‘Dancing is fantastic for our mood,’ says Dr Peter Lovatt, a former pro dancer turned dance psychologist and lecturer at The Royal Ballet School. ‘When we dance, happy hormones like dopamine kick in, which make us feel instantly better.’
Peter was interviewed by Emma Stoddart for a feature in Grazia's Health & Beauty section on why, after a year indoors, dance is back as the feelgood exercise. Published in print on 4th May 2021.
Professional dancer and personal trainer Zoë LouPurpuri has a question for you: ‘Have you ever just put on some music and pranced around? It felt good, right? Dancing will always make you feel better!’ As a full-time worrier who loved but left dance behind in my teens, dancing – shaking my way around the kitchen to Beyoncé – has become a daily tonic.
I’m not alone; from TikTok challenges to myriad online classes (Ryan Heffington’s Sweatfest, Oti Mabuse’s tutorials, Pineapple Live, Frame online, to name just a few), dance is now a widely accessible and inclusive sport that has – unsurprisingly, given our recent need for all things mood boosting – taken this past year by storm. ‘Moving your body, expressing yourself, listening to a song that you love – it’s the ultimate feelgood workout,’ says Purpuri. But don’t just take her word for it; there’s real science behind the feelgood power of dance.
‘Dancing is fantastic for our mood,’ says Dr Peter Lovatt, a former pro dancer turned dance psychologist and lecturer at The Royal Ballet School. ‘When we dance, happy hormones like dopamine kick in, which make us feel instantly better.’ But it’s not just neurochemicals at work here.
Dancing can change the way we think, too. ‘We found, in our research lab, that when people dance, they’re able to come up with more solutions to problem-solving tasks,’ says Dr Lovatt, ‘and, as a lot of our collectively experienced anxieties involve thinking-based problems, dancing can help alleviate anxiety.’
As well as reframing our thoughts, moving our body can also give us a rest away from those thoughts. ‘It’s my way of escaping normal life and not worrying about anything else in that moment,’ says Purpuri. For Lovatt, who just came through a traumatic cancer treatment, dance provided a mental break.
‘Every day, I’d dance for 30 minutes, during which my head wasn’t catastrophising or thinking about the most anxious thing in my world.’
Then there’s the fittness side of things. ‘It works your entire body,’ says Purpuri, who often incorporates dance into her personal training sessions. ‘It helps your balance and coordination, improves stamina and cardiovascular fitness and strengthens your muscles.’ But compared to HIIT, for example, dance isn’t as prescriptive and will take into account the ability of the people doing it.
‘A dance teacher is like a DJ,’ says Lovatt. ‘DJs change the tempo of the music based on the response from the audience and the dancers in the club. A good dance teacher will change the tempo of the dance as a function of the ability of the people in the studio – that’s why dancing is a far more natural, interactive and communicative state.’
It’s an experience where time flies and you lose yourself completely to the choreography. ‘It doesn’t feel like a workout, you’re enjoying the movement and focused on learning and retaining the steps,’ adds Purpuri. And while you’ll still benefit from shaking and sweating it out at home, there are additional benefits to dancing with others.
‘It bonds people together, forming relationships and friendships,’ says Lovatt, whose research found that when we dance with strangers, we report liking them and trusting them more.
Anyone who believes they don’t have the coordination or rhythm to dance should think again. ‘Everyone can dance,’ says Purpuri.
‘We are all born with the ability to feel rhythm and synchronise our movement to that rhythm,’ adds Lovatt, whose mission is to make dancing as much a part of our daily lives as walking or drinking coffee.
Where to begin? ‘Close your eyes, listen to some music and feel an urge in your body to move – that groove, the urge to move, is the essence of what dance is. If you act on it, then you’re dancing.’
Dr Peter Lovatt spent over 20 years working as a university academic. He set up the Dance Psychology Lab to understand dance and dancers from a psychological, scientific perspective. His research has been published in peer-reviewed journals and his teaching has been highly commended. Find out more about his academic life here
Peter Lovatt is an author and he has written two books: “The Dance Cure, the surprising secret to being smarter, stronger, happier” was first published by Short Books in the UK in 2020. “Dance Psychology, the science of dance and dancers” was first published in the UK in 2018. Peter has also writes commissioned articles. Find out more about his writing life here
Peter Lovatt is an international keynote speaker who delivers groovy keynotes which inspire, entertain and get minds and pulses racing. Peter has given keynote talks around the world and he has worked with organisations from different sectors, for example, in the banking, tech, creative, education, health and automotive industries. Find out more about his keynotes here
Peter Lovatt is a founding director of the Movement in Practice Academy. The Movement in Practice Academy is a specialist provider of education in the psychology of movement and dance. Movement in Practice Academy is an accredited provider of Continuing Professional Development (CPD), Continuing Education (CE) and Continuing Professional Education (CPE), providing both anytime learning and scheduled face-to-face learning opportunities. Find out more about Movement in Practice Academy here
Peter Lovatt became known as Dr Dance through his TV and media work. He first appeared as Dr Dance on the Graham Norton Show (BBC) in 2008 and Dr Dance has since made over 1000 appearances across all major UK TV and radio networks, in magazines and newspapers and on stage. Dr Dance has made several stage shows, including “Dance Dr Dance” (2010), “INSPIRED Psychology Danced” (2011) and “Boogie on the Brain” (2018). Find out more about Dr Dance here
Peter Lovatt lives on the beautiful north Norfolk coast with his partner and their two sons.
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