We have an old-fashioned relationship with movement and learning. We rarely allow them to happen at the same time. In schools and universities around the world we fill lecture theatres and classrooms with tables and chairs and expect learners to sit still while they learn. But what if we introduced
Scientists agree – dancing will make you feel fabulous and improve your life
There is a strong body of evidence suggesting a link between dance and mental wellbeing – such that engaging in dance-based activities can have a positive impact on many different aspects of wellbeing (e.g. Bojner Horwitz et al., 2022).
For example, Pezdek et al. (2022) carried out a research study looking at the impact of dance on the wellbeing of older adult women. Pezdek et al. describe the personal and social impact of dancing in terms of the interplay between the personal, physical, cognitive, social interaction and social engagement aspects of human and social experiences.
Our study has found that, in and through dance, the older adults primarily realised their claims to pleasure, attractiveness, health and emancipation. This has considerably improved their bodily capacity and increased their self-esteem. However, what the older adults themselves find most important is that the realisation of these claims beneficially affects their interactions in family and neighbourly communities and facilitates their engagement in volunteer activities, helping people at risk of exclusion due to age and/or disability. (Pezdek et al., 2022, p. 1)
As they describe it, dance facilitates an interplay of feelings in the following way:
Personal feelings are based on the feelings of pleasure, attractiveness, health and emancipation.
Physical feelings are based on feelings of improved bodily capacity
Cognitive feelings are felt through an increase in self-esteem
Social Interaction are noticed in changes to family and neighborly communities
Social Engagement is noticed through an increase in volunteering activities and helping people.
It is interesting to note how these observed benefits of engaging in dance map on to the five steps to mental well being suggested by the NHS.
The Five Steps to Mental Wellbeing suggested by the NHS are:
Connect with other people
Be physically active
Learn new skills
Give to others
Pay attention to the present moment.
Bojner Horwitz, Korošec, and Theorell (2022) have written an up to date review of the role played by music and dance in the promotion of what they call “inner sustainability”.
Bojner Horwitz et al. define inner sustainability as
people’s inner worlds: the values, beliefs, attitudes, identities and emotions that serve as the inner foundation for sustainable behaviors—behaviors that do not deplete people’s resources in the long run. (p. 1).
Inner sustainability can therefore be seen as a proxy for individual wellbeing.
In this review they describe literature which shows how music and dance promote greater self-awareness, learning, care for others and wellbeing.
For example, in the wellbeing section they highlight a recent umbrella review by McCrary et al. (2021). An umbrella review is a review of systematic reviews or meta-analyses, and they are thought to be one of the highest levels of evidence currently available in medical research.
McCrary et al. reviewed over 120 systematic reviews, epidemiologic studies and descriptive studies and concluded that participating in performing arts activities, such as playing a musical instrument or dancing (e.g. Hawaiian Hula, Pole Dancing and Polish Folk Dance), is broadly health-promoting.
They conclude that
Positive health effects were associated with as little as 30 (acute effects) to 60 minutes (sustained weekly participation) of performing arts participation, with drumming and both expressive (ballroom, social) and exercise-based (aerobic dance, Zumba) modes of dance linked to the broadest health benefits.” (p. 1)
Engaging in dance based activities has been shown to have a positive effect on the wellbeing of people across the lifespan, from children to older adults. Benefits, in terms of mental wellbeing, can be conceptualized within many different frameworks, such biomedical models, “inner sustainability” theories and biopsychosocial-cultural frameworks.
Whichever lens you look through, one thing is clear – dancing can be beneficial for our wellbeing.
Dr Peter Lovatt
July 25, 2022
Not sure where to start?
Try the Move-Assure Dance for Mental Wellbeing 20-week programme with Dame Darcey Bussell and Dr Peter Lovatt.
Want to learn more about the amazing power of dance to transform lives? Read The Dance Cure: The surprising secret to being smarter, stronger, happier, by Dr Peter Lovatt
Want to learn more about the Psychology of Movement and train to be a Movement in Practice Facilitator? Then have a look at the full range of our courses at www.movementinpractice.com/courses
About the Author
Dr Peter Lovatt is an expert in dance and movement psychology. He is the original Dance Psychologist and is sometimes known as Dr Dance. He’s been studying Psychology, Movement and Dance for over 25 years. He is the author of The Dance Cure: the surprising secret to being smarter, stronger, happier (2020) and Dance Psychology: the science of dance and dancers (2018) and he is the co-founder of Movement in Practice. If you would like to train in the Psychology of Movement and qualify as a Movement in Practice Facilitator please visit www.movementinpractice.com
McCrary JM, Redding E, Altenmuller E (2021) Performing arts as a health resource? An umbrella review of the health impacts of music and dance participation. PLoS ONE 16(6): e0252956. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0252956
People have understood the importance of human movement for centuries – it’s great for our mind, our body and our social relationships. Yet we live in a sedentary world, which wastes human lives and human potential more. Here are five fabulous books, from older to newer, full of wonderful reasons