By: Willow T.

Dancing is something I love. Dance might be something you love as well. Or you might think to yourself, “I can't dance.” Those words are simply not true. You don't have to be a competitive dancer to “dance”. Dancing is great for mental health and well being. Just by moving your body, emotional responses increase dopamine which can make you feel happy, or excited. It can also boost confidence and put you in a good mood. I would recommend dancing to anyone, because dancing is good for you! It can relieve stress and anxiety, and it can even be something to try when you're bored. Even if you think you can’t dance, try (Just make sure not to hurt yourself or attempt moves you do not have proper training for.)

Dancing can help you rid negative feelings, and get in touch with your body. In a more physical rather than emotional state, dancing also helps engage muscles, and is good for your heart and lungs. Dancing is also a form of emotional expression, and is a great way to “Feel yourself”. Sometimes if you haven't danced in a while your muscles will start engaging in a way you might not be used to, so make sure to stretch or find guided tutorials. So even if you think you can dance, believe in yourself and dance could have an effect on your life. Don't worry if you think you look silly no one is going to judge you, so go for it, and have fun!

I use dance as a hobby, and as a stress relief, but anyone can dance for any reason! Even yoga can be a good way to relieve stress or relax from a long day. Even to do it as a way to start your mornings or end your nights. Yoga can be a great way to stretch and increase dopamine. Although stretching helps with flexibility, increasing strength is a very important aspect of dance. If dancing is something you're interested in, why not take it up as a hobby?

It's never too late to start dancing. Finding a studio that is right for you can be hard sometimes. Look for a studio in your area that fits your budget, and is right for your skill level. If you haven't danced before I suggest beginner classes, which most studios offer. If any teacher professes to be “Old school” it might mean they have a way of teaching that could injure you if you aren't ready. If you would like to start with ballet, make sure you find a good studio that can help you with proper training.

Ballet is a style of dance with movement our bodies weren't made to do, so make sure if you want to pursue ballet, that you train for several years. It may seem like a long time but ballet is a very precise style and takes a lot of strength to master. However, if you aren't sure you're ready for classes but still would like to dance, remember that dance is for everyone. Maybe you'd like to create your own dances which are called improv. Or maybe you want to find choreography videos online. Or if you just want to have fun dancing in your bedroom, that's perfectly okay as well. Everyone should dance and do visual arts. It's good for you, and if anyone ever tells you that you don't have the body or talent for dance, don't listen to them.

Dance is for everyone, no matter the size or skill level. Dance is a form of therapy, and you don't have to take up a career, or even a hobby in order for dance to be good for your body and mind. Dancing is a form of expression, and can speak a language that words cannot. Dance beautifully expresses all emotions and feelings in a very moving way. And even if you're not the dancer, watching dance can give you a sense of expression that dance provides.

I interviewed dancer and dance instructor Diana Green for her opinion on the subject.

Willow T: When did you start dancing?

Diana Green: I first started dancing at the age of six, after waiting two terribly long years watching my older sister dance without being able to join her. I still remember that wait as being one of the longest I had to endure. I love watching my sister dance and I could not bear to be left out.

WT: How does dance affect your mental health?

DG: Dance helped me through high school. I was very isolated in school. All of my friends existed in the dance company in which I participated. I struggled in school due to dyslexia and dance gave me something I could feel successful in. I realize now that my father, who was a physicist, is one who reminded me that I am a very good dancer and not to worry about school-work so much. He helped me to feel valuable by using dance as evidence.

WT: How has dance impacted your life?

DG: Because dance became my identity it had everything to do with maintaining my mental health. It is also how I found my soulmate as I am married to a “Professional” dancer. Without him and dancing, I am not sure I could have survived. It also provided multiple pathways to navigate through my life, as I began as a dancer, then a dance teacher, and eventually an art consultant for other teachers. It has been a wonderful ride and I can say that I have always loved my work. Not many people can say that, but I think it is why I have remained happy and fulfilled. When I am moving, I feel alive. I can communicate my inner being through movement- something not possible through language. When I am unable to move, I become sullen. I do not dance regularly anymore, as I am retired, but I am always moving, and I never keep still when music is playing. My real love now is dancing with my grandchildren. Choreography was a very important outlet for me as I was able to create works that imparted specific messages I felt I had to offer. I never just created steps for my dancers, but always searched for the right moment with the right intent. Without this, I would not have loved to dance so much. For me, it always had to say something. And when I worked with other dancers this way, it provided a very special connection to those dancers that would not have been possible otherwise.

WT: What would be your advice to people wanting to start dancing?

DG: I think everyone should dance. I believe every child should be given lessons in dance. Without the means to express our humanity through art, we become inhuman. Find dance teachers that know the importance of warm ups, cool downs, strengthening, and stretching.

WT: Are there ways dancers and non-dancers can use dance to improve their mental health?

DG: It happens all the time. You just don't realize it. What we are doing when we “go out dancing” - socializing, communicating non verbally. Empowering each other and having fun. But now, after the pandemic, many people are offering self-help through dance online. My students at Huntingdon college used to request help getting through stress of exams through a movement sequence we call constructive rest. There is a field of study called “Dance therapy” in which you can get a degree. All the arts are being used in prisons and youth development centers because we know the arts allow everyone to “speak” and be “heard”. In education, there is a buzzword, or actually a new title for what needs to be taught. It is called SEL (for social emotional learning.) it is what we do in dance, and all the arts. It is what everyone needs to be humane.

A big thank you to Ms. Diana for answering all my questions on her thoughts about dance and mental health.

Now that you hopefully learned more about dance and mental health, I encourage you to start dancing, whether it's just for fun in your bedroom, or a path you would like to take. Dance is great for my and many other dancers' mental health. And if you are interested in dance… go for it! I bet it can be a good thing for you too.

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