Dance - A Powerful Therapeutic Art

It was a bright Friday morning when a middle aged woman walked into my clinic. Before she could explain her problem to me I could notice the despondence in her. Her sunken eyes failed to meet mine but she slowly opened up on her miserable state of mind. Her overweight physique appeared to only add to her problems. The cause was work stress and it did not need a doctor to diagnose. Her disbelief was unmissable when I advised her to join any form of dance classes, along with giving her medications.

Two months later she came back to me with gleaming eyes and a new spirit. She thanked me for the medication, but was profusely grateful for my suggestion to take up dance. She said she had been pursuing Zumba dance lessons thrice a week and it had instilled a lot of energy in her. This is exactly what dance does to our body. Dance keeps the body active, keeps the muscles and joints healthy and improves strength, flexibility and posture. It makes you understand your body better and is a graceful aid to weight reduction.

Many a time we see children pursuing dance discontinue citing academics as reason, mostly due to parental insistence. On the contrary dance provides great supplementary benefits for children. The child learns to be disciplined, confident and also less shy while presenting themselves. Aspects like subtlety of movement and hand-eye co-ordination develop better and the child develops a more lucid and sharp mind.

Dancing also increases cognitive acuity at all ages as it requires something called as a rapid-fire decision making. The process of decision making – for example, about the next dance move – generates new neural paths that make information transmission faster and better. The hippocampus and the cerebral cortex of the brain, which are critical for dance, are re-wired and consequently function more actively. (As quoted by Dr. Joseph Coyle, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist). Thus these new pathways help in maintaining the brain’s health and fitness.

Dance Movement (Psycho) therapy (DMT) is the therapeutic method of using movement and dance through which a person can engage creatively in a process to improve his emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration. It is founded on the principle that movement reflects an individual’s patterns of thinking and feeling. This therapy consists of music, easy exercises and sensorial stimulus and provides drugless treatment for depression which is now established as one of the most common emotional disorders.

People suffering from depression generally are hesitant to express their feelings and wait for time to heal their grief. In this regard there are many studies which show that DMT is an effective method for treating depression (Isabella A. Pericleous, 2011, Healing Through Movement: Dance/Movement Therapy for Major Depression, Columbia University Academic Commons). Sessions of DMT generally begin with a warm-up period, a dance/movement section in the middle and cool-down at the end. The type of movement taught will be in harmony with the mood of the person as motion and emotion are linked to each other.

Anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications attempt to produce higher levels of mood-boosting neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine into the brain. The same effect is seen when the person undergoes DMT. Dance has also been found to be therapeutic for patients with Parkinson’s disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. (Noah Crees, PIT Journal:Cycle 6, 2015)

Stress often builds up in the body because we don’t get enough opportunities to express our stressful feelings. To get ‘something off our chest’ feels great. Dancing provides a great way to blow off steam by giving us a more cathartic way to convey our emotions. We are all born with the capacity to dance. Keeping alive the instinct to dance on hearing a beat and dancing out our emotions can keep us happier and healthier.


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