Say what? You mean that social dancing makes you smarter? Why yes, smarter in the sense of maintaining what we’ve got as we grow older. I liked this article entitled Use It or Lose It: Dancing Makes You Smarter by Richard Powers. Dancing might seem like a frivolous activity, but in fact it is fabulous means for the brain to integrate several of its functions at once. These functions include kinesthetic, musical, emotional and rational. Ballroom dance is what I am focusing on because I am pretty new to it, but other forms of dance are great as well. We’re talking about improving mental acuity by creating new pathways. Isn’t that what we’re after in this whole longevity-obsessed, youth-adoring culture of ours? We don’t really want to do the same exact thing (like crossword puzzles or Sudoku) for the rest of our lives do we? At least a few of us are here to enjoy what we’ve got – I’m pretty certain about that. At least one centenarian has attributed her longevity to ballroom dancing. Another dancing centenarian observed that ballroom dance has kept him young at heart. Finally, there is the 94 year old yogini (a female yoga practitioner) who observed yoga is the dance of the spirit. Ballroom dancing is the physical awareness that comes from the joy within us. I wholeheartedly agree with her about ballroom dance and joy. I can’t imagine having an awful time on a dance floor!
Not that it isn’t fun to engage in your favorite mental or physical activities, like reading, playing golf or working puzzles, but frequent dancing was #1 in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine about recreational activities and mental acuity in aging and reducing the risk of dementia. Here’s another article about “waltzing your way to longevity and better health.”
You might think that ballroom dancing is predictable patterns . . . that is, if you had never really learned how to ballroom dance! Ballroom dance is a form of human communication that is variable and unpredictable, in addition to being highly personalized. Yes, you may think of the highly choreographed Fred and Ginger dances, but most ballroom dance is “freestyle” meaning it is not choreographed or predictable.
Okay, I should mention this post is in honor of my all day activity last Saturday at the Marriott City Center grand ballroom – the Arthur Murray Colorado Showcase dance competition. Yours truly danced a total of nine dances including a waltz solo, along with fox trot, tango, merengue, rumba and a few more. This is the delight part of the post! I performed (with my partner) a choreographed solo and the rest of the dances were “freestyle” meaning that leader and follower have to pay attention to each other’s cues and make split second decisions. . . . together! Social dancing (like at my Arthur Murray studio in Lakewood) means you have different partners, which means different communication, leading, following and dancing styles. Yes, it keeps you on your toes!
Last week I received my latest issue of Scientific American Mind and it has an article entitled The Healing Power of Music, which discusses new therapies that are using rhythm, melody and beat to help people with brain disorders and injuries to recover language, hearing motion and emotion. Music engages people because it is enjoyable, it makes us happy (read: it initiates changes in the distribution of neurochemicals that can improve mood and calm us, allowing for healing) permits synchronization (by tapping along) and it is, of course – social, meaning it can be a collective and not simply an individual experience. Perhaps this is another key to ballroom dance’s reputation as a means of promoting joy and social connection to others.
One last thing, I promised my dear friend Beth, who got me to try out dancing at her studio a few months back (and I have been hooked since), that I would participate in her fund-raising effort for Team Not For Sale, by making donations for my solo and freestyle dances at the Colorado Showcase as she was to planning to make for her own dances. Team Not for Sale has many professional sports figures (Beth is a huge baseball fan, while I am not a fan of any sports team . . . ) but its focus is to raise awareness of human trafficking, slavery and exploitation and to prepare people affected by exploitation to enter the workforce. It is a worldwide problem and nearly all the victims of sex trafficking are women and girls. I think in this respect dance is a form of freedom, of freedom to express our joy, to raise it and share it with others, while simultaneously recognizing that many of us do not have such opportunities to freely express such joy.
©Barbara Cashman 2015 www.DenverElderLaw.org