The Big Idea
So you know those times in the day when you are waiting for something to happen? You know, waiting for the kettle to boil, the toast to pop-up, the laptop booting up? Or you are just having that moment when you want to celebrate or shake something off? It’s sort of slack time. What if we could give you a top tip that, in such times, will help you to sharpen your brain, mood and performance even further? This tip is so simple many of you may already occasionally do this without thinking about it – especially if, like us, you are parents that like to embarrass your children… What is it?
Well it’s that sneaky little ‘dodgy dance’ when we think nobody else is looking. Think Hugh Grant in Love Actually:
This week’s superstar guest is a Netflix star and Disney show performer and trainer, also executive irresistible presence, mindset and confidence coach, the fabulous Amy Leighton.
Now Amy is not adverse to the ‘dodgy dance’ routine either. Far from it! You can see if you follow her Instagram feed that she really is a bit of a Instagram groover – even with a cuppa in her hand:
It turns out there is so much behind the sneaky dance that can help our mood, wellbeing and mental performance. Want to find out why? Then keep reading…
Got it…What’s the Science
So when we dance we are welcoming into our life that connection between brain, mind and body. A little jig is an amazing workout for the brain as it connects these in a ‘neurodynamic’ way – that is it incorporates all sorts of parts of your brain including:
- Your motor cortex and the somatosensory cortex that together are involved in purposefully initiating movement and sensing feedback from your limbs;
- Your cerebellum which helps you with rhythmic and patterns of movement – as well as possibly aspects of associated mood (there are some people without a cerebellum and don’t / didn’t even know it) and;
- Your basal ganglia to help stabilise and smooth the movement.
And this is all before we incorporate all the processing that is occurring if you are listening to music as you move (see #Tip12).
In fact if you also put in how you might be visualising yourself moving as you ‘dance’ through space, maybe even sing a bit, you are really giving your brain a full co-odinated workout. Now why is this useful? Well to start with, lockdowns have meant that vast majority of us are now doing more sitting and less all-round body movement. Remember the brain likes to maintain connections and circuits through repeating actions (neuronal ‘firing’) – so by getting up you and dancing you are keeping that brain and body connection in shape – instead of letting those connections get a bit ‘rusty’, stiff or awkward. This is very useful in helping us keep agile for when we do call on our bodies to move, especially if it sudden. We communicate so much with our bodies, that this is also a great way of keeping up and improving your ‘body expressive circuits’ – making them more immediate and so useful.
The rise of video calls actually means that it is even more important to be able to convey meaning, intention and emotions in compressed ‘frames’ – the more creative and tune you are are here the more authentic and expressive you will be on such as call. This can make all the difference when the call really matters – like helping you in a job interview. There is also a reason that ‘dancing’ is still seen throughout the animal kingdom as a means of attracting a mate… It is communication of fitness – can this also include fitness to communicate? Anthropological studies of mountain living Barbary Macaques have shown the competitive evolutionary advantage of males being good at meeting the communication expectations of females.
Now we know what some of you are thinking here: “I’m not a dancer – end of…” Well that is a bit like saying you don’t move – because the vast majority of us can move at least some parts of our bodies and so can and dance – even if we don’t feel like it’s ‘dance-dancing’. Admittedly some of us look more graceful at this than others. And here’s the good news: movement, including the ‘dodgy dance’ (aka the embarrassing parent dance), doesn’t require you to be a good dancer, or even to remember steps or routines. Rather for you to just feel and use your body in the moment in some semblance of beat or rhythmic way. In fact most of us have less excuses than others. At The52Project we have each been personally been challenged by just how much those with disabilities and conditions actually do with their abilities – including dancing.
You see this really comes down to expression and expression, like art, has space for everyone – even if you have been told differently (including by yourself). Dance is a way that you can communicate with your body as well as the brains of others. Which brings us rather neatly to the catch 22 of confidence to do this.
When you throw some shapes, especially wide ones, you are also encouraging your body to produce more testosterone (‘the confidence hormone’) and reduce the amount cortisol (‘the stress hormone’). Your intentional movement (that starts in your brain) is subconsciously telling your brain, by experiencing and ‘seeing’ itself as larger in space (somatosensory), that it is confident – even if that’s not what you intended or initially feel by moving in this way. As you do this more you brain is ‘told’ by your body you are increasingly confident, you relax, and the more you relax the more confident you feel and appear to others and most importantly to yourself. As we have spoken before, lowering stress just by itself here, is so good for our bodies vascular system as well as reducing inflammation – both of these are good for our brain’s health.
Also, at The52Project we have already spoken of the importance of opening up blood vessels to get the blood flowing to your brain. Of course, as long as it is not too extreme, movement will encourage this bringing the nourishing energy and oxygen to all of your body – including your brain. So moderate movement will also help make you feel and be more mentally alert and capable. In a small study undertaken in 2012, researchers at North Dakota’s Minot State University found that the Latin-style dance known as Zumba improves mood and certain cognitive skills, such as visual recognition and decision-making.
Dopamine is also important in circuits in the basal ganglia that help smooth out the movements our bodies make. In the neurodegenerative condition called Parkinson’s disease (Parkinsonism) dopaminergic neurones (those neurones that use dopamine as transmitters), especially in the substantia nigra, die. This loss is known to lead to body tremors, stiffness (rigidity), slow decreased movement (bradykinesia) and / or loss of balance. It seems that dance can actually help in reducing the the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, even reduce the chance of developing it in the first place.
A study in 2003 reported in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that dance can lead to improvements in brain health – both in functioning and protecting the from the likelihood of developing brain disease (in this case dementias) – in fact out of the 11 physical activities that they looked at – which including cycling, swimming, golf – dancing was the only one to have this neuroprotective effect, reducing the likelihood of dementia. Admittedly this was more prolonged periods of dance than the 2 to 3 minute private boogie we are advocating BUT it stands to reason the that a little and often is going to have an affect in a number of different ways. In fact dance / movement therapy (DMT) is widely used for all sorts of patients as well as being a part of health enriching practices like tai chi, pilates or yoga.
It seems that some of the health benefits of more formal or regular dancing are likely to include the social, problem solving and memory exercises associated with dancing. We believe that even if you just dance by yourself, this tip – especially if you are happy to share your attempts, can still be social and involve problem solving aspects… By the way, we don’t want to spoil these for you by saying here more on how, when, where or who with because that would be to undermine the point of some of the processes that will give you the brain benefits. Just rest assured that if you share your dodgy dances with us, you will be – if nothing else – be helping us all by smiling with you (see #Tip10).
Watch our #Tip16 on the Instagram Live Recording….
With special quest star Amy Leighton.
Dancing & the Brain (Harvard Medical School post)
What benefits does dancing have on your brain (by Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo)
As we say we are about changing the World one cuppa at a time. So how about trying a little dancing while you boil the kettle?
You really don’t need to be a Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Darcy Bussell or John Travolta. Most of us are fortunate to have use of at least some of our limbs and are capable of moving to music (even if it’s just the tune in our head). Dancing, like beauty, is after all really in the eye of the beholder – as critical as we are with ourselves – we are capable of moving to a beat or rhythm, even it is to the off-beat a bit like a jazz musician. Nobody else has to see you. As the song title says, we hope you can “dance like nobody’s watching”.
How about making motivational and relaxing dance playlists? (#Tip12)
This is a habit that another particularly stackable one – either at the same time or before / after – with say: getting Morning Sunshine (#Tip4), Keep Smiling (#Tip10), Plant Power (#Tip14), Be Smelly (#Tip15) and Singing (coming very soon) – that, as Amy says in our Instagram Live, can be so useful to what mood we want to ‘get into’ (feel) or reflect.
If you are feeling particularly up for it, how about sharing some of your ‘dodgy’ dancing moments with us?
Amy swears, even though she is a professional performer, that being more free to express herself with a good old ‘dodgy dance’ has liberated her to feel and be more confident and happy in her own skin through national lockdowns.
A regular to The52Project Instagram Lives and fellow experimental partner, Darren (@dregym), has already started sharing his playlists for dancing on Spotify.
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