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Dance and health has been subject of a number of research studies which show dance to be a very healthy exercise. However there are a number of health risks of professional dance which require careful attention. As part of courtship dance is a reliable indicator of the dancer's health and intelligence.

Folk dancing couple.


Benefits of dance

Being in general an aerobic exercise, dance brings well known benefits, such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, weight control and other ones commonly associated with physical fitness. In addition, a considerable effect of dancing on psychological well-being is noted.

However, as Arts Council England noted in its 2004 address to British House of Commons,[1] most of evidence in support of these claims is of anecdotal character, and the Arts Council argued that "more needs to be done to demonstrate the specific and special benefits, and extend the delivery, of dance in a range of health contexts". Subsequently Laban did a study which indicated dance had a positive effect on physical fitness and psychological wellbeing and could be considered a valid alternative to sport.[2]

Most of the research to date on the health benefits of dance has been on the effects for ill people.

An Italian study in 2006 has shown that dance is a very good exercise for heart patients compared to other aerobic exercises like cycling. This may be partly because the patients enjoyed it much more.[3][4]

A study in New York in 2003 has shown that cognitive activities like crosswords help ward off dementia but, except for ballroom dancing, most physical activities do not.[5] [6]

A study at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine in 2007 showed Argentine tango was better at improving the mobility of Parkinson's disease sufferers than an exercise class[7] (a later study showed similar benefits from Tai Chi). Because of the level of interest a permanent tango class was set up after the study ended.

A report by Professor Tim Watson and Dr Andrew Garrett of University of Hertfordshire compared members of the Royal Ballet with a squad of British national and international swimmers. The dancers scored higher than the swimmers in seven out of ten areas of fitness.[8]

Dance pads have proven useful in tackling obesity in young people and are welcomed in many schools for that reason.[9]

Risks of dance

There are various health risks of professional dance, as it can be very demanding. As well as sports injuries, repetitive strain injury, and chronic workplace stress, dancers have a higher than average risk of body image problems and eating disorders.[10]

Avoiding injury

Even for social dance the use of a sprung floor is highly recommended.[11 ] Because a dance injury can ruin a career professional dancers are increasingly refusing to dance on anything else.

In ballet good plieing (bending the knees) on landing helps protect against knee injuries and shin splints. Many types of dance, especially folk dances, have hops in the steps where the impact of landing can be reduced by slightly bending the knee.

Warming up and cooling down exercises are recommended before and after exercises to avoid strain, muscle pains, and possible injury.[12]

Conditioning is a good way to prevent dance injuries.

Treatment after injury

RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) is generally regarded as a good first aid therapy for most dance injuries before the ambulance comes, or even for what may be thought of as more minor injuries.[13] For minor injuries light exercises should be started after two days, if it is not definitely on the mend by this time then see a doctor.[14] Pain and inflammation can be reduced using a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) in a gel applied to the affected area (not on broken skin), note however that masking a pain to continue dancing is dangerous as it can easily make an injury very much worse.[11 ]

Dance and courtship

Dance has long been recognised as a way for prospective partners to select each other. Isadora Duncan said of dance that it needed 'the highest intelligence in the freest body'. Recent studies show how much can be conveyed by dance:

An article in Nature 'Dance reveals symmetry especially in young men' shows that dance in Jamaica seems to show evidence of sexual selection and to reveal important information about the dancer.[15] [16] Professor Lee Cronk at Rutgers says: "More symmetrical men put on a better show, and women notice". Symmetry is a strong indicator of fitness as it shows developmental stability.

A Swedish study shows that people who score high on intelligence tests are also good at keeping time.[17][18]. This shows that dance and playing music demonstrate the intelligence of the performer.

Scientific study of dance

Dance science is the scientific study of dance and dancers, as well as the practical application of scientific principles to dance. Its aims are the enhancement of performance, the reduction of injury, and the improvement of well-being and health.

Dance requires a high degree of interpersonal and motor skills, and yet seems built into humans. It has therefore increasing become the subject of neurological studies. The July 2008 edition of Scientific American contains a summary of recent studies and further questions.[19]

Related occupations

Dance therapy or dance movement therapy is a form of expressive therapy, the psychotherapeutic use of movement (and dance) for treating emotional, cognitive, social, behavioural and physical conditions.

Many professionals specialize in dancer's health such as in providing complementary or remedial training or improving mental discipline.[20]

Dance and health promotion

There is a large amount of governmental, health and educational information available extolling the benefits of dance for health.[21] Their 'case studies' mainly show successful local groups set up using dance, and some groups have use these resources when approaching funding or facilities committees.

See also


  1. ^ Memorandum submitted by Arts Council England to the House of Commons Committee on Culture, Media and Sport
  2. ^ The effects of an eight-week creative dance programme on the physiological and psychological status of 11-14 year old adolescents: An experimental study Edel Quin, Emma Redding and Lucy Frazer,
  3. ^ America Heart Association Heart failure patients can waltz their way to healthier hearts
  4. ^ Heart Care -February 2007 Waltzing Your Way to a Stronger Heart
  5. ^ Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly Joe Verghese, M.D., Richard B. Lipton, M.D., Mindy J. Katz, M.P.H., Charles B. Hall, Ph.D., Carol A. Derby, Ph.D., Gail Kuslansky, Ph.D., Anne F. Ambrose, M.D., Martin Sliwinski, Ph.D., and Herman Buschke, M.D. New England Journal of Medicine, 2003, Volume 348, No. 25, 2508-2516
  6. ^ BUPA investigative news How to reduce dementia risk
  7. ^ A study on the effects of Argentine tango as a form of partnered dance for those with Parkinson disease and healthy elderly.Hackney, M., Kantorovich S., Earhart, G.M. 2007, J Neurol Phys Ther, 31(4): 173-179
  8. ^ The Times: Breakthroughs, tips and trends: October 25th Stronger swan
  9. ^ Games on Deck Games For Health 2006: Dance Dance… Revolution in Fitness!
  10. ^ Wan Nar Wong, Margaret; William Wing Kee To, Kai Ming Chan (2001). "Chapter 16: Dance Medicine". in Nicola Maffulli, K. M. Chan, Robert M. Malina, Tony Parker. Sports Medicine for Specific Ages and Abilities (2nd ed.). Elsevier. pp. 161–168. ISBN 978-0443061288.  
  11. ^ a b Harkness Centre for Dance Injuries Common Dance Injuries
  12. ^ Adapted Physical Education and Sport By Joseph P. Winnick 2005 ISBN 073605216X Chapter 15 Science behind Accurate Exercise Programs
  13. ^ Dance Magazine April, 2005 by Linda Hamilton Ouch! Five common dance injuries & how to treat them
  14. ^ NHS Direct Sports Injuries
  15. ^ Dance Symmetry Project
  16. ^ Dance reveals symmetry especially in young men. Brown, William M., Lee Cronk, Amy Jacobson, Keith Grochow, C. Karen Liu, Zoran Popovic, and Robert Trivers. 2005. Nature 438: 1148-1150
  17. ^ Intelligence and rhythmic accuracy go hand in hand
  18. ^ Fredrik Ullén, Lea Forsman, Örjan Blom, Anke Karabanov och Guy Madison. Intelligence and variability in a simple timing task share neural substrates in the prefrontal white matter. The Journal of Neuroscience, 16 april 2008
  19. ^ [1] So You Think You Can Dance?: PET Scans Reveal Your Brain's Inner Choreography. Stephen Brown and Lawrence M. Parsons Scientific American July 2008 vol 299 No. 1 58-63
  20. ^ [2] Dancers Health
  21. ^ [3] Dance and health: The benefits for people of all ages. Jointly from the British National Health Service and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport

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