Dancing has become increasingly popular in our area and if you have written yourself off as a non-dancer, you may change your mind when you read the convincing evidence that dancing is extremely beneficial to your mental as well as physical health. Everything from swing dance, polka, and square dance, involving couples, to line dance is readily accessible to us all. The Community Center has come alive with dancing every day of the week. Line dancers dance five times each week: Absolute Beginners on Tuesdays and Thursdays and more advanced dancers meet on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Couples dance classes are on Mondays and Thursdays. All are free with the $10 per month membership.
After line dancing on a regular basis for nine years, and leading an Absolute Beginners class about 7 years, I have seen changes in my ability to coordinate movement and thought, as well as dramatic changes in others. Articles recently caught my attention connecting dance with health. From Scientific America came “Is Dancing a Way to Beat Alzheimer’s?” I thought you might be interested in what research is showing.
It is believed that music and dance have been instrumental to the evolution of the human species and that even before we were sophisticated enough to produce language, dance was an early form of communicating. They used shells and beads attached to their arms or legs that made noise when they moved to help keep tempo— and music was born! As a natural part of our emotional and physical responses, these are not things we should fight or restrain, but rather embrace for our good health and joy in living.
Obvious evidence of the above theory is the way young children naturally respond to music at every opportunity. Even those of us with “two left feet” can hardly resist tapping our foot or shaking a leg when certain music comes on. Involuntary physical response to music is deeply rooted in the evolution of human beings.
One article told about evidence that dancing helps protect against dementia and Alzheimer ’s disease. In this study, researchers wanted to see if any physical or cognitive recreational activities influence mental acuity. They had people aged 75 and older participate in certain activities and measured the reduced risk of dementia these activities produced. The results were pretty surprising: bicycling, golf, and swimming offered no protection. The mental activities of reading, and doing crossword puzzles offered some protection, and dancing offered the greatest protection of all. They theorize that because dancing requires rapid-fire, split-decision making skills, it increases our cognitive reserve and builds new pathways in the brain. By increasing the number of neural pathways, we are providing our brain with multiple ways to access information, instead of just one way. The key finding was that teaching yourself how to do anything differently, or learning anything new helps build these neural pathways, which in the long run, will keep your brain healthier.
Page 2 of 2 - A team of researchers at University College London conducted a study to examine the brain when people are dancing, or observing others dance. They found that when people watch simple actions, areas in the premotor cortex involved in performing those actions switch on. In other words, we mentally rehearse what we see. Watching others dance helps us understand new movements. Most of us have learned this on our own—we can learn by watching others dance. The ability to rehearse a movement in your mind is vital to learning motor skills.
Line dance is the third most popular extra circular activity in the world for those over 50 (I suppose eating out and maybe walking are 1 and 2). However, young people also love to line dance as witnessed by a very enthusiastic 11-yr-old girl who came with her grandmother and participated this summer. It has been found to lower blood pressure, increase mobility and balance, increase bone mass and muscle, eases depression, aids in weight loss, and staves off early signs of Alzheimer’s.
It is wonderful that dancing, an activity that is so much fun, not only makes you physically healthier, but it can also make you smarter.
If you have never or seldom danced, the Absolute Beginner (AB) Line Dance, class which meets at 12:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, is a good place to begin. The class format uses Val Myers’ AB program which was developed because he thought we were using dances too difficult for beginners, discouraging them from continuing. Our motto is, “If you can walk and count to 8, you can line dance”. Class environment is relaxed, low key, and intended for play, fun, and exercise. Come get some exercise while having great fun! No partner needed for line dance.
In case you have not discovered youtube.com. You can learn how to repair, or do most anything by typing it into youtube search—-including line dancing.
(Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, taught home economics, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, has taught numerous health and nutrition classes, and wrote a weekly newspaper column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)