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Dance the Years Away

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"When a body moves, it's the most revealing thing. Dance for me a minute, and I'll tell you who you are." ~ Mikhail Baryshnikov.

A friend made an interesting statement the other day: "It’s such a shame we’re getting too old to dance.” Shocked, I responded: “NEVER!”

Since I was very young, I’ve loved to dance, and while the moves and my taste in music may have changed over the years, my love for dance has never waned.

As those closest to me will testify, dancing is how I connect with my very core. I dance around the kitchen (to the embarrassment of my children!) and I’m often caught dancing on the tables at my favourite cabaret champagne bar, Archer Street (to the embarrassment of my friends!).

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Strictly Here I Come - Or Not As the Case May Be!

But it’s more than just a quick boogie here and there - it’s how I ‘self-medicate’ when I am feeling stressed, anxious or sad - even more so than going to the gym. Every Sunday I do a Ceroc dance class, which not only extends my weekend but, more importantly, gets me in the right frame of mind for the week. I’m positive and ready to face whatever is thrown at me.

So, I wasn’t surprised to read that researchers have identified a strong link between dancing and our wellbeing, and has a restorative effect on our mental health.

Author Allie Chee discusses this in her memoir ‘Salsa Saved My Life’. At the age of 36, she found herself on the verge of a breakdown. It was through discovering dance and the routine and rhythm of the steps, together with the social element of the class, that she restored her sense of stability.

Our cognitive functions become challenged as our brain structure degenerates with age. However, it's recognised that neural plasticity (our brain’s ability to build new pathways and learn new things) continues throughout our lives and studies have shown that regular exercise and being physically active helps to anti-age our brains.

But only one type of exercise changes our day-to-day behaviours - dancing. We become more motivated, organised and sociable, and research has demonstrated that this is down to the challenge of learning new dance routines. So whilst a good boogie will lift your mood, you need to learn actual steps to obtain the full benefits.

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Celebrated PhD Professor, Rafi Eldor, has Parkinson’s disease and backs up these findings with research of his own.

Following his diagnosis in 2008 he was determined to avoid the decline in physical ability that comes with this disease and set about researching the most effective therapies to achieve this.

He tried swimming and walking, but a fascination with dance bought him into contact with a workout that transformed the progression of his condition. He attributes this to the balance, sequencing, rhythm and aesthetic awareness that is necessary to dance.

"The requirements for a dancer are just the opposite for symptoms of Parkinson's disease", Eldor explained during his landmark Ted talk. In the talk you see him tripping the light fantastic with dancer Anna Aronov and showing very few of the trademark signs that accompany Parkinson’s disease.  

Dr Kathrin Rehfeld of the Neurodegenerative Diseases in Magdeburg, Germany, who is the lead author of a study that discovered the anti-ageing properties of dance, explains why it’s so effective:

"We tried to provide our seniors in the dance group with constantly changing dance routines of different genres (Jazz, Square, Latin American and Line Dance). Steps, arm patterns, formations, speed and rhythms were changed every second week to keep them in a constant learning process. The most challenging aspect for them was to recall the routines under the pressure of time and without any cues from the instructor."

Dr Rehfeld and her colleagues are building on this research to trial new fitness programmes that have the potential of maximising anti-ageing effects on the brain.

So – no matter how old you are, and even if you think you have two left feet, I urge you to release your inhibitions and "dance as though no one is watching"!

As Maya Angelou said: “Everything in the universe has rhythm. Everything dances”. So, get your dancing shoes on and find yours! 

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