Dance as a Form of Therapy

Written By: Lauri Doepke, MS, LPC, NCC

Movement in any form is good for our mental health. Taking a walk, running, biking, and stretching are all ways to awaken the body, which in turn awakens our mind and spirit and has positive results on enhancing one’s mood. One form of movement, dance, is an art form that has a wide array of benefits.

From a physical perspective, dance improves muscle memory, builds heart strength, increases body tone, muscle strength, agility, and balance.  Emotionally, it has been shown to improve moods, lower stress levels, as well as reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. It encourages creative expression, enhances cognitive skills, and allows us to be more connected and social. Dancing with a partner involves human-to-human contact with physical touch, which is one of the first senses a person experiences at birth that decreases stress and anxiety. Self-confidence, self-acceptance, and self-love increase as people begin to feel more comfortable within their own bodies and feel less self-conscious about themselves.

Dance can be done in solo form, with a partner, or with a group. Dancing in the privacy of your own home can allow those who are shy to express how they feel in that moment free of any feared judgement; partner dancing may allow for a more intimate connection between two people; whereas group dancing in the form of Zumba classes or line dancing provides more of a social outlet. There is no criticism in expressive dance as there is no right or wrong way to do it, thus creating an unconditional acceptance amongst dance participants.

From a personal perspective, I have always loved dancing. I don’t claim to be great at it by any means; however, that doesn’t stop me. In fact, I recently had the opportunity to tackle one of the items on my bucket list, “taking an adult jazz class.” I rallied a couple of my friends to do it with me and was surprisingly happy to see that there was a great turn out of over 30 adults for the class. It was a four-session trial class; once a week for a month. Week one most of us looked like deer in headlights, fumbling around and sticking mostly to ourselves. However, by week four, people were laughing, engaging with one another, and had greatly advanced with the choreography. I had a great time! I felt accomplished with having retained the moves, connected with some good people, and loved the songs that were used for choreography. Music is also a strong factor in mood enhancement.

There are several different local outlets for those who are interested in putting on their boogie shoes to get out and dance. In fact, a local business called Get Out And Dance holds a free social dance mixer once a month; there are several dance studios in the area that offer classes; personal lessons are also an option; many Zumba classes are offered at various locations, or for those who prefer to dance solo; perhaps you could take on the “Git Up” challenge by searching videos of it on YouTube. Whatever your preference, remember your only goal is to have fun and get “jiggy wit it!”

In closing, whether your dancing at a wedding or holiday party, in an aerobic or dance class, with a partner or solo, moving your body does a lot to lift our mood and spirit. Benefits of dance have been seen across a variety of ages and demographics. Dancing can restore the equilibrium between body, mind, and spirit; creating a catharsis for the dancer.  While dancing should never replace seeking out help from a professional when needed for depression and/or anxiety, it can be one tool you use to stay healthy. The staff at BHC may not be able to teach you how to dance (unless you want to dance like Seinfeld’s Elaine – which I’d be happy to do), but we can nurture, support, and encourage free expression, creativity, self-confidence, change, and courage. If you’d like assistance with personal growth, the staff at BHS of Wausau are here to help!