In the summer, even at 8:30, the contrast of the bright Texas sun with the pitch black interior of the dance club was stark enough to instantly blind you. Slowly your eyes adjust and with the help of the flicker of faded neon lights over the bar, a magical world is revealed. The rhythms of the music are moving bodies around the dance floor with an ease that seems impossible.
You can now make out the shapes of people lining the bar, drinks in hand, but you can only catch glimpses as the packed dance floor limits your view. You quickly notice the people sitting at the bar don’t look nearly has happy as the people on the dance floor! Hmmm, there must be something to this dance thing!!
Maybe like me, this was your first foray into the world of country dancing. Or maybe you were at a wedding with some really great music! Everyone was tapping their feet but only one guy actually knew how to dance…..boy was he the hit of the evening! The men were jealous and the women were elbowing to be next in line! Wow, that dancing thing really looked like a bunch of fun!
And yes it is, but why should we put out the effort to learn? What’s the big deal about dance? And once we become addicted, how do we explain it to those innocents that say, “Well, you were out dancing a couple of weeks ago…..you really need to go again!”
It’s in the genes!
Since the first cave man picked up a stick to bang on a hollow log, movement to rhythm was a very primal instinct, and all the more rewarding in large groups. Evolutionary history shows us that over the past 15,000+ years our ancestors regularly participated in synchronous chanting and movement, sun saluting together through good times and bad. Darwin argued that tribes that learned to work together had an advantage in the evolutionary struggle for survival and that this cooperation was not conscious, but something that was instinctive, automatic.
Many psychology experts believe it is humans’ primal instinct to form groups to celebrate and that our prehistoric ancestors would use dance to communicate, to bond, and to form relationships. Additionally, our bodies intuitively accommodate information from other bodies and our brains mirror the activity of other brains. These factors combine to make dance an enticing activity that our brains are hard wired to enjoy.
But dance has so much more to offer……..
Don’t we all crave a healthier lifestyle? One central component of a healthy lifestyle is the integration of mind, body and soul and this mind/body/soul synthesis can be found at the very heart of dance itself. Dance is the most basic form of communication between mind and body and can provide physical fitness, mental clarity and emotional stability.
While dance is usually considered a recreational activity, its positive physical, mental and social impact can’t be overlooked in its ability to influence a healthy lifestyle. From the standpoint of physical fitness, you couldn’t ask for a better exercise, and it’s totally portable! You don’t need equipment and don’t need to drive to the gym. With or without a partner, dancing can provide a great workout at any age! Just think polka when you think cardio! Dancing increases development of motor skills and helps us get in touch with our bodies. Balance and coordination are enhanced by drilling techniques that increase body awareness. Dance is a way of connecting ourselves to our bodies which leads to improved posture, enhanced mood, and boosted self confidence.
Research has shown repeatedly that the best method to strengthen the neural connections in your brain is to challenge it with a new skill and dance can offer a challenge to a dancer of any skill level. Learning a new dance or a new pattern will strengthen you mentally and physically. Dance has been shown in studies at Stanford University to be the only sport out of all tested that increases cognitive acuity at all ages. The self-discipline required to achieve dancing greatness can also generate mental toughness that will prove useful throughout life. And what about a mental escape? We all need one of those every once in a while! Dance allows us to be in the moment, letting past and future melt away and only experiencing NOW.
The social aspect of dance is perhaps the most compelling component of all. When words fail us, dance can convey those emotions and bonds are strengthened. When we strive to be understood, dance can reveal us, allowing us to connect with others on a deeply emotional level. Perhaps dance is a creative outlet through which we reveal our true selves to the world around us. Remember, bravery is required to take your first dance step, but that bravery will build self-esteem that you will draw on your entire life and in exchange, you will have a ready made dance family just waiting to welcome you. You’ll always have friends if you know how to dance.
Still, I know it’s hard to get started, especially for guys and it’s easy to be intimidated, but here’s what I tell my UT kids when they show up for their first dance class, “Remember gentlemen, on the dance floor is your one and only opportunity to actually be in charge of a women…..best not to pass up that opportunity!” So, in light of all the wonderful opportunities dance offers us, perhaps the question isn’t “Why dance?” But instead should be, “How could we not!”
Comments, suggestions, and topics cheerfully accepted.
In 1990, Sherry Reynolds stumbled quite accidentally into the vortex of partner dance where she has happily resided ever since. Her passion is introducing our younger generations to this magnificent obsession, forming LoneStar Country Dance Scholarship Fund, a non profit organization, in 2016, to help finance competition expenses for college kids. This scholarship fund has distributed over $21,000 since its inception and Sherry is so very appreciative of all the generous donations that have so greatly benefited her kids.