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Dance Benefits YOU!

Photo courtesy: Martha Graham Dance Company

July / August 2008

When you hear the word dance – what image do you see?  Is it a street rapper with his loose callisthenic gyrations? Is it a favorite movie from your youth, such as the STEP IN TIME number from the film “Mary Poppins”, or the current stage number? Is it your first prom?  Ballet barre exercises?  Arthur Murray Studio dance classes?  Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling, or Gene Kelley and a mouse?  The first time you saw classical ballet?  Or maybe something from current TV like So You Think You Can Dance?

Do you see a montage of dance movements and memories? 

Are you a participant in your dance image, or a viewer?  Do you hear accompanying music?  Is your image one of movement or a magical fleeting moment caught for eternity in the camera of your mind?  Maybe the King extending his arm to dance with Anna in the Shall We Dance? Number from the film “The King and I”?

Responses to all of these questions are as intensely personal as your own aura.  I suspect no two people would come up with precisely the same reply.   Even people who don’t dance, don’t watch dance per se, or claim not to care about dance, will get some mental picture when you ask them what is the first thing they see when they hear the word.

And the image they see probably evokes a very special feeling as well. Like a young man recalling the first school dance he attended, when, after bravely approaching a classmate, gets spurned, may forever hold the image of her refusal and his embarrassment. 

Or an aspiring dancer may recall the magic audition where she landed her first dance gig.  Or an athlete may remember seeing a dance piece that reminded him of a football move.

I recently took a teen-age boy who didn’t like dance, or sports, or exercise, and watched him move to the music as the Martha Graham troupe danced on stage. I bet that will be the lifelong image he treasures.

Now here you are today, reading this article, thinking about dance images.  What if you just got up and started dancing?

Unthinkable?  No, think about it, because dancing is as natural as walking and as healthy as exercise.  So why not – change your exercise regime- or lack of it –

Don’t you get tired of boring exercises, repeating the same dull routine over and over in a sterile environment?  It’s been determined that after a while the same repetitive moves no longer pay the same health dividends they did at the start.  And talking of pay – in these economic times, why pay fees to join a gym or spa?

Turn to dance!  Dance uses muscles you forget to use in ordinary daily routines.  It tones the body, gobbles calories and awakens your mind.  Science has proven, interestingly enough, dancing to be good for the brain. It helps blood flow more easily to the brain and awakens good feelings.

No money needed, no special clothes, no special place or time of day.  You can dance out on the lawn, in your bedroom or hallway – even, when alone in an elevator.

Watching dance may feed your soul and give your eyes a feast, but participating will give your body a wonderful workout!

Turn on your favorite music and move as it urges you to do.  Vary from a slow mode to a madly active one.  Play Brahms, Play Elvis.  Play show tunes. Play heavy metal or whatever suits your fancy.  Whatever your mood, find the music and the movement to fit.  No equipment needed.  No trainer necessary.  Your body will tell you what to do and your spirit will soar with a sense of rhythm and release, while lungs, muscles and mind all benefit.

Other than professional dancers, most of us have allowed dance to become a spectator sport.  We sit and watch professionals on the little screen or stage – or would-be professionals in competitions.  We envy their grace and style and flexibility. 

We may not have any of that, but we have bodies and bodies naturally love to move to music. 

Have you ever watched babies bounce or sway when music is played?  Did you ever see toddlers stumble about “dancing” to music?”  Have you witnessed young, uninhibited children at a musical show stand in front of their seats and move to the music, smiles on their faces and their eyes glowing?  You can capture that innocent, responsive rapture – let the music move you and move to it.

Dance is as natural as walking…and equally healthy.

Try a few kicks and twirls.  Pretend to tap.  What about a waltz?  We now think of that as a sedate, staid, old-fashioned dance, but it caused a scandalous sensation when it was first introduced.  People deemed it too intimate.  Imagine what they said about flamenco!

Surely you experience foot-tapping reactions watching dance in movies or on the stage.  Why not give your feet a chance to do more than tap to a beat?  Open the windows wide, drink a glass of water, and start dancing up a storm to bring down your weight, give your heart a kick and your skin a glow?

You can begin slowly — how about every time music is played in a TV commercial you dance around the living room?  By the end of a 3-hour TV regimen, you will have given yourself a good little workout, toned some forgotten muscles, skipped the extra nibbles, and cut into your calorie consumption!

More importantly, you will feel good.  Drink another glass of water, take a hot shower or bath and go to bed to really SLEEP.

Through the ages dance has been used in many ways – to ask for rain, to honor the Gods, to introduce debutants to society, to allow mixed couples to meet.  In previous ages the elite went to dance classes to learn. Not only dance protocol and steps, but also the best manners.  Also in ages past dance masters came to palaces and grand houses to teach the inhabitants the latest dances.  A special date in the early to mid 20th century often consisted of dinner and dancing. Nightclubs gave way to discos where dancing was more a group sport than a romantic twosome.

But as the years and pounds pile on, dancing often gets abandoned altogether.

Down on the farms and in rural areas, barn dances have been held for generations.  Today, there are groups all over the country that still get together for square dancing, even in New York.  After a day sitting at a computer or in meetings, cramped in cars or crammed on public transportation, your body yearns to move.  Encourage it.  Dance around even the tiniest kitchen as you cook or zap your dinner.

Have fun with it.  Imagine you are dancing on ice, or in water, or on sand.  Imagine you are a cat, an eagle, an elephant, a giraffe.  Act as if there’s fire under your feet, or grass.  Dance as if your life depended on it – because it just might.  It may be a way to forestall strokes, Alzheimer’s and a host of other ailments.  Oddly enough, it not only makes you feel younger, it can make your real age be younger, as well as uplifting your mood.

After you’ve danced about a bit by yourself, you may find you want to get more social.  Take dance classes.  Gather a few friends and go together.  Make up a square dance group.  Invite friends over for an old-fashioned dance party.  It is a fun way to make your body thinner, more flexible and healthier.

So up on your toes and get a new image when you hear the word dance – the image of yourself dancing