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Live Longer and Happier with Ballroom Dance

by Carolyn M. Ball

“You must be kidding! You look about fifteen years younger!”  This is a common exchange as people in the dance community get to know each other. 

Ballroom dancers tend to look younger and feel younger than others their own age, and now science has been proving that fact. And they’re a happy bunch as well!

According to Charlene Dougherty, founder of the Ballroom Dance Preservation Society in the Myrtle Beach area, “Recognizing the benefits of dance, we wanted to help our community gain awareness of the incredible social, physical, mental and even spiritual advantages of this wonderful pastime. So we founded a non-profit organization that offers dance events, classes, entertainment, education…and a lot of fun! It has been amazing to see how many have responded to this delightful way of living younger!”

What causes all of this wellbeing?

For one, ballroom dance provides the opportunity to meet and socialize with many like-minded people. Dancers tend to be a very interesting and caring bunch. For the shy, it’s a perfect way to gradually get to know others, and for the outgoing, there are countless people to befriend, whether you are single or a couple. Dancers come from all over the country, and all walks of life, but they share an interest in the music, the art, the exercise, the history, and the community, to name a few…the opportunities for connection are tremendous.

Then there are the physical benefits. Dance teaches rhythm, balance, coordination, good posture and gracefulness, whether you’re a man or a woman. It is a gentle cardio workout that doesn’t feel like work, and dance helps improve bone density, burns fat, and strengthens core muscles. It gets your endorphins up and running, and you rarely see a ballroom dancer who isn’t smiling.

Probably one of the more exciting developments in recent scientific history–at least for dancers–is the research that has shown the immense mental and cognitive benefits derived from ballroom dancing. Memory, mental agility, and concentration are enhanced, substantially protecting against dementia, Alzheimers, and other mental decline. According to one recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, dancing reduced the risk of dementia as much as 76%, compared to 35% for reading, and 47% for doing crossword puzzles!

Why is dance so effective in reducing mental deterioration? One reason is the principle of “neuroplasticity,” which means that as we stimulate the brain, it remains capable of building new neural pathways. Therefore, though it appears we’re just having fun, dance works the brain not only through learning new steps, but through the stimulation of moving around the dance floor, adapting to others who are present there, and the acts of both leading and following. In addition, the very fact that we step in a left, right, left, right pattern continuously stimulates and awakens both sides of the brain, a principle utilized in the important EMDR therapy used to help victims of trauma. Thus, ballroom offers a multifaceted stimulation to the brain; so if you want to stay sharp as a tack and engage in fascinating conversations, just hang out with ballroom dancers.

And what are the spiritual advantages of dance? It is often said in spiritual life that we are working to achieve a state of “oneness,” where we put our egos aside and experience a kind of communion. In dance, there are the traditional roles of the male as leader, and the female as follower, and these roles are learned in a very gentle and sharing context. Yet often men learn the following role and women learn the leading role, which teaches us to put ourselves in other’s shoes, (so to speak), and increases our ability to sense and connect with our partner. In pure dance, there is no sense of separation; a couple dance as one. The joy of that experience of oneness in dance can be a spiritual experience, or at the very least, an enjoyable way of feeling connected.

So grab yourself a pair of dance shoes and join this happy, healthy group. The more you dance, the more fun you have. Don’t know how to dance yet? Well, get started! There are lessons being offered all over the Grand Strand area. You might feel a little awkward in the beginning, but in no time, it all starts to click into place. Already experienced? There are many dance venues here in town.C’mon down and join the fun!

(Carolyn Ball is a thirty-five year veteran of ballroom dance, a counselor,and the author of four books and hundreds of magazine articles on self-help and wellness.)

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