A step in the right direction: How dancing builds resilience

There's new evidence that dancing is great for your mental health, and for sociability.

There's new evidence that dancing is great for your mental health, and for sociability. Photo: Getty

Evidence further supports the idea that dancers are happier and less troubled people than non-dancers.

This is the case for professional, recreational, and perhaps even lounge room dancers.

Moving to music, as previously reported, may be the best exercise for mental health.

And for preserving cognitive function.

This doesn’t mean that dancers have no problems or down days. They just bounce back better.

This is the essential finding of a study from the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (MPIEA) in Frankfurt, Germany:

Dancers are less neurotic than people who do not dance. They are also more agreeable, more open and more extroverted.

How was this arrived at?

The researchers analysed data from 5435 people from Sweden and 574 people from Germany.

Participants included dancers and non-dancers.

In Sweden, the research team was able to rely on an existing database that included data about peoples’ creative engagement and dance achievements.

To collect dancer data in Germany, the researchers developed an online survey that was widely shared by dance institutions.

They were looking at what’s known as the Big Five Personality Traits.

These are openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

Scoring high on the first four is usually a positive (although unbridled extroversion can be exhausting).

Scoring high on neuroticism, though, suggests difficulty with coping with what life throws at you.

Hey! Who are you calling neurotic?

What does it mean, to be neurotic in the first place? And less neurotic?

The term neurosis, around since the 1700s, was made famous by that compulsive pipe smoker Sigmund Freud.

According to modern-day followers of Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, neurosis is a condition caused by past anxiety, a fear that has often been repressed.

Like, you might have wet the bed as a kid, been yelled at too many times.

Since then you’ve grown up, and have since tainted every day living with the unconscious fear of once more soaking the sheets.

Non-Freudian psychologists regarded neurosis as a condition that amounts to not coping well with everyday life.

Neurosis involves symptoms of stress, such as anxiety, obsessive behaviour and hypochondria.

The results

Dancers scored better on all the positive traits, suggesting that in the main they’re friendlier and easier to get along with than non-dancers.

Previous research had found that musicians were more agreeable and more open to others – except maybe their bandmates when they’ve been on the road too long – but not necessarily less neurotic.

Dancers were, however, less neurotic.

How can it be explained?

Studies suggest that dancing is the best exercise for your mood and your thinking.

University of Sydney researchers have found that dancing, particularly structured dancing – in a class for example – can be successfully prescribed to “significantly improve psychological and cognitive health outcomes equivalent to other forms of structured exercise interventions”.

A six-week intervention is all it takes, they found.

“Preliminary evidence suggests that dance may be better than other physical activities to improve psychological wellbeing and cognitive capacity,’’ said lead author Dr Alycia Fong Yan from University of Sydney’s Faculty of Medicine and Health and Sydney Musculoskeletal Health.

“These findings were not just seen in older adults, but also younger populations and people with clinical conditions as well.”

She said that “learning dance sequences may challenge cognition, partnered or group dance may benefit social interactions, and the artistic aspect may improve psychological wellbeing”.

The benefits of dance don’t end there. Dancing might be the menopausal woman’s best friend.

A 2021 study from Brazil (home of the saucy Samba) found that dancing may “effectively lower cholesterol levels, improve fitness and body composition and in the process, improve self-esteem” – issues that are directly related to menopause.

Topics: dancing
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