Can dancing improve your mental health?
“Can dancing improve your mental health?” Abso-blummin-lutely! The best news is that you don’t have to be a ‘dancer’ or go to a class to get the benefits. Simply having a boogie around your kitchen will do the trick. Even better if you are with a friend.
Dancing is going to improve your mood, reduce your stress and if you do it with others, your brain sends out bonding chemicals, so you’ll even like each other better afterwards!
(Obviously there was much dancing involved in the writing of this article)
Dancing improves your mood – move for mental health
Any movement – whether it is simply moving your body through the environment you’re in or whether you’re dancing – will improve your mood because repeated muscle contraction releases myokines which scientists are now calling ‘hope molecules’. Meaning you will feel more joy and positivity just from moving.
“Repeatedly contracting any muscle through movement releases anti-depressant substances called myokines that scientists have dubbed ‘hope molecules’.” Dr Rangan Chatterjee Episode 109 “Discover the joy of movement” with Dr Kelly McGonigal. Find it on Spotify.
Dancing with others releases bonding hormones
Having trouble with your step-daughter? Dance with her. When you move to music with others, your brain will release endorphins and endocanabinoids which are bonding hormones. So you will like and trust your fellow dancers more and the relationships will be strengthened.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a clip from Season 2 of Bridgerton that might convince you otherwise. Prior to this moment, the entire family were arguing and disconnected from each other. Look at the effect on their mood of less than 2 minutes of dancing. (Thank you to the amazing Nana Koch for the tip).
Dancing will help you feel more empowered
If you are someone who usually feels physically uncomfortable doing exercise, give shimmying around your house to your favorite empowering music a go. By the power of Zeus’s beard, music will help you reinterpret your elevated heart rate, increased body heat and muscle sensations in positive ways.
So instead of: “I’m not sure I’m doing this right. I’m too fat/skinny/old to do this class. Oh god my heart is beating fast – am I going to die?”
Instead, you’re going to be having thoughts like: “OMG I LOVE this song! It is SO good. I’m having fun, feeling my life force. This song reminds me of [insert epic memory here..]”
Before you know it you’ll be using muscles in ways you couldn’t have conceived before the music began. Tada! Sneaky exercise!
Feeling lonely? Try a dance class
Dance classes usually promote social interaction between participants. I have made two of my absolute bestest friends from dance classes. We met 10 years ago in beginner Latin Dance classes and bonded over our mutual love of music and buying dance shoes.
If you’re feeling lonely, going to a dance class can be a way of meeting new friends and creating a Moai (a gang of local friends that you meet up with regularly) – read more on Moai here.
My dance class recommendations
Here are the dance schools that I’ve been to in Brisbane for adults and can recommend. (Obviously there are many more than this select list, particularly for the younger peeps).
The passionate dance of Spain (for any gender) – try Flamenco House Brisbane.
Latin Dancing (including Brazilian styles)
Lots here in no particular order. They all have parties on a weekend where you can check them out before you commit to a class.
You don’t have to have done ballet since you were 4 years old to attend these classes. I managed to fumble my way through and had heaps of fun.
Hip hop and other non-latin styles
Nia is a combination of 3 dance forms, 3 healing arts and 3 martial arts. All Nia classes are perfect for people of middling and older ages. There are even specific classes for those healing from injuries or living with chronic conditions called “Moving to Heal”.
So many classes and so many wonderful teachers – you can search by location here – but my hot tip is to try Sophie Marsh in the West End on a Saturday morning.
How is dance therapy different to a dance class?
Dance therapy can be used in a huge range of settings – from helping people with Parkinsons or Dementia, to bringing joy, movement, and connection to the disabled. It can also be used in 1:1 psychotherapy, as I do.
As a somatic psychotherapist I use the principles and theories of dance therapy and the techniques as a psychotherapeutic tool. We also use movement and music to tap into your limbic/emotional brain, helping you to connect with your subconscious mind.
I’m also helping you bring awareness to your body and how it is moving (or how it is not moving). We often get stuck in patterns of movement and thinking. By changing up the ways you are moving your body, we can also change the possibilities for your life. Oooh want some of that? Have a look here…
Finding it hard to get motivated to move? Use music
Music will amp up your joy factor because music (that you like) releases the feel good chemicals.
When you listen to your favorite music, your brain releases dopamine and adrenaline. These chemicals interact with the emotional and motor systems of your body to get you up and moving. So music literally gets you up and moving.
Caveat: it has to be music that YOU like. (Hence why you sit down when the DJ puts on a naff song at a wedding.)
Here is my personal Shake it off playlist on Spotify (and yes Ms T-Swizzle does make an appearance).
One final word from Aristotle
“Music directly represents the passions of the soul. If one listens to the wrong kind of music, he will become the wrong kind of person.” — Aristotle
So probably don’t listen to Baby Shark….
I hope this helped you understand that dancing CAN help you improve your mental health. Even if it’s just a 3 minute boogie around your living room. Get on down and shake your groove thing!
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