What is it about dance that leads to health and well-being, not just in people with dementia, but with all of us?
As the official spokesperson for the American Dance Therapy Association for the past 4 years, the most frequent question I’ve been asked by the media has been, “Why is dance so good for your health?”
Off the top of my head, today’s response:
- It is only by moving that our immune system, specifically the lymphatic system, is activated.
- When we engage in movement voluntarily in ways that are novel, surprising, and meaningful, new neural pathways develop throughout the lifespan.
- When we dance, we come into the present moment. One can think of this as a form of active mindfulness, which can reduce stress and improve mental health and self-regulation. Experiencing a feeling of gratitude for the movement our bodies are able to do in the present moment will enhance the benefits.
- The perception simultaneously of the relationship between the parts and the whole in dance, as in all of the arts, is itself a holistic perspective. That holistic perspective leads us to make choices that are good for the whole. The word heal has evolved from a middle English word for whole.
- The experience of dance can be joyous and uplifting. As I frequently remind the people with dementia with whom I dance, if we want to feel uplifted, we need only lift other people up. They feel uplifted when they see the same in us.
There is significant research to back up my points. For here and now, I merely mention them. If you want to look into the research, some topics to begin with include the benefits of social connection and mirror connections. There is an amazing body of work coming from experienced dance/movement therapy professionals on the ADTA Talks youtube channel. A couple in particular are Sherry Goodill’s talk on Dance/Movement Therapy and Integrative Medicine and Jennifer Frank Tantia’s on Dance/Movement Therapy and Anxiety.
In addition, if you would like to experience firsthand the benefits of dance and dance/movement therapy for people with dementia, please join us for the 15-hour training coming up Nov. 5 and 6 in Westwood, MA: Bringing Dance to People with Dementia. While it is geared to learning how to bring dance, as the title suggests, the dance will be equally beneficial to the persons providing the dance. I can speak from 20 years of experience.