I write today’s blog post with a heavy heart. 💔 Or at least, I started writing it that way. Last night, I learned that DJ and dancer Stephen tWitch Boss took his own life. My older daughter is/was a huge fan of his. He had a family, and a great job, and was only 40 years old. From the outside, his marriage seemed healthy. An inspiration to many, he loved music and dance, and used his passions and smile to light up the world. Yet there were battles raging inside him that fans knew little to nothing about. So, this blog post is in honor and memory of Stephen tWitch Boss, may he dance his way through the afterlife. I’m sure he would want you to know how two of his favorite things can save your life, even if they didn’t save his.
Why You Need to Add Dance and Music to Your Self-Care Practice
Table of Contents:
- Why You Should Dance (How it Saves Your Life)
- What Type of Dance Is Best For You?
- What to Know Before Starting
- Music and Mood
Why You Should Dance (How it Saves Your Life)
While it obviously isn’t the solution to everything or tWitch would still be with us, dance is a powerful tool that reshapes your body and mind. I believe that it can help you save your life, and should be added to your self-care routine. Not convinced? Keep reading.
What Dancing Does for Your Mind
Here are some of the scientifically studied benefits for the mind of dancing regularly:
- Boosts Memory and Prevents Dementia. Studies show that dance reverses brain volume loss in the hippocampus, which controls your memory. More specifically, the New England Journal of Medicine did a study that proved that dancing boosts memory and prevents dementia better than other aerobic activities like walking, riding a bike, climbing stairs, group classes, and even swimming. In addition to the aerobic benefits, remembering steps and choreography is a great cognitive challenge for the brain, whereas other exercises are more automatic.
- Improves Confidence and Self Esteem. Dance allows you to express yourself, let off excess energy, and practice discipline as you memorize and learn steps and routines. Studies show that people that dance often report more confidence and better self-esteem.
- Better Psychological Health. Studies indicate that dancing can reduce anxiety and improve general mental well-being. In 2019, research published in Frontiers in Psychology found that DMT (dance movement therapy) was effective in treating depression.
- Increases Social Skills and Connection. For this one, you have to leave your living room or kitchen (my two favorite places to dance) and take a class or hit a dancefloor. But, it will be worth it, since research shows that too much isolation can have negative health effects. Dancing in a class, or a group, or even hitting the club on a Saturday night fosters social connectedness and the cooperative aspect helps you interact better with others.
- Helps Manage Stress. In today’s world, who doesn’t need this? The Mayo Clinic and other health organizations tout the benefits of exercise. But did you know that research published in The International Journal on the Biology of Stress says that DMT positively affected cortisol levels when other high-intensity aerobic activity had little to no effect? Since studies also show that stress is an underlying cause of the diseases that kill the most people, such as high blood pressure, strokes, and heart disease. Stress is also linked to cancer and mental health disorders, so managing it can save your life.
What Dancing Does for Your Body
Here are some of the scientifically studied benefits for the body of dancing regularly:
- More Flexibility. You’ve learned that dancing improves mental flexibility, but it also makes your limbs more flexible. Dancing reduces stiffness, and muscles are gently stretched as you move, so much so that it can relieve muscle and joint soreness from other forms of activity. It can also relieve stiffness caused by sitting in front of a computer or the TV for too long.
- Gain Muscle/Lose Weight. Dancing often strengthens and builds muscles, which helps you burn more “at rest” calories. It helps you lose as much weight as biking or jogging. This is according to a study in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology. Since obesity-related illnesses take the lives of a lot of people, this is another way dancing can save your life.
- Increased Energy. I don’t know about you, but I’m all about anything that can give me more energy to get through the day. Research in The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition showed that dancing even once a week increased the energy levels of the adults studied.
- Healthier Heart. Like all aerobic exercises, dancing makes your heart stronger and healthier. A study done in Italy found that people with heart failure who waltzed had better heart health, breathed better, and reported a better quality of life than those who rode a bike or walked on a treadmill.
- Better Balance and Coordination. If you were wondering what the heck dancing has to do with finding your balance, now you know. Dancing requires good posture and often includes quick movements which improve your control over your body. Most exercises only involve moving through 1 of the 3 movement planes, but dancing utilizes all 3 planes. That means all your muscle groups get involved. Worried about falling and breaking bones as you get older? Start dancing now and avoid those tumbles.
- Stronger Bones. Speaking of falling and breaking bones, did you know that just like walking, dancing makes your bones stronger and reduces your risk of osteoporosis? A study on tango dancing in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity proved that dancing improves balance, even in older adults.
- Higher Endurance and Pain Tolerance Levels. It might seem obvious that dancing can improve endurance since it’s a form of exercise. But, studies show that it also increases pain tolerance (more on that later).
What Type of Dance is Best For You?
I assume by now you’re convinced that you should add dance to your self-care practice and are thinking about what type might be best for you to start with. There are a few things to consider. First, what is your current physical activity level? More active adults may be up for more challenging forms of dance like hip-hop, while more sedentary people may need to start with low-impact line dancing. Second, what kinds of music do you love (and hate)? You’re going to be spending a lot of time listening to a type of music, so make sure it suits you.
The next thing to consider is what benefit you need the most. Studies link these different forms of dance to different health benefits:
- Free-Flowing: This is the form I practice most often, usually as I clean the house and wash dishes. According to a study by UCLA Health from August 2021 free-flowing dance was shown to improve mood in 98% of the participants, who had a history of depression, anxiety, or trauma.
- Choreographed: A study in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience focused on the effects of walking, stretching, and country line dancing on brain health. After 6 months, the only group to show improvement was the country dancers, because learning new routines improved memory.
- Synchronized Dance: Like a dance class, a Flash Mob, or when the whole wedding reception busts into the Cupid Shuffle. Dancing in synchronism with others releases endorphins, promotes social connection, and increases pain tolerance.
- Dance Movement Therapy (DMT): Defined by the American Dance Therapy Association as the “psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual” to improve mental health and overall wellness. A study found that increased quality of life and decreased anxiety and depression are associated with DMT.
What to Know Before Starting to Dance
If you’ve never really danced before but this particle has you convinced you should start, there are some things you should know before busting a move:
- Warm up and stretch before dancing to protect your muscles and joints. Click here if you’re not sure what to do to warm up.
- Drink lots of water before and after class. You can also drink water in class, but keep sips small to avoid stomach upset.
- Don’t push yourself to go too far into a stretch or to move too fast. That’s how injuries happen.
- Wear the right shoes for the style of dance you are doing, and make sure they fit right. Ill-fitting or improper shoes can also lead to injury. Hint: Flip-flops are basically never the right shoes for dancing in. They’re too easy to trip in.
- Watch first, then try. Trying a new move before your brain knows what to expect is asking for trouble. Let your brain process the new move before you try it.
- Check your alignment. Your knees should be pointed at the same place as your toes and the position of your neck should not cause strain or pain.
- Cool down and stretch after dancing, again to protect your muscles and joints. Not sure how to cool down? Click here.
Music and Mood
Dancing and music go hand in hand, as music provides the rhythm for the dance. Just like dancing, listening to the right music can improve your mood and even save your life. Music has profound and not fully understood effects on our physical and psychological health. This is why music therapy is used to treat a wide variety of issues. The key is using the right music.
Like all things that impact your health, music is a double-edged sword. The right music at the right time can save your life. But, the wrong music at the wrong time can influence you to take it. Remember how I wrote that I started this post with a heavy heart? I put on a playlist that improves my mood, and I’ve been dancing in my chair while I type since the fifth paragraph despite my grieving heart. If I had put on a different playlist, like the one I love for a rainy or snowy weekend, it would’ve depressed me even more and I might not have been able to finish this blog post on time.
You might think you know better than to pick a sad and slow playlist when feeling down, but studies show the opposite is true. People tend to use music to reinforce their mood instead of changing it. So, depressed people are more likely to pick depressing songs. Once you become aware of this tendency, you can work to consciously change it. I wonder if Stephen tWitch Boss knew this, and what type of music he listened to last?
This One Time When Music Saved My Life
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know that I’ve had anxiety and depression issues for most of my life so far. If you’re new here, now you know. Music has saved my life many times, but let me tell you about one specific event that occurred not too long ago.
At the time, I was still a stressed-out HOA manager that struggled to cope with the mental and emotional abuse that HOA boards and homeowners dish out to their managers. My depression at the time was deep, and my anxiety was sky-high. It had been a rough morning, so for my lunch break, I drove down the coast to my favorite hole-in-the-wall drive-thru for my favorite salad, and then drove back up the coast to the office. As usual, I was listening to Pandora radio as I drove. I don’t remember what station it was on, but it was sad and slow and was not helping my mood, although I failed to see that. Stopped at a red light, my eyes filled up with tears and I said out loud “it’s getting bad again”.
The light changed, and I started forward, heading towards a bridge that crossed an ocean lagoon. For a split second, I thought about steering the car off the bridge. Then, something magic happened. I lost cell service and the Pandora station switched from online to offline mode, changing the song and station. One of my favorite songs from my most upbeat station now was now bumping. I forgot all about steering the car off the bridge. By the time the song was halfway over I was dancing and humming along. That random change in song and station saved my life.
Can Dance and Music Save Your Life?
Yes and no. Yes, dancing and music have a deep and profound impact on your mental, emotional, physical, and even social health. In that way, it can save your life. No, dancing and music don’t guarantee that you won’t succumb to illness or thoughts of taking your own life. Nothing can guarantee that. But, science clearly shows that music and dance can be beneficial, and should be added to your self-care routine.
Want more tips on how to practice real self-care? Subscribe to my email list and get a mood-improving playlist for FREE. Need more help than a dance break can provide? Head here to check out my journal, course, and one-on-one coaching options designed to help you find your balance.
Thanks for reading! If you found this helpful, please share it on social media!