When most people are asked why they started dancing, they may answer with a story of intrinsic motivation for it as a part of their life, “I had just always wanted to try.”
At the beginning of our dance journeys, we are often unaware of the copious benefits dance offers. We believe we’re simply learning steps; how to Salsa; how to box-step...though we eventually come to realize that the benefits of dance transcend learning figures and patterns—physical, mental, and emotional health benefits come together to ensure that we are able to maximize our lives, and become truly limitless.
Physical Benefits of Ballroom Dance
Ballroom dance allows us to experience stories, cultures, and movement to music—this hardly sounds like arduous physical activity, right?! But while our minds and souls benefit from hours of hip-shaking and box-stepping, our bodies are also grateful for everything dance does for them.
The ability to improve physical health has long been attributed to different types of dance. Around the early 1900s, female physical educators began establishing dance as part of physical education programs in schools, as they saw the benefits of dance outside of the school setting, and wanted to integrate it into their curriculum.1 In fact, youth involved in social dance dance have been shown to improve in their cardiorespiratory fitness, strength, endurance, and bone density.3
Similarly to sports, such as basketball, that involve significant side-to-side movements, dance has been shown to be especially helpful due to the variety of stepping patterns involved. We spend our days walking forward, but rarely backward or side-to-side. In ballroom dance, these movements help strengthen the weight bearing bones of our legs that get less attention throughout our normal daily tasks. Ballroom dance also involves hip movements, which can engage the lower back and hip joints, and has been shown to support range of motion, increase muscle tone and posture.4
Based on this success, ballroom dance is an up-and-coming form of rehabilitative exercise for those living with various physical ailments such as Parkinson’s disease and cerebral palsy.
Mental Health Benefits of Ballroom Dance
Our brains love dance, too! Ballroom dance requires a large amount of coordination between our limbs, and the limbs of others around us. Neurologists are quite interested in dancers’ ability to transform visual or verbal cues into sophisticated movement, all the while synchronizing it with music—if you ballroom dance, you’re pretty impressive!5 Give yourself a pat on the back.
Some people use crossword puzzles or Soduku to exercise their brains...some people dance. Dancing is shown to increase focus and boosts memory—and who doesn’t want more of that?4 It activates our brain across many regions, meaning that our brain is consistently making new connections, and staying sharp.5 Improving our mental firepower can benefit us at any age and start preventative care of ailments and neurological diseases that may appear later in our lives.
Beyond our physical brain health, ballroom dance increases happy chemicals, such as serotonin, that lack within the brain and body in individuals living with the impacts of depression and anxiety—proving to be more powerful than listening to music or exercising alone! It also provides a positive social interaction and opportunity for those to feel connected with other people. Older adults who experienced ballroom dance classes showed increased self-efficacy and decreased hopelessness in regards to their mental illness.6
Many Dance Vision members cherish ballroom’s positive impact on their mental health, “Dance is a powerful addition to my toolbox to keep anxiety and depression at bay. It has brought extreme health and happiness into my empty nest stage of life...” a member said.
Emotional Benefits of Ballroom Dance
We understand how ballroom dance can positively affect our bodies and minds, let’s delve into how it makes us feel. Dance is an outlet for experiencing a wide spectrum of emotions; Waltz might make us feel peaceful and solemn, we can explore our fiery, inner matador, through the Paso Doble, or we can share our love for life and joy with an audience through the Swing...
It can be difficult to experience the emotions that we hope for in life when we are bogged down with day-to-day stress and to-do lists. Dance allows us to focus on self-care, to move our bodies, and to be present. Not to mention it’s an opportunity to socialize with other people, immerse ourselves in music and choreography, and get endorphins flowing through that body.4
Participating in expressive activities that engage a range of emotions can help with self-discovery. Emotional wellness is supported by self-confidence, which can skyrocket when we participate in activities that allow us to express and embrace who we are with movement.8
Ballroom dance supports our members in maintaining confidence and overall purpose in their lives, “I now have a place to go 5 days a week. I'm performing in front of people, when I was so self conscious before. I still get nervous, but I enjoy it. It's given me confidence, happiness, and goals to achieve,” said one Dance Vision member.
Based on the benefits of dance that we have explored so far, it is not surprising that dance is used as an effective form of therapy across many injuries and illnesses. In all age groups, dance is used as a rehabilitative strategy associated with improvements in mood, cardiovascular fitness, and increased energy levels.12,13 It is unique in that it is able to better our bodies physically through interventions and therapies, but is equally important as emotional therapy in the lives of others.
For those struggling with posture after injury, dance provides a unique opportunity for posture re-education and supports the ability to stand over a longer period of time. Specifically for older adults, dance has improved balance and postural stability across a number of studies, helping minimize fall risk. These adults enjoyed dance more than their other rehabilitative protocols, and it was effective in not only reducing their fall risk, but improving their quality of life.9 In-person activities also allowed them to engage with others in the community and find purpose in beneficial activities that are also fun.
Many individuals with chronic injury struggle to find energy for any sort of physical activity, and as a result, mental, physical, and emotional health can suffer. Dance therapy has shown to reduce fatigue in cancer patients, as well as improve perception of fatigue across chronic fatigue patients.10,11 Dance Vision members frequently mentioned that dance was a huge part of their healing process, “Dance brought back my neural pathways after chemotherapy. The joy of partner dancing and the music keeps me happy,” one member said.
As we’ve learned, the benefits of ballroom dance span all aspects of human wellness—physical, mental, and emotional. Dance Vision members have shared benefits of dance that have changed their life in small and large ways, and these are our favorite stories to hear. Perhaps your “why,” or your origin story for dance, is now bolstered by the transcendent qualities that surpass intrinsic motivation or increased physical fitness. So, share with us why do you dance?
- Wheeler M. Benefits abound: including ballroom dance in university dance departments. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance. 1996 Feb 1;67(2):24-9.
- Cain KL, Gavand KA, Conway TL, Peck E, Bracy NL, Bonilla E, Rincon P, Sallis JF. Physical activity in youth dance classes. Pediatrics. 2015 Jun 1;135(6):1066-73.
- Burkhardt J, Brennan C. The effects of recreational dance interventions on the health and well-being of children and young people: A systematic review. Arts & Health. 2012 Jun 1;4(2):148-61.
- Alpert PT. The health benefits of dance. Home Health Care Management & Practice. 2011 Apr;23(2):155-7.
- Cross ES, Ticini LF. Neuroaesthetics and beyond: new horizons in applying the science of the brain to the art of dance. Phenom Cogn Sci [Internet]. 2011 Jan 5;11(1):5–16. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11097-010-9190-y
- Haboush A, Floyd M, Caron J, LaSota M, Alvarez K. Ballroom dance lessons for geriatric depression: An exploratory study. The Arts in psychotherapy. 2006 Jan 1;33(2):89-97.
- Kiepe MS, Stöckigt B, Keil T. Effects of dance therapy and ballroom dances on physical and mental illnesses: a systematic review. The Arts in Psychotherapy. 2012 Nov 1;39(5):404-11.
- Salo A. The Power of Dance: How Dance Effects Mental and Emotional Health and Self-Confidence in Young Adults.
- Chen TL, Bhattacharjee T, Beer JM, Ting LH, Hackney ME, Rogers WA, Kemp CC. Older adults’ acceptance of a robot for partner dance-based exercise. PloS one. 2017 Oct 18;12(10):e0182736.
- Sturm I, Baak J, Storek B, Traore A, Thuss-Patience P. Effect of dance on cancer-related fatigue and quality of life. Supportive Care in Cancer. 2014 Aug;22(8):2241-9.
- Blazquez A, Guillamó E, Javierre C. Preliminary experience with dance movement therapy in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. The Arts in psychotherapy. 2010 Sep 1;37(4):285-92.
- Shigematsu R, Chang M, Yabushita N, Sakai T, Nakagaichi M, Nho H, Tanaka K. Dance-based aerobic exercise may improve indices of falling risk in older women. Age Ageing. 2002 Jul;31(4):261-6.
- Bräuninger I. The efficacy of dance movement therapy group on improvement of quality of life: A randomized controlled trial. The Arts in Psychotherapy. 2012 Sep 1;39(4):296-303.