The Therapy of Dance

There are many articles on the physical, mental and emotional benefits of Dance, but I thought that since this is my personal blog and I want to address subjects that I am passionate and dedicated about, dance should definitely be in it. I believe my own perspective on dance and what it has done for me so far is a good example of its power.

Martha Graham said that “dance is the hidden language of the soul”, and I think this is a perfect sentence. I started having dance classes by the age of 16, a little later than I probably should have – but it is never too late to start something new, especially if it is something good. There are many +60 ladies who start doing Ballet, and I admire them for their will and courage. I had previously experienced a few dance classes (ballet, jazz), but I enjoyed none of those. I even tried Argentin Tango, which turned out to be one of my deepest passions in the field of dance, but at the moment I felt too young to be in a group of adult Tango students. (In my country, unfortunately, there is not a long lasting, strong tradition of Dance, so there are not as many young people doing partner dances as there are in other countries). I believe now that I did not stay in any of those classes for two main reasons: 1), I had yet to find the one entrance into the world of dance that would show me my true pleasure in this art; and 2), I was yet too insecure.

That was precisely the mood I was in when I first went to my new, Latin dance school as I turned 16. I had promised my father that I would join a dance school as soon as I turned 16, and a short time after my birthday, so I did. It is important to note that my parents were both dancers and dance teachers. Therefore, I had always grown up listening to dance music and watching them dance. Dance had always been inside my spirit, inside my soul, waiting to wake up and to free itself by taking control of my body, but it was mostly my timidity and social awkwardness that kept me from plunging into this world sooner.

I perfectly remember that night. I walked in and out of the building several times, closely followed by my mother, as I experienced one of many anxiety attacks I had when it came to enter a new class or try something new. I had only accepted going to an open class with a friend from school. This way, I would not be alone in front of strangers and we would live this new experience together. However, at the last moment, my friend called me and said that she could not make it, and I was left all by myself with the decision of going or not. Those were moments of great tension and anguish to me, as I walked back and forth, crying. But finally, just as the unknown teacher was about to close the door to the open dance class room, I took a deep breath, I looked at my mother and I entered the room. I made the decision in the last second, but I still made it. And today I recall that decision as one of my moments of greatest strength and resolve, and I honestly feel proud of the effort I had to make to convince myself to go.

Once inside, I loved the experience. It was everything I had unconsciously been waiting for in the world of dance. Approximately three years later, I find myself loving dance, being close friends with many people and forming my own group, including that same teacher who gave me that very first dance lesson. I find myself dancing in dance clubs with ease and comfort, freeing myself in front of the mirror of the classrooms every time we have a class. I find myself taking part in dance shows, being on stage and smiling to the audience. I find myself not being afraid.

This was definitely a quick, ever evolving journey – but it was still a process. I can clearly see the changes along the way, and this helps me understand the exact benefits of dance. I am now going to list them all.

1) Dance makes you lose your social awkwardness. I was a privileged witness on this matter. I have always been very shy, and two or three years ago I was blocking myself from many opportunities that could have been great new adventures, because they involved being with other people, meeting new people and interacting with different people. Dance does not allow you to be afraid of interacting with others. The basis of any partner dances is to interact and to connect with your partner. You must lose your constraint by getting physically close to another person, by holding their arms, shoulders or their hands, by moving in synchrony with your partner. And getting physically close forces you to speak with that same person. You must greet them, you must speak with them, you must understand their movements and read their intentions. If you are a woman, you must learn to follow your male partner. If you are a man, you must learn to understand the woman’s movements and lead her in a way that she will comfortably follow.

When you go dancing on a social occasion, you are forced to deal with strangers. Unknown men or women will come to invite you for a dance, you yourself may want to walk over to somebody and ask them to dance. Three years ago I probably would never have imagined myself walking over to a man at a party and asking him to dance with me. Nowadays, I know and greet all of my classmates (from different classes), I laugh and speak with them, I dance with several people in clubs and, despite occasional situations of greater timorousness, I give myself the courage to confront the situation and to interact with the other person.

Of course, losing this social awkwardness did not only reflect itself on my experiences in dance, but in all of my life. I have gained greater comfort in speaking and dealing with strangers and I am a lot less shy. Naturally, being shy is a part of my personality, one that perhaps will never entirely disappear, but it is radically different from what it was before I started dancing.

2) Dance makes you feel comfortable with your body. Everybody has something in their own body that they do not like. We usually associate this mainly with women, but men can be equally uncomfortable and insecure about their bodies. Being a girl, and being no exception, I too have “complaints” about my body or, at least, parts of it that I am not fully comfortable with. Nevertheless, when you start dancing, a funny process takes place: on the one hand, you must stop viewing your body as a perfectly solid, changeless figure and you must twist and turn it, stretch it and bend it, explore it from different angles. This means that you will stop looking at it from a single perspective and learn to appreciate it in new ways. When a woman looks at herself in the mirror, she looks at her own reflection in front of her. She may do a little spin to see herself from behind or from one side, but this is different from what she will see in the mirror when she is dancing. This is why having mirrors in dance classrooms is so important. Not only is it important to correct mistakes, but it is also essential for a person to see their own body changing and doing movements that give it grace, elegance and sensuality. This will help you feeling better about your physical self.

On the other hand, you will also begin to treat it as a work of art. I do not mean to encourage vanity or false modesty. What I mean to say is that your body becomes a natural tool for you to free your feelings, for you to express your emotions… and it gains immense beauty while doing so. A mysterious, undeniable magic takes over the human body when it is moving in perfect sync with a piece of music, when it is oozing emotion from the deepest parts of your soul and spirit. I am not sure that I can fully describe this feeling, but I know that every dancer in the world agrees with me. There is such a deep sense of freedom, of vividness and intensity in letting go of your body when you dance…! It is a great way to lose your physical constraints and it also leads me to my third point.

From my personal point of view, I have learned to accept my body in a totally new way. Years ago I would never have imagined myself going to a dance class in certain outfits that expose parts of my body that I do not feel entirely comfortable with, but now I have the confidence to do so because I know that, when I look in the mirror, I will like what I see and my body will no longer be a static, solid figure. It will be a moving, transforming, living part of me that allows me to free myself and to experience every strong emotion in its purer form.

3) Dance makes you let go of negative feelings and feeds you with positive feelings. When you are dancing, you will forget the rest of the world and all its problems. Trust me. Everything outside of the classroom will disappear for that hour and a half (or however long it may be), everything out of the club where you are dancing and having fun with your friends will step out of your mind for those hours of intense happiness. Dance does not give you time to worry about anything else because, if you are committed to do it – and to do it well -, you must be completely focused in what you are doing. In a way, dance is like meditating. Being able to forget whatever tensions you are going through in your everyday life is a very powerful thing, just like living in the present, in the here and now. But not only does dance help you let go of those bad feelings, it also gives you the greatest feelings.

Whenever I am in a dance class, I find myself repeatedly smiling or feeling extremely at ease. Yes, there may be moments of seriousness or even some frustration when you are finding it difficult to perform a certain movement. But that is beyond the point. You are focusing on something you enjoy doing and there is no room in your mind for anything scary, sad or worrying. I remember days when I felt so bad (for one reason or another) that I absolutely did not feel like going to my dance classes. Getting out of my house was a huge effort I had to make when I simply wanted to curl up in the couch watching TV and eating ice cream to forget. However, I forced myself to go and it was, every single time, the best decision I could ever have made. During those “hours and a half”, I would be as light-headed, as free and happy as if nothing bad had ever happened to me.

I know three examples may not seem like such a great number, but you must experience the incredible dimension of all three points and then you will understand the irresistible, magical power of dance. If you need any further proof or are interested in knowing more about the physical, mental and emotional effects of dance, I suggest you research on the topic of “Dance Therapy”. This is one of the most interesting worlds I have come to discover, and I believe it is one of the greatest therapeutic methods of recent times to deal with multiple physical and psychological challenges.

In the end, it is not about how well you dance, how perfect your technique is, how many spins you can do in a row. In the end, it is all about how much you smile when you dance, how free you feel when you dance, how beautiful you see yourself as when you dance. Dance is about being free, about being honest, about being happy and about accepting yourself just the way you are. And remember this: when you start accepting yourself for who you truly are, others will too.