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Boogie for the Body & the Brain: Therapeutic Uses of Dance

Updated: Jul 9, 2021

In the world of smartphones and the abundance of TikTok videos, dancing has become an irresistible and fun activity that people engage in. However, can it do more than just being a social media craze?

Dancing is fundamentally described as movement to a rhythm. At its simplicity, dance can be a person moving to music (Chen et al, 2016). At its complexity, it comes in various forms such as ballroom dance and contemporary dance (Koch et al., 2014; Coubard, 2011). Diversely, a therapeutic method aimed to improve health and well-being is called dance movement therapy, or DMT). DMT utilizes psychotherapeutic use of movement, encouraging mental and physical unification of an individual, defined by the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) (Koch et al., 2014). DMT incorporates choreography, mirroring, and improvisation in its means of therapy (Nemes et al., 2019).

Dr. Koch introduces Dance/Movement Therapy. Video by American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA)

A Prance of Physical Therapy DMT has physical attributes that contribute to physical therapy. One attribute of dance is the diversity of motor skills, which are the movements and actions of the muscles. Voelcker-Rehage, 2008 find that motor skills can vary from large and strong, to small and gentle. Movements can be generated from any part of the body, whether the movements all happen together or an isolated part of the body moves by itself. Coordination is another characteristic that is essential in dance. Coordinating movements in dance are typically performed by the arms and the legs moving together efficiently. Expert dancers sometimes engage in polyrhythmic movements; for example, arms would move to one rhythm while the legs would move to another different rhythm. Symmetric coordination of the left and right sides at the same time is called bilateralism (Wolff et al., 2017). Similarly, balance is beneficial to the dynamic nature of dance, due to various changes of movement and weight transfer.

Dance Therapy for patients with Parkinson's (Photo by Joe Lambie and Laura Karlin, National Public Radio)

These characteristics are especially helpful for those who suffer from motor movement and balance impairments. Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that impairs motor skills, leading to reduced balance and stiff movements. Natale et al., 2017 utilized DMT to replicate daily life movements. Patients were given dual-tasking movements that incorporated disruptions in balance, high-demanding movements, and sudden changes in direction. Dance therapy patients had shown significant motor improvement in the follow-up tests compared to the patients in traditional therapy. Stroke patients can also benefit from DMT. Wolff et al., 2017 report that a stroke occurs when the brain’s blood flow is interrupted, where one may experience weakness and loss of sensation. The body loses control of the side opposite to the side of the brain affected, affecting one’s balancing ability. DMT utilizes bilateralism and movement repetition to re-establish symmetry in their body, and improve their balance.

Dance Therapy and Parkinson's Patients Infographic (Image from Ballet Arizona)

A Movement of Mental Therapy Dance can explore the psychological side of the human being. Dance is engaging through performing a movement sequence or even improvising one’s movements. Regardless of the method, dance is beneficial in improving memory and expressing emotions. A psychological component of dance is memory, such as remembering choreography or recalling which foot goes in front. Chen et. al., 2016 find that dance works with the management system of the brain called executive function, specifically the working memory. Working memory allows information to temporarily stay for the brain to work on it and organize information for long-term storage. For example, exposure to novel dance moves is worked on in the brain for immediate recall and stored for later recall. Nemes et al., 2019 find that DMT is unique compared to traditional therapies such that DMT encourages expression through music. Music is not only impactful to the sensorimotor and cognitive experience; but it also empowers the human brain’s emotional experience. By combining both music and movements, one can express themselves on how they feel inside. An example is when people bob their heads to a funky rhythm; differently, some people express unhappy emotions dancing to mellow music.

Takeaways of what working memory is. (Examined Existence)

These mental components are therapeutically used for schizophrenia. Chen et al., 2016 state that schizophrenia is associated with abnormal and disordered thinking, which impairs the executive function of the brain. Their research employed aerobic dancing which incorporates following the instructor in executing dance moves while keeping up with the rhythm. The activity engaged in a high level of executive functioning that improved patient' executive functioning. Jeong et al., 2005 studied DMT for expression to be helpful for those experiencing depression, a mood disorder that results in decreased functional mobility and poor moods. Their study tested DMT on adolescent girls with mild depression for 12 weeks. Results showed that the girls had been given a pleasurable and fun outlet to help relieve tension and anxiety. Through expressing themselves in DMT, body image and ego boundaries saw improvement in the girls. Wolff et al., 2017 find that depression can also be acquired by patients with low quality of life such as stroke patients. Dance movement therapy is also beneficial for such patients.

Albert Saguil Dancing at Robson Square (Image by Andrew Wooles, Instagram)

The Encore: Conclusion DMT is composed of various elements that benefit both the brain and body. The therapeutic use of movement helps those experiencing low quality of life. Overall, dance may serve as a therapeutic activity that can help improve different aspects of life. So what are you waiting for? Turn on some music and get ready to boogie!


Date: March 19, 2020

Updated: March 24, 2020

Sources used: Chen, M.-D., Kuo, Y.-H., Chang, Y.-C., Hsu, S.-T., Kuo, C.-C., & Chang, J.-J. (2016). Influences of Aerobic Dance on Cognitive Performance in Adults with Schizophrenia. Occupational Therapy International, 23(4), 346–356. doi: 10.1002/oti.1436 Coubard, O. (2011). Practice of contemporary dance improves cognitive flexibility in aging. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 3. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2011.00013 Jeong, Y.-J., Hong, S.-C., Lee, M. S., Park, M.-C., Kim, Y.-K., & Suh, C.-M. (2005). Dance Movement Therapy Improves Emotional Responses And Modulates Neurohormones In Adolescents With Mild Depression. International Journal of Neuroscience, 115(12), 1711– 1720. doi: 10.1080/00207450590958574 Koch, S., Kunz, T., Lykou, S., & Cruz, R. (2014). Effects of dance movement therapy and dance on health-related psychological outcomes: A meta-analysis. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 41(1), 46–64. doi: 10.1016/j.aip.2013.10.004 Natale, E. R. D., Paulus, K. S., Aiello, E., Sanna, B., Manca, A., Sotgiu, G., … Deriu, F. (2017). Dance therapy improves motor and cognitive functions in patients with Parkinson’s disease. NeuroRehabilitation, 40(1), 141–144. doi: 10.3233/nre-161399 Nemes, B. O., Pirlog, R., Tartamus, D., Capusan, C., & Fodor, D. M. (2019). The role of dance therapy in the rehabilitation of Parkinson disease patients. Balneo Research Journal, 10(Vol.10, No.3), 300–304. doi: 10.12680/balneo.2019.272 Osuka, Y., Kojima, N., Kim, M., Won, C. W., Suzuki, T., & Kim, H. (2018). Exercise type and activities of daily living disability in older women: An 8-year population-based cohort study. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 29(3), 400–406. doi: 10.1111/sms.13336 Voelcker-Rehage, C. (2008). Motor-skill learning in older adults—a review of studies on age- related differences. European Review of Aging and Physical Activity, 5(1), 5–16. doi: 10.1007/s11556-008-0030-9 Wolff, S., Delabary, M., & Haas, A. (2017). Can Dance contribute to Physical, Emotional and Social Aspects of the Stroke Patient? International Journal of Therapies and Rehabilitation Research, 6(1), 70–75. doi: 10.5455/ijtrr.000000223



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