7 Ways Dancing Refreshes Spirit and Body


Photo by welsh boy

Dance is a poem. Each movement is a word – Mata Hari

I love dancing. When I was 3 years old I suddenly appeared in the lounge at 11 o’clock at night – stark naked and completely silent. My parents told me that they watched open-mouthed as I began to dance to a complete Beethoven symphony they were listening to. After 30 minutes of dancing, I went back to bed without speaking a single word – so my mother told me. Some years ago, when my mother was slipping into dementia, I told her that I was going to tango classes and was surprised to feel so at home.

She looked at me and said, “Oh, you silly mutt- how you could forget how much you love dancing?”

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These days, dance has come back into my life. David, my partner, is a tango teacher and I am his assistant and dance partner. Whenever there is music to dance to, David and I get up and dance -whether it’s the samba in steamy Rio de Janeiro, or the tango in Buenos Aires . I know that some people find it strange that a Zen master should also be passionate about dancing. As if Zen should be severe and otherworldly! In the West we imagine that sensuality and spirituality are at opposite ends of a spectrum.

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There is a close link between dancing and spirituality. I think that one dance in particular is closely aligned to Zen. That’s Argentine tango. To dance the tango you have to abide in mindfulness. The moment a tango dancer falls out of mindfulness into thinking, the connection to the dance and to one’s partner is broken. It’s like falling out of heaven with a thud! There is an interesting book by Chan Park, called Tango Zen. In it he traces the connection between tango and Zen. You can find his website and new blog here.

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When we dance we tap into deeper patterns of the universe and link into life’s vital energy. That is why dance is one of the ancient ways of connection with the sacred and dance forms part of ritual for many spiritual traditions.

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Here are seven ways dancing enhances spirit and body:

1. Dancing fosters intimacy with self and other

When we dance with someone, we open to another person. It’s as if this hard shell that we think of as ‘I’ becomes permeable. Not only does dancing help us connect with others, it also helps us re-connect with ourselves.

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Dancing gets us in touch with who we are. We can so easily to lose touch with aspects of ourselves. When you look back, were you maybe more daring, more outrageous, funny, more sensuous, or more playful in the past? You can recover those submerged parts by dancing. I’ve definitely recovered my innate playfulness and sensuality through dancing! Check out a short clip of a tango performance by David and myself on YouTube:

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2. Dancing promotes health

***Dancing encourages and improves the overall health and fitness of the body. Dancing

  • Strengthens bones and muscles without hurting your joints;

 

  • Tones your entire body;
  • Improves your posture and balance;
  • Increases your stamina and flexibility;
  • Reduces stress and tension;
  • Wards off illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, and depression.

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3. Dancing enhances mood

 

The beat of music affects both body and mind. A slow piece with a beat of about 60 beats per minute (bpm) can trigger alpha waves in the brain which trigger a tranquil but alert state of mind. Music with a faster beat can accelerate the heart-beat and speed up our endocrine system.

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When we hear and move to music, our body resonates with the sounds we are hearing. Lower frequencies, such as drums produce, are felt in the pelvic area, whereas higher frequencies, such as flutes produce, are felt in the head area.

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As Keti Sharif explains, this is why African warriors dance in low, grounded, aggressive movements to earthy drums, while the Sufi dervishes spin to flutes for enlightenment. Guitar sounds resonate in the mid-body area of the solar plexus and evoke feelings of pride and courage, apparent in Spanish flamenco. The emotive heart area tunes into a higher frequency again, so instruments such as piano accordion, bandoneon, flute, or violin create music that engages feeling and “pulls the heartstrings”.

4. Dancing sharpens the mind

Dancing assists our ability to focus, learn and retain. Learning sequences is good for the mind. Learning to dance creates new neural pathways and helps us to stay younger for longer.

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5. Dancing raises self-esteem

 

Movement skills build confidence. And with confidence comes a forgetting of self. We get absorbed in the task. Dancing is a wonderful way to appreciate oneself in a new way.

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6. Dancing brings joy

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Dancing lifts the mood. When we feel the music and express it, we can feel joy and well-being. When you learn a particular dance, you may feel awkward and stiff at first, but soon, you will find the graceful you hidden within.

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Mary and David at a tango dance


7. Dancing provides companionship

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Dancing provides opportunities to meet people. Each kind of dance attracts different kinds of people and if you choose the dance form that is right for you, you will meet like-minded people with whom you can connect. I met my partner David at a Latin night 8 years ago. That chance meeting brought lasting joy, love and fun into my life.

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Dancing is a natural human function. Babies delight in bouncing and dancing to music. In the course of assisting David at tango classes, I meet many people who say to me, “I can’t dance; I’ve got two left feet.” But in fact, everyone can dance! All you need to do is to re-discover your innate ability to express yourself in movement.

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PS: You might enjoy this companion article about my tango adventures in Buenos Aires, called Zen and the Art of Travel

Copyright: Mary Jaksch 2008

(Video and second photo courtesy of Robbert Haas)

About the author

Mary Jaksch

Mary is passionate about helping people create a happy, purposeful, and fulfilling life. She is the founder of GoodlifeZEN and also the brains behind WritetoDone.com, one of the biggest blogs for writers on the Net. Mary is also a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

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