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Dancing your way to good health


There is perhaps no other widely performed leisure activity in the history of civilization than dance. People have been moving their bodies to rhythm since millennia. In fact, cave paintings going back to 3300 BC have been found depicting dancing figures.


Various types of dances have been a part of different cultures all over the world – as rituals or during celebrations, and dance has always been central to social gatherings – from structured dance to folk, regional and tribal dances. Dance was also later used as a means of communication and to tell stories.


In India, dance has been an ancient art form. Indian classical dances are structured dance styles with their basis in Vedic literature such as the NatyaShastra, AbhinayaDarpanam, SangeetRatnakar and others. The NatyaShastra, for example is estimated to be dating back to between 200 BCE and 200 CE. The performance and practice of these dance styles is not only joyful but also therapeutic, both for the performers and viewers.


Wondered what makes dance such a universal experience? Numerous studies and researches have been conducted in recent times that prove the many physical and psychological benefits of dancing in general.


It is now a well-known fact that dancing releases endorphins and serotonin, the happiness hormones. At the same time, it suppresses cortisol, the hormone responsible for stress. One is therefore left with positive feelings of comfort, joy and relaxation after dancing.


Studies using PET imaging have identified regions of the brain that contribute to dance learning and performance. These regions include the motor cortex, somatosensory cortex, basal ganglia, and cerebellum.*


The basic training in Indian classical dance such as Kathak starts with the introduction to the concept of rhythm when the mind is trained to understand and move the feet to a simple rhythm structure. Gradually, movements of the hands are added. As the mind and body get accustomed to following the rhythm, movements of the neck and eyes are also added. This gradual progression involves all parts of the brain and develops and strengthens mind-body co-ordination.


Since all parts that correspond to different brain functions are exercised with dance training, the benefits also get carried over to other areas of daily life, making dance a wonderful workout for the brain!


Moreover, studies have also shown that dancing helps keep the memory sharp since it requires learning sequences of steps and co-ordinating movements, reducing the risk of ailments such as dementia as we age. In classical dance, we learn many rhythmic patterns, pure dance as well as expressive pieces and choreographies to music and words.


Classical dance is also done to different speeds or tempo. The practice of Kathak involves movements which are slow, and also some high-intensity footwork and body movements. Alternating various movements at different speeds is similar to interval-training done at gyms, which makes for a great cardio-vascular exercise.

All muscles in the body are involved in creating dance movements and regular practice greatly enhances the body posture, flexibility and stamina.


In a research paper, lead author Dr Alycia Fong Yan from University of Sydney’s Faculty of Medicine and Health and Sydney Musculoskeletal Health said: “Preliminary evidence suggests that dance may be better than other physical activities to improve psychological wellbeing and cognitive capacity”. A structured dance program of at least six weeks’ duration can significantly improve psychological and cognitive health outcomes.**


Classical dance styles are taught in a structured manner with attention on every aspect of the dance practice. The dance style of Kathak involves footwork, movements of the torso, the head and neck, hasta mudra or hand gestures, and face expressions. This also makes the dance form accessible to all and anyone can benefit from any or all aspects of dance practice.


All Indian classical dances are performed barefoot which makes our connection with the earth stronger. As we practice footwork using different parts of the feet, various pressure points on the feet are energized. This little exercise also improves the blood flow in the body.


Several other researches have indicated the positive effects of dancing on self-confidence. Dance is beneficial for increasing self-trust, self-esteem, and self-expression in children and adolescents (Duberg et al., 2020). (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9234256/#B10)


Classical dance greatly enhances self-image by ensuring correct posture of the body and making one conscious of and creating many beautiful movements. The concept and study of Bhaav and Rasa in Indian classical dance focuses on expressing emotions, moods and thoughts thus providing a creative outlet for our innermost feelings.


If you have been contemplating exploring dance for yourself or for anyone in your family, here is a set of questions you can ask yourself to help you decide what style of dance to go for.


  • What specific purpose do you wish to achieve with dancing? For example, do you need an activity for better physical health? or something to de-stress? Do you wish to make your body more flexible or develop strength etc.

  • Will you prefer slow or fast dancing?

  • Do you prefer dancing individually or in a group?

  • Would you want to learn solo or do a partner dance?


As dance makes it way from merely being a leisure activity to one that can be practiced for self-care and holistic well-being, it is well worth making it a part of our lives!

 

If you have any other questions related to dance and specifically to the Indian classical dance style of Kathak, you can write to me through this website’s contact page.

 

Happy Dancing and Good Health to you!!

 

*Harvard Medical School Articles Archive, 2015

**Research conducted by researchers from University of Sydney, University of NSW, Macquarie University and Queensland University of Technology

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