Today is International Dance Day.  This day is described as a celebration day for those who can see the value and importance of the art form ‘dance, and seeks to act as a wake-up-call for governments, politicians and institutions which have not yet recognised its value to the people and to individuals.

In fact, the National Health Service (NHS) encourages dancing as a physical activity to help improve fitness, stating that “regular dancing is great for losing weight, maintaining strong bones, improving posture and muscle strength, increasing balance and co-ordination and beating stress”

Any physical exercise is good for our mental health, but dance supersedes many other more traditional forms of exercise for boosting mental health outcomes.  If we cast our minds back to the last time we danced, most of us can acknowledge that when we truly let ourselves go and move freely we experience a burst of happiness. Dance is universal, all cultures and societies have it.  It’s a way we express ourselves, connect with our community and release our tensions.

Gabriel Roth, the creator of the movement practice 5Rhythms wrote:

“Disease is inertia. Healing is movement. Shamanic work is about dancing from within. If you put the body in motion, you will change. You are meant to move: from flowing to staccato, through chaos into lyric and back into stillness from which all movement comes. If you let your heart be moved, be open to the risk and adventure of feelings, letting them work through to completion, you will change. Tears turn into smiles, anger into embraces…The spirit in motion heals, expands, circles in and out of the body, moving us through the layers of consciousness from inertia to ecstasy. Open to the spirit, and you will be transformed.” (Roth, 1989)

In the past several years there have been many studies which investigated the mental health benefits of dancing.  Dance and movement are powerful psychological tools that people can use to help process their emotions and situations. Partnered dance styles can promote social and emotional wellbeing. In dance we can use the body to express emotions that we may have difficulty verbalising.  We can communicate our feelings.  In some dance practices we are invited to explore movements and shapes which take us out of our comfort zones.  By modelling different attitudes on the dancefloor we can achieve a different perspective on our lives.

When we dance in a group we form a community.  One of the strongest predictors of someone’s recovery from mental health struggles is their ties to a community.  By letting ourselves be open and vulnerable within the safe space of the dancefloor we open ourselves to forming real connections with people.

When all of this is combined with the natural release of feel good chemicals stimulated by exercise, mental health issues such as anxiety and depression start to lessen.  There are a huge range of different dance styles and classes to choose from.  Just like finding a therapist that you click with, it can take a little time and patience to find a style of dance or a class where you feel at home. Or if a class doesn’t appeal, why not head out to check out a favourite band or DJ and cut up the dancefloor for the evening?

So people, if you want better mental health, get dancing!