I know I’m going to be asked the question. Probably more than once. ‘When helping girls with their emotional wellbeing, why have you chosen to use dance as part of the workshops?’. I’ll give you a clue, the answer is NOT ‘because that’s what I’m trained in’.
The arts are constantly under pressure to justify themselves. With funding cuts and nation wide debates about whether it has a place in our curriculum, it only further closes peoples minds to the benefits and possibilities the arts have to offer. I feel like the UK used to understand this, but somewhere along the line we have become distracted with our popular TV shows where we encourage it in a superficial way because TV is all about image. But are we missing the point? Dancing feels good, I know it also looks good but if you take away the image of it, you’re still left with the good feelings.
If you’re confused about the reasons why dancers are so passionate about their practice, here are five ways in which dance has a positive impact on emotional wellbeing:
Dancing is exercise, exercise is good for your body, therefore you’re bound to gain health benefits from dancing. Dancers’ fitness levels are extremely high because the movement they need to execute often requires athleticism! I’m not talking about their body/size/weight because just like anyone else, they come in all shapes and sizes. Lets concentrate on fit over fat. Just saying.
Dancers are sometimes thought of as stereotypically ‘bitchy’. This is probably because, to an outside eye, it could appear that dancers form cliques. I don’t think this is the case, I’ve personally never witnessed dancers purposely excluding anyone. I think they naturally group together because of their common ground, their love for dancing. Some of my closest friends are dancers and we all encourage each other to be the best we can be. If someone does something well, they are of course showered with compliments. How could we resist being lovely to each other with all of those endorphins flying around?
In my experience, the bond that dancers create is pretty strong. Almost three years ago now, I spent four months in New York and from that experience I have friends around the world who I am still in touch with today just because of that short time we spent dancing together. I think that’s quite special.
Dancing teaches us discipline. It teaches us control. Best of all, it teaches us to keep trying no matter how many times we fail. Dancers wouldn’t try a double pirouette once, fall, then decide that they can’t do it therefore their dance technique will never be worthy; their teacher would never allow such negativity! So they keep trying until they succeed. That is what we are being taught in the studio. It’s resilience. It’s determination. Anyone armed with passion, creativity, resilience and determination has a pretty good skill set for life right there.
This is a Buddhist term that the modern world is gradually recognising more. The sporting world would probably refer to mindfulness as ‘in the zone’. Have you ever been so focused on what you’ve been doing that you lose sense of time and are instead fully present with the task at hand? That’s how dancing feels, pretty much all of the time. There is so much to think about; choreography, posture, presence, performance. There is little room left for your mind to wander off to what you want for your lunch.
Mindfulness has been proven to benefit emotional wellbeing. The NHS even recommends certain books on the practice for some people who are suffering from depression (e.g. Mindfulness in Eight Weeks– Michael Chaskalson).
I have already mentioned endorphins. We know that exercising releases them. So there you have it, it’s biological, dancing makes you happy, fact.
This is definitely true for me. I’m not necessarily talking about just dancing, more activity of any kind. If I’m inactive for too long I really feel the difference in my mood.
I have the opportunity to help teenage girls improve their awareness of emotional wellbeing and I really hope people understand that my decision to use dance is deeper than my ‘field of interest’. If the cuts in the arts go any further, girls may soon lose the opportunity to dance together at school. That would be a real shame.