rush of adrenaline when listening to your favorite song? What about an irresistible urge to drop everything you’re doing and dance to the rhythm of music?

Finding a connection between music and dance can spike your happiness levels and help you live a better life.
But first things first: what is dance? According to Chrisman’s definition, “dance is the most fundamental human behaviour and art form.” Many cultures believe dance to be a medium to express feelings, emotions, tell stories, and celebrate important events.

The health benefits of dancing

When we dance, we move most parts of our bodies, if not all. That’s incredibly good for our physical health: it improves not only strength and flexibility, but also coordination, spatial awareness, and cardiovascular health. Moreover, combining physical activity with a balanced diet can even help prevent different types of cancer! For example, the chances of developing stage 0-3 breast cancer drop by 30% when women follow a healthy lifestyle because postmenopausal obesity and weight gain — two breast cancer risk factors — are directly affected by physical activity. However, the benefits aren’t limited to the physical sphere.


As Sandra Minton and Rima Faber highlight in their book Thinking with the Dancing Brain, the effort to learn difficult dance movements is mental gymnastics for the mind. Dancing helps improve cognitive development, creativity, the concept of self, and memory. Focusing on the movements you have to do during a dance routine spikes the brain’s attention, recognizes surrounding potential problems, and speeds decision-making levels.

Have you ever managed to do something that for so long you haven’t been able to? The feeling is great, right? Well, when we perform a dance routine correctly or pull off a dance move that we wouldn’t have been able to before, our self-confidence grows, giving us the strength and motivation to carry on. We feel like an opera dancer pulling off a five-minute dance routine for the first time without messing it up.

Lastly, as if it were a magical item, dancing can even help us create new relationships. The process of socializing is fundamental when deciding whether or not to do an activity. It requires training, practice, and discipline. However, the people surrounding us can help! Family, in fact, provides social support in many ways. It can push us to participate, encourage us, act as role models, and give us opportunities to achieve our goals.

 

Dancing and emotional health

There have been many studies highlighting the beneficial effects of taking part in a dance class. A study conducted on young adults who agreed to take part in a one-day community dance workshop highlighted that the participants were energized throughout the entire workshop. Although it was physically and mentally hard, they felt happy, inspired, and confident by the end of the workout. Many of the participants said they wanted to keep dancing a part of their lives.

The positive rush of emotions that dance gives you is incomparable. People choose to dance because it helps them in so many ways: they can better express themselves, be more energized, escape difficulties in their lives, and have fun. The best part is that dancing has positive effects on all of us, starting from early childhood. Children can have internalizing or externalizing behaviors: in the first case, they tend to close in and not talk with other people; in the second case, they have extremely violent behaviors. Implementing a dance aspect in games can help children improve their social competence, by alleviating internalizing, and externalizing behaviors.

 

Dance/Movement Therapy

The American Dance Therapy Association defines dance/movement therapy (DMT) as “the psychotherapeutic use of dance and movement in a creative process.” When we talk about DMT, important factors are the body, the dance, and creativity. It helps improve physical, emotional, cognitive, and social skills.

DMT has a long and interesting history; in fact, it became a curative physical activity during the sixteenth century, when English physician Robert Burton suggested using dancing to treat melancholy. From that point forward, dancing has been regarded as a physical, mental, and spiritual exercise.

 

A connection between the body and the mind

You may be wondering how it’s possible that dancing, a primarily physical activity, helps someone’s mental health. It may sound too good to be true, but give me the benefit of the doubt. Here’s the premise of DMT: the problems of the mind are held in the body. We witness this in the form of muscle tension and constrained movement patterns. Consequently, improving one’s movement can positively affect attitude and feelings. By strengthening the muscles, both the immune system and the physiological processes are believed to be improved!
DMT promotes healing in a variety of ways:

  • Connection: when we move in communion with others, we’re no longer isolated, and we create a powerful bond between ourselves and our dance partners.
  • Rhythm: when we dance, we have to follow a rhythm. We let ourselves go, and we consequently ease muscular rigidity and anxiety. Moreover, our energy levels increase consistently.
  • Trust: letting ourselves go isn’t easy. It requires strength and trust. We have to trust others, our impulses, and our bodies and minds.
  • Creativity: creativity is a significant factor when it comes to wellbeing. Dancing encourages self-expression and pushes us to think outside the box.

 

DMT and depression prevention

Depression is a mental health problem that affects millions of people. Dance and movement therapies were proven to have a positive effect on people who are susceptible to suffer from depression. In fact, a study conducted on 50 Korean girls with potential but not yet diagnosed depression investigated the effects of a 45-minutes DMT session three times a week for three months. The sessions focused on improving the girls’ awareness of their bodies, movement expressions, and better managing their feelings. Results showed a significant improvement in negative emotions such as anxiety, paranoid ideation, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms.

 

DMT and autism

According to the World Health Organization, autism is a mental health problem that affects one in 270 people worldwide. These people may have trouble with social interactions and communication, and find it hard to focus and switch from one activity to the other. DMT has been shown to have a positive impact on people with such difficulties. In fact, during DMT’s interventions, people are encouraged to mirror each other’s movements in order to enhance emotional understanding of both themselves and others. Mirroring movement has been proven to contribute to social involvement, body awareness, emotional engagement, and emotional empathy.

Caring about our health is one of the most important aspects of wellness. Finding the strength to overcome difficult situations isn’t easy. However, we can make small choices that help us improve our health.
When you feel down or like you just want to lay in bed all day and shut everyone out, think about what you can do to feel better. Whether it is dancing, going for a walk, talking to your cat — I sure do that more times than I care to admit — or just watching a movie, you can always find new small things that make you happier.
Always remember: the joy of life is in the small things.

Elisa Furlan
I am a positive and enthusiastic writer with an enormous passion for books. I am mostly interested in the fields of equal rights, global environment, and justice. I believe in the power of words: everything we know, we know because we read about it, heard it on the news, or someone told us – it is all connected to words. Contributing to change this world – the one and only one we will ever know – is a privilege as well as a duty: everyone can write something on the internet, especially these days; not everyone, though, can communicate effectively. It is my goal to help this world change, word by word.

Kareem Mahmoud

I am a medical doctor from Palestine and currently a postgraduate student of International Health at Heidelberg University, Germany. Over the past years, I have developed an interest in digital health and telemedicine. In parallel to pursuing my Masters degree, I am working on a digital health publication based in Germany.

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