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Life Lines: Just Dance

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Victoria Sarne

By VICTORIA SARNE

We are all born to dance, and who cares if anyone’s looking or not if it’s good for us.

I am not talking about ballroom or ballet or whether we might be good or bad at it. Our primitive ancestors danced before they invented language and, usually long before we can read or write as children, we know all about movement. When babies or children hear music most will instinctively start to wiggle around and we have all seen cute pictures of children moving to the beat of Junkanoo long before they can talk.

But there’s a more important aspect connected to this topic, one which has been explored in depth and become the life’s work of Dr Peter Lovatt, which was featured in an article I recently read written by Minda Zetlin for inc.com

Dr Lovatt is a TEDX speaker and pioneered the field of dance psychology because of his own personal experience as a young person in school having great difficulty learning to read by traditional methods. This meant that he left school as, in his own words, “a certified failure”. However, he had discovered a love for dance and joined a dance troupe working in musical theatre.

One day it occurred to him that if he could learn and memorise the intricacies of complicated dance moves for a two-hour show, he surely wasn’t stupid after all, so he taught himself to read, eventually becoming a Senior Research Fellow in the Faculty of English at Cambridge University and eventually gained a PhD in Neural Computation. (If that isn’t inspirational I don’t know what is).

He then created a Dance Psychology Laboratory at the University of Hertfordshire, UK and spent the next 15 years studying how dance affects our brains, bodies and moods. He suggests that bringing dance into the workplace would have a beneficial effect on both employers and employees as it affects four different aspects of human behaviour: cognitive, mood, social, and physical.

Cognitive: He experimented by giving his subjects two problem-solving tasks with a break between the two. One group danced and one didn’t in that break. Those who danced performed better on the second tests than those who didn’t dance. He also noted that different dance moves improve different types of cognition. If you have a problem requiring a single right answer, learning specific dance steps helps; if you have a possible multiple answer problem then improvisational dance works better.

Mood: Although we understand that dancing can make us feel more relaxed or happier, we probably don’t know that it induces hormonal changes and a reduction in inflammatory responses. Inflammation is not only associated with injury in a healthy person but is associated more seriously with most diseases, including heart disease and cancer. Dr Lovatt says inflammation markers in our bodies are changed when people feel happier which also helps us problem solve more efficiently.

Social: We are perhaps dismissive of dance as merely a form of entertainment or exercise undervaluing its importance in social interaction. People in every cultures throughout the world gather together in groups to dance. When we move together rhythmically we increase pro-social behaviour and participants become more co-operative. You might have seen a video on social media recently showing a Korean school teacher leading his students through a complicated dance session. Or think of the significance of Indian or African tribal dance rituals or New Zealand Haka’s. None of these conforming to our traditional concept of dance but easily discernible as inspiring and energising. Dr Lovatt cited another example where participants in a 12-week Greek dance programme showed better results than another group which had spent 12 weeks at the gym.

Physical: If we are desk-bound we have all been urged to get up and move at frequent intervals to promote good health but did we know that there is a benefit to our cognition and mental health as well? It has been shown that when people sit for hours, they stop processing information as effectively as they could. But just getting up and walking to the coffee machine won’t do it. Of course if you start two-stepping or waltzing over it might cause some consternation or mirth from your co-workers and your embarrassment. However, if you got together in a group you could all benefit. If your boss doesn’t initiate it, you could suggest a scheduled dance “party” or “exercise” time. You could point out that there is a wealth of scientific evidence that movement/dance improves health and well-being as well as stimulating productivity. What’s not to like?

• Victoria Sarne is an entrepreneur and writer. She headed a team to establish a shelter for abused women and children in Canada and was its first chairwoman. You can reach her at victoria.conversations@gmail.com, visit www.lifelineswritingservice.com, or call 467-1178.

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