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The Sun-Times - Heber Springs, AR
  • Janice Norris: Line Dance for Body, Mind, Spirit

  • Line dancing is a unique form of exercise because it provides heart-healthy benefits of aerobic exercise and it is especially stimulating to the brain.
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  • She said it is the only kind of exercise she has ever enjoyed and she was talking about line dance.  If you can count to eight and walk, you can line dance--just attend the Absolute Beginner line dance classes at the community center in Heber Springs.           
    It was seven or eight years ago a friend told me about Val Myers’ Absolute Beginner (A-B) Line Dance Program.  Myers thought that many new line dancers become discouraged and drop out because the dances are too difficult.  He developed the A-B Series; a set of line dances designed for absolute beginners specifically designed to teach them with simple, non-threatening dances.
    The dances in the A-B Series are called A-B to distinguish them from other beginner dances, as they are so basic. The letters stand for Absolute Beginners and also take beginners from A to B, i.e. from the beginning to the next stage. It is intended that the A-B Series dances are taught before general beginner dances. 
    Since I had had such a difficult time learning to line dance, when I looked at the A-B series, it seemed that was just what was needed.  I had become discouraged and only went to one class the first time I tried it.  A year or so later, it looked like so much fun that I started agan and stuck with it.  I even had to videotape the leader and practice at home.  Our first teacher said if Janice got the dance she knew everyone did.  So I understand beginners!
    In A-B dancing we do the same 12 dances every week (often changing music) and the first dance is as simple as walking.  Each dance in the sequence adds to the last one another basic step.  When the series is completed, we have done the most basic line dance steps.  These are the easiest possible line dances and even someone who has never danced will be dancing in just a few minutes and be moving, smiling, and warmed up, avoiding a long first teaching session.
    Those of us who are already line dancers know it isn’t simply getting some exercise.  We find ourselves addicted to line dancing because we like the music, the confidence that grows from mastering a dance, and the friendships that form.  We know we are doing one of the best activities for total wellness.
    Line dancing is a unique form of exercise because it provides heart-healthy benefits of aerobic exercise and it is especially stimulating to the brain.  A 21-year study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found dancing can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in older people.  In the study, participants over the age of 75 who engaged in reading, dancing and playing musical instruments and board games once a week had a 7 percent lower risk of dementia compared to those who did not. Those who engaged in these activities at least 11 days a month had a 63 percent lower risk! Physical activities like playing tennis or golf, swimming, bicycling, dancing, walking for exercise and doing housework were also studied. One of the surprises of the study was that almost none of the physical activities appeared to offer any protection against dementia.  There can be cardiovascular benefits of course, but the focus of this study was the mind.  There was one important exception:  the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing which lowered the risk by a dramatic 76 percent. Of all the physical activities, dancing involved the most mental effort. 
    Page 2 of 2 -               Why dancing? Our brain constantly rewires its neural pathways, as needed.  If it doesn’t need to, then it won’t. Dancing is better than other activities for improving mental capabilities because it requires split second rapid-fire decision making as opposed to most other forms of exercise which require little if any thought.  When it comes to mental abilities, we either use it or lose it.  In many exercises, such as walking, weights, running, you are likely to retracing the same worn-out paths which require little thought.  For healthy brains we need to learn something new.  A difficult and frustrating academic class can generate the need for new neural pathways in your brain.  A dance class can be even better.
                Joe Verghese who conducted the study says dancing may be a triple benefit for the brain. Not only does the physical aspect of dancing increase blood flow to the brain, but also the social aspect of the activity leads to less stress, depression and loneliness. Further, dancing requires memorizing steps which provides mental challenges that are crucial for brain health.
    Health benefits aside, dancing has a way of brightening up a person’s day.
    Absolute Beginner classes are at 12:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  You will be welcomed and encouraged by other beginners and some who have started during the past year.  More advanced Line Dance classes are at 10:30 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  You can line dance every week day at the community center in Heber Springs.  Members dance free and membership is only $10 per month.
     
    (Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, and wrote a weekly column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at janicenorris34@yahoo.com)
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