Originally published July 2017.
When I was growing up as a young dancer taking classes in ballet and jazz, getting the choreography “right” was paramount. Yet, I remember watching a ballet dancer who was the best in my class and thinking she was a bore to watch. “What is she missing?” I wondered. As I’ve grown as a person and a dancer, I began to realize that being a great dancer has very little to do with getting the steps right. Being a great dancer is about letting go and expressing emotion. The movements are just a vehicle for the expression.
At parties, my heart aches for people who say they don’t know “how” to dance. They always say no when you ask them to move with you or say that they need to drink more before they will have enough confidence to get out on the floor. When I started working on Redisco (a movement to bring back expressive dance culture), I began contemplating the role of dance in our social and personal lives.
Of course its fun to be good at a ballet or salsa, which requires lots of practice and discipline, but when you get down to the core of what makes all of these steps meaningful, it’s really the emotion and presence you have in the moment you are dancing. I believe dancing “well” is a practice- of letting go of your thoughts, what others think, “doing it right” and grabbing onto the moment, the music, your body and the joy of moving. Letting go into the movement has been a form of therapy that has helped me get through every thing — both good and bad — in my life and I yearn to share this experience with more people.
Lead Singer of Sylvan Esso, Amelia Meath, agrees that there is much more to dance than getting the steps right. “There’s something magical about it, and I don’t think anyone knows what it is except that it’s about letting go.’”
Lately I’ve been noticing the power and strength of letting loose proclaimed by unexpected people in unexpected places. While reading Amy Poehler’s new book “Yes Please,” I was happy to stumble upon this quote:
“Spontaneous dance parties are important in life. Dancing is the great equalizer. It gets people out of their heads and into their bodies. I think if you can dance and be free and not embarrassed you rule the world.” — Amy Poehler
Venture Capitalist, entrepreneur and so-called “networking guru of the Davos World Economic Forum,” Rich Stromback, also recently professed how crucial the dance floor is for networking.
In a recent article published on Harvard Business review, Rick Stromback was quoted claiming “the opportune moments come while dancing at one of the nightcap parties.”
Why is dance powerful?
So, why is it that Amy Poehler and Rich Stromback both agree that dancing is a powerful tool? I did some research and found out that humans and other animals have been dancing to communicate for a long time —
“It’s an instinctive response,” says Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., a music and sports researcher and coauthor of Inside Sport Psychology. Yup, you’re hardwired to sync up your own movements to music, possibly because even primitive cultures used rhythmic movements to express themselves. Richard Ebstein, Ph.D., a professor in the psychology department at the National University of Singapore, adds that it’s a universal phenomenon. Even birds and bees use dance to communicate.
Dance makes your brain strong and happy.
According to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine, dancing may boost your memory and prevent you from developing dementia as you get older. Science reveals that aerobic exercise can reverse volume loss in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory. The hippocampus naturally shrinks during late adulthood, which often leads to impaired memory and sometimes dementia.
Also, just one lively dance session can slay depression more than vigorous exercise or listening to upbeat music, according to a study in The Arts in Psychotherapy. Getting jiggy with others also leads to less stress and stronger social bonds, key factors in both mental and physical health, says Verghese.
Let’s dance America!
What dance can do for you and society as a whole:
- Connect with people around you in an authentic way
- Express your true self — build self confidence
- Live in the moment, create moments of spontaneity
- Make your brain and body healthy
Now that we’ve reflected on how natural and powerful dance truly is, I’d like to ask you to join my effort to get more people truly dancing and connecting in the US. Here in San Francisco, my friend Alex and I are teaching beginning dance classes and hope to spread the joy of dance to more people we know. How can you make a difference? It can be as simple as saying “what the heck!” and joining the dance circle at your friend’s wedding. Or you could decide to go to a partner dance class with your partner or friend. Any small step you can make to take yourself out of your comfort zone and encourage your friends to join you will actually make the world a better place, one dance party at a time.