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Thursday, October 25, 2007

What Dance has Meant to me -- Can Dance Heal?


I grew up in NYC where there were so many opportunities for me to pick what I loved as recreation. My parents were of the mindset to expose me to everything that way I would find what I loved and stick with it. There were many lessons taken throughout the years; guitar, saxophone, gymnastics, acting but the one that stuck from age 7 was dance.

I started off taking ballet and tap and while I loved tap dancing -- ballet was never a favorite. When I took my first jazz/modern dance class I knew I had found my niche. I was lucky enough to be taught by a former Radio City Rockette, Helen Butleroff. I took lessons 3-4 times a week and loved it. Because of my prestigious teacher I got to have my dance recitals at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in NYC -- not the typical recital halls! : ) While dancing modern or jazz I felt like I didn't have to think about anything -- just follow the steps given to me and enjoy the movement. When I got to high school and felt there were "too many social outings" that needed to be attended for me to tie up my afternoons with dance lessons and I quit (of course for years I regretted THAT one!). Then clubbing took over my needing to dance.

Things were a bit different back then. They had just raised the drinking age in NY to 21 from 18 and if you were a girl and were dressed up there weren't too many clubs that would refuse you entry. Dance had always been a release for me. When I danced the world around me disappeared and I was in my own world moving to the beats. I think it was as close to a meditative state as I came back then. Going out dancing was never about meeting guys or drinking but rather me and friends finding great music that we could dance to. There were a lot of wonderful clubs in NYC back then with several floors to find just the right music to move you.

During college I wound up at the bars or parties that had dancing and took a few ballroom/oldies dance classes for physical education. After college I moved back to NYC and continued clubbing with a bunch of friends and also took belly dancing lessons (SO fun!). Each week one of the people in my group of friends would pick a club and the other 7 or 8 of us would follow. It was great to discover new places, new music and new dance scenes. When I met my husband we found we really enjoyed dancing together. It was something we could enjoy each other's company, the music, and the way we could dance so well together.

Moving to the suburbs and having kids did not lend itself to dance. My husband and I started to look forward to the weddings and social events we were invited to as an opportunity to dance together. After my son was born I took "trance dance" in NJ and really enjoyed it. It allowed for a lot of creative movement and integrated yoga and dance and I felt more myself then I had in years when I was in that class. Dance was always something I could come back to and feel like I never left it. Even when I wasn't actively dancing I would hear a song and choreograph things in my head. It is definitely a passion that I have always had and feel I always will.

When we moved to the country I was ill but knew I wanted to take some kind of exercise class to feel somewhat fit. I was fortunate enough to find a yoga dance class. For the first half hour we did yoga and then after that we would dance free form for a half hour and then had 15 minutes of stretching and a cool down. Being in that class put me in a complete meditative state during and afterwards. Even if I went there in pain I would come out and feel better and whole. The next 2 days I was usually pretty sore but it didn't stop me going back the following week. I took this class on and off for 3 years. It followed the CD Shiva Rea Trance Dance and I highly recommend it for home use.

When I was diagnosed as being hyper-mobile they discouraged yoga since it is very difficult not to hyper-extend during it. I tried yoga dance a few times but it didn't feel right for me to try and control my stretches and sadly I ended it. I knew I had to keep dance in my life somehow and while I had always tried to dance with my children anyway this gave me a push to show them just how good music and dance can make you feel.


When I was told by my rheumatologist that my illnesses would likely end with me in a wheelchair one of my first thoughts was of dance. I could not bear the thought of never dancing again and I think this is one of the things that left me so open to the belief "I could heal myself" after seeing the movie "The Secret".

During the weeks when I was integrating all my learnings into my life on the law of attraction and the mind/body connection I found it very important to listen to uplifting music. When I listen to upbeat music my body naturally wants to move and it became a daily occurrence in my house for my (then 3 year old) daughter to say "time for our dance party mommy". We would put on dance music from her computer courtesy of noggin.com "Jack's Big Music Show" where the children's musician Laurie Berkner often performs. You can play short music videos and every day we would and dance around the living room. When my son came home from school we would go to the playroom and have music on and whether it was Kidz Bop songs or other children's music we were always moving. Dancing with my kids is one of the greatest joys I can imagine -- to have 2 of my greatest loves combined is something to be grateful and amazed by each time it happens -- no matter how often.

I also take advantage of our Exercise Channel on Demand that comes with all free programming with our digital cable subscription. I can take from 10 minutes to an hour of hip hop, modern, belly dancing, African dance, aerobic dance and just about any other dance I could imagine. It is nice to switch it up and try different routines and experience different types of dance.

Physical Benefits

According to the PAHA (Physical Activity Health Alliance) dance has the following benefits:

Dancing is one of the most enjoyable and fun ways for everyone to get moving and do more physical activity. You can dance your way to happiness and well-being.

There are many health benefits of dance:

  • Be Happy - dancing gives you a natural high and can make you feel good about yourself.
  • Get Slim - dancing is a brilliant way to burn off calories and use your body - twisting, for example, slims the waistline.
  • Dance Your Worries Away - expressing yourself through dance can help you take your mind off everyday worries.
  • Get Strong - dancing helps build bone strength that will last into old age.
I think one of the BEST benefits of dance is you can do it WHENEVER you want in the comfort of your own home to whatever music suits you or you are in the mood for. Whether it's putting on a song you USED to dance to that brings back some memories and gets you moving or a new dance track... whether it is a hard rock or a trance dance song .... there's no right or wrong music and there's no right or wrong way to dance.

Recently while at a "Sweet 16 party" for a friend's daughter my son was a bit shy because everyone "could dance". When he did get on the dance floor he moved great but was still self-conscious and unfortunately didn't last long. I am trying to teach him it doesn't matter how you move -- just that you get out there -- the rhythm will find you and you will find it. The most important thing is you are having fun.

Dancing to music you like can help you physically feel better, happier and can make whatever is on your mind disappear. It is still very meditative to me and writing this article made me realize it has been a week since I have danced with my kids and when my son comes in the door after school -- I know what we're doing!

Next time you are sad or feeling a little worried about something try putting on a song you love with an up beat tempo and let the music move you and heal any pain you happen to be feeling emotionally and physically.

Above is my favorite picture from my wedding 10 years ago of my husband Ray and I dancing.


Neil said...

I absolutely agree with you that dancing can be, if not simply exhilarating, quite a healing experience. Our bodies were designed to move, after all, and our spirits were designed to create, to express - both things that happen when you dance to the music that you hear/feel.

When I was really young, my mother used to play classical music on the piano, and my sister and I would just dance around our living room - pure expression to the music. I feel fortunate to have hung on to that in my adult life - but I do believe that it's there for anyone to experience should they be able to get over their self-consciousness.

My wife and I also experienced pure joy while we were dancing together at our wedding. Just to show you the "creative" power of dance - the song we danced to had the words "Baby, baby, baby" in the chorus. Well, guess what we had nine months later...!

Thanks for such a thoughtful article. Now for one about the healing power of singing in the shower?
Neil Sattin.com - Getting to the Heart of Personal Development
Natural Dog Training Blog

Jenny Mannion said...

Hey Neil,
Thanks for the comment! Glad you enjoy dance as well. You might have to guest write the article on the shower singing though -- I do my daily "grateful" list there -- between that and getting clean never broke into the singing! I do my singing in the car when I am chauffeuring my kids.... my 4 year old daughter can sing Fergie pretty well! Thanks again! Jenny

Stacie said...

Hey Jenny,

I totally agree that dancing is a physical as well as spiritual experience, and has amazing power! I also realize it's been a while since I got up and danced, and thanks to your reminder, I will be doing it soon!


Jenny Mannion said...

Hi Stacie,
GREAT to hear you will dance soon! I have fond memories of us taking yoga dance together and that yoga dance buzz afterwards! : ) You have such a great spot for dancing -- turn up the music loud! : ) I hope we get to dance together again in the not too distant future! Do you have the Shiva Rea disc? Thanks so much for posting. Jenny

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