There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
– Martha Graham via Zadie Smith’s new book about writing and dancing
We all know that dance is good for us – it’s a fun form of aerobic exercise, it increases the heart rate and circulation, improves strength, balance, and reaction times. More than just the physical benefits, there is an increasing body of evidence about the wellbeing benefits of dance: it improves cognitive abilities with sustained focus and concentration; allows a sense of mental liberation, a chance for self expression; it increases sensory awareness, can be a form of relaxation and help release of tension; it is social and can reduce social isolation; it can be cultural, giving us a sense of place within society. Dance is a holistic experience that involves body, imagination and emotions, allowing a sense of pleasure through being physical. It’s a space for sharing, for witnessing and being witnessed.
Still, taking up dance classes can feel daunting. People often fear: having to learn steps, not being flexible enough, feeling self conscious about getting it wrong, or not having the right body type. There can be practical barriers like finding a good teacher who delivers a class near you, on your free day of the week, that fits in around finishing work and making dinner. Taking creative workshops can sometimes feel as daunting – not knowing if you’ll be the least experienced person there, not knowing where or how to start actually making up movements, comparing yourself to others. You can start to understand why people may be nervous about having a go when you consider that the moving creator is also the creation. However, its precisely the individuality of our bodies and creations that can make dancing and creating less scary.
For me dance is about moving, sharing, honesty and curiosity. As a Community Dance Artist, I am interested in individuals, looking at the strengths of each person and developing something around that. Classes and workshops that encourage and create space for individuals to explore the way their body moves – the way their body turns, extends, swings, shakes – are much more rewarding spaces. All of a sudden dance is more familiar and accessible. This approach acknowledges that everyone is different and values everyone’s contributions. Similarly in creative workshops, if the starting point is your own experience (especially when you focus on positive memories/experiences, though there is therapeutic power in focusing on other experiences as well) the dancer is more committed to their movement, movement sequences are easier to remember and meaning is conveyed with each movement. The precise meaning isn’t always clear to an audience, but that’s not always necessary, they will no doubt be engaged by watching someone move with commitment and intention and have an emotional response to that.
Its not always easy to find weekly classes that encourage this approach, but I would suggest that if you took this approach with you when going to a new dance class, and you explore how YOUR body executes the taught movements, you will find more joy and curiosity in your dance. So in response to the blog title, my answer is always: DANCE! Everyone has their own dance, one for every mood, every day, every place, every event – let it out! To echo the words of Martha Graham, express your unique vitality or it will be lost to the world.
OTHER BLOGS AND ARTICLES YOU MAY FIND INTERESTING:
Keep Dancing . . . The Health and Well-Being Benefits of Dance for Older People, BPUA (2011)
A Change of Air, Miranda Tufnell (2005)
We Can Nurture Self-Esteem, But… How?, Joke Verlinden (2008)
Participation in Community Dance: A Road to Empowerment and Transformation? Sara Houston (2005)