Words by Natalie Morris. Published in METRO
“You can’t replicate the feeling of dancing in a club on a night out.
The base rising into your body, rattling your heart against your rib cage. The whirling, sweating bodies all around you, everyone made beautiful by the near darkness. The satisfying freedom of swinging, dipping, popping your body perfectly on beat.
Whether you’re six tequilas deep or stone cold sober, giving yourself over to the music – losing yourself in it – feels euphoric. And eight months after the clubs first closed, we are starting to seriously miss it.
The clammy, breathy, sweaty proximity of clubbing has meant that is has been a no-go since the very beginning of lockdown.
This means we are closing in on a year without screaming when your tune comes on, run/walking to the dance floor, and twerking into the early hours. The impact of removing this liberating activity from our lives, so suddenly and so completely, runs deeper than simple boredom.
Helen is 28 and lives in Manchester. She says she usually goes dancing – in a club or a bar – once every three weeks or so, but after months of not being able to, she is craving it.
‘I just keep thinking about all the great songs that are coming out that we’re not getting a chance to dance to. What a waste,’ Helen tells Metro.co.uk.
‘It’s just the feeling of dancing that I love. That exhilaration – you almost feel like a child.
‘It’s dark, and everyone is doing the same thing, so no one thinks you look dumb. It’s really freeing to just move your body in a way that feels good to you. You don’t get to do that anywhere else in life.
‘I really didn’t expect to miss it this much. But the moment clubs open again, I’m going on a mad one until 6am, like it’s first year uni.’
Even if you’re not a regular clubber, or you get a bit self-conscious when you’re dancing, allowing yourself the freedom to move to music with total abandon – even if it’s only every few months – can have a hugely positive effect on your mental and physical health. Without it, we may start to feel a rise in stress, physical tension and social isolation.
‘Humans are born to dance, it is something within us,’ Peter Lovatt, dance psychologist and author of The Dance Cure, tells us.
‘Dancing fills a natural, human need.’
Peter says that when we go to bars or clubs and we dance, it is fulfilling three basic needs.
‘First, is this basic emotional expression,’ he explains. ‘That feeling you get when you go clubbing, you get a natural high. The buzz you get from dancing, you get an amazing emotional release. And you don’t get that feeling anywhere else in life, you don’t get it in the workplace, and you don’t get it in school, you don’t get it anywhere.’
The second need Peter says dancing fulfills is communication. With both the people we are with and with strangers. This is particularly crucial need during lockdown, which will have been exacerbated by the widespread social isolation.
‘When we’re dancing in clubs, we are communicating with lots of people, even people we don’t know, or people we can’t see,’ explains Peter.
‘There has been a whole lot of research suggesting that when we move our body, it is communicating something about our hormonal and genetic states to other people who are around us. So, we have this sense that we are communicating with other people.’
The third need is social cohesion.
‘That you’re doing is bonding with people,’ says Peter. ‘You’re going out with friends, you’re having shared experiences with them. You’re also sharing that emotional high with them. So, you’re experiencing things on a different level than if you just went for a walk in the park, for instance.
‘So, when we go clubbing, there are those three basic needs that dancing or bills those needs. And that’s why it feels so fantastic.’
Dancing is physical activity, and we know that being physically active releases endorphins that make us feel good. But there is something about dancing specifically that takes this feeling to the next level. Because a night of non-stop dancing usually feels better than doing a 5k run.
A 2012 study found that dancing improves your mood and certain cognitive skills, such as visual recognition and decision-making. Another study in 2003 found that dancing can ‘decidedly improve brain health’.
Dancing is even used as therapy for people with Parkinson’s, with one researcher concluding that patients ‘speak and walk better if they have a steady rhythmic cue.’
If dancing has such a stark, physiological impact on our brains and bodies, it is no wonder that we are struggling without a regular expression of movement to music.
‘When we can’t go clubbing, or dancing in bars, we suffer,’ says Peter.
‘Because dancing isn’t just a hobby. It isn’t just something like going for a ride on a bike. Dancing serves these biological and neurological functions that are so important to us as humans, when we deprive ourselves of those things, then we suffer.
‘We suffer in terms of depression, we feel the blues, we feel flat. We miss those peaks of the emotional highs that we get from dancing.’
Peter says that being deprived of dancing can also have a deep impact on our emotional wellbeing.
‘We have a pent up emotion,’ he explains. ‘So, after a while of not going out and releasing that, it builds up in our bodies, and we feel that physically. Our muscles start to get tense, our shoulders might rise up. Our body reacts negatively to that pent-up emotion because we haven’t got a chance to have a cathartic release.
‘We need a cathartic release, and we can’t get it.
‘The third thing that happens is, of course, we feel socially isolated. And that social isolation can lead to all kinds of problems, not only to do with loneliness, but also a feeling of disconnect from other people. Not only do we feel disconnected from our friends and our normal social groups and our community, but we also feel disconnected from the people we haven’t met yet.’
Regardless of the pandemic, most people get to a point in their lives where regular dancing in bars and clubs begins to fizzle out.
Sometimes that’s because it isn’t appealing anymore – the late nights, the alcohol, the expense, the waiting for your Uber in the rain. But, more often than not, we stop dancing in clubs because life gets in the way.
Maybe we have children, or we take on more responsibility at work, or maybe we move away from the city and can’t access those same clubs and bars any more.
Peter believes it’s important not to lose sight of the benefits that dancing – with true abandon – can have for our bodies and minds, no matter what age you are or what stage of life you’re in.
‘All of that suffering that happens when you stop dancing – that’s pretty much what middle age feels like,’ explains Peter.
‘What 20 or 30 year-olds feel about the lack of clubbing is also the experience of middle age too.
‘We have to recognise that dancing is a fundamentally important part of the life. It sounds like a silly activity – you go in to a dark space, and you have a wiggle, with loads of strangers. But of course, it’s something that has been going on for millennia.
‘The solution for all of this, is that we have to adapt.’
Peter says it’s important to find ways of replicating the experience of dancing in clubs and bars, while we’re at home.
Involving other people is crucially important, because you want to be able to achieve that fundamental need of connection and social cohesion.
So, instead of yet another Zoom quiz, why not suggest having a Zoom disco with your friends this weekend? Dress up, blast some music, turn out the lights and throw your best shapes in your living room.
It’s not going to feel quite as electric, but until we’re allowed to get close to people again, it might be the best thing we’ve got.
Read more: https://metro.co.uk/2020/11/18/the-scientific-reason-why-youre-missing-dancing-in-clubs-so-much-13608527/
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 (MiP) Academy. The MiP Academy is a specialist provider of education in the psychology of movement and dance. MiP 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 MiP 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.
Find out more about Peter’s latest news here