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This Is Your Brain on Dance

Embracing dance as a benefit for the body, mind, and soul.

Written by Founder of All About Dance and Dance Forever, Jessica Goldman

Black and white image of three dancers in a pose.
Photo by Pixabay

Welcome to Dance Diaries, a place where leaders from the All About Dance and Dance Forever staff, along with inspiring guest experts are invited to share their insights and perspectives on all things dance.

First up: our fearless founder, Jessica Goldman, shares her thoughts on the positive impact dance and movement can have on mental health, in honor of National Mental Health Awareness month.


I’m so excited to kick off this new series and connect with YOU! This forum is a literal love letter to everyone in the dance community and I hope it will bring you joy and insight in a way that supplements the dance floor experience.

Some of you might not know this but…I LOVE TO WRITE. Ever since I was a little girl, I kept a journal where I would record everything from the mundane to the most exciting moments of my life. Like the dance studio, my journal was a way for me to feel free and express myself. It was a safe space for me to process my thoughts and feelings in a space where my creativity could flourish. It still is! I carve out time every day to write in my journal as I believe it continues to contribute to my own mental wellbeing, along with my dancing.

As I was sitting down to write this post, I reflected on the freedom, safety, and creativity I found in my own journaling. My entire intent for this piece was to focus on the positive impact dance and movement can have on mental health but I was delighted to be reminded of the power any art form, including writing, can have on mental wellbeing…it gave me even more motivation to pour my heart and soul into these letters, just like I do when I am dancing or teaching.

I have always known dance has the ability to improve so much in life, whether it be physically, emotionally, spiritually, or mentally. I’ve not only experienced the power of dance in my own life but I have seen it unlock the world within so many of my students. But the more and more I witness this power, the more and more curious I have become. Why is dance so powerful? What is the science behind the magic of dance? And how can we remind ourselves of this powerful tool even when it might be tough to find the energy to start - or keep - moving?

There are countless studies and findings that speak to the positive impact dance can have on children and adults. Even WebMD cites benefits like improving self-esteem, helping to meet new people, improving moods & attitudes, easing depression and anxiety, and protecting the memory.

I recently came across an article written by Isabel Burton and so much of what was covered in her writing resonated with me - I felt seen when I read it because it helped satisfy my curiosity about the power of dance AND helped to validate my conviction that dance has so many powers:

A group of hip hop dancers on stage
Photo by Amplified Productions Media

Research has found that dancing can spark a better mood, more stamina, and an extra oomph of vitality. When surveyed, recreational dancers had a more positive POV and a jump in their energy levels when compared with before they began dancing.“When you begin moving, you immediately release the brain chemicals dopamine, adrenaline, and endorphins, causing a powerful and lasting effect I call ‘energized optimism,’” says Kelly McGonigal, PhD, a leading health psychologist who studies the mind-body connection, and author of The Joy of Movement. “The adrenaline makes you feel powerful, the dopamine generates hope, and the endorphins bring you joy. You’ve created this amazing cocktail that boosts your mood and energy, leads you to experience better social interactions, makes you more likely to progress on your goals, and lowers stress. So dancing doesn’t just make you feel great in the moment. It sets you up to be a better version of yourself.”

Additionally, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that dancing may keep your memory strong and even prevent you from developing dementia as you age. It does this by rebuilding volume in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that controls memory, which naturally shrinks as you get older. Experts attribute that growth partly to the concentration necessary to learn the dance moves.’

‘No matter what your body type or level of experience, you can dance. It’s that simple. Nonetheless, some people may feel uncomfortable attending a traditional dance class, especially if they’ve never taken one before. But when dance is done within the context of wellness, it can seem more approachable for many people. This is, in part, because it feels like the benchmarks are different. Rather than doing specific moves perfectly, your goal can simply be to sweat and be open to new ways of moving your body. “Dancing offers a fresh perspective on exercise, one of fun, inclusivity, and a loosening up of rules and do-or-die end goals,” says McGonigal. “A good class is all about feeling good rather than looking good. It’s a workout, yes, but it’s also a party.”

Adults talking a dance cardio class
Photo by Mike Chu

And even if you walk onto the dance floor nervous, research indicates you most likely won’t leave that way. One study looked at how dance influenced the mental health of adolescent girls. When they took regular classes, they reported feeling more positive and confident. And according to our experts, these immediate benefits extend to people of any and every age.’

Personally, I’ve also found that dancing can be a sort of meditation where the mind must stay focused on learning or mimicking a movement while the body is in motion. Being mindful like this while moving is a terrific way to reset how you are feeling as a whole and can be a powerful way to unplug from the technology and stress of day-to-day life, whether you are a child or an adult, expert or novice. This is something I intentionally remind myself of when preparing for each and every class I teach.

Is dance without fault? Of course not. We’ve all heard of - or even experienced first-hand - the impact that certain pressures in the dance world can have on individuals. Part of why I felt compelled to start All About Dance was to do my very best to create an environment where the joy of movement was always front and center. That joy could spark confidence, create a sense of belonging, and build better humans. As I got older, I realized that it wasn’t just children who needed to experience that prioritization of joy in a dance environment…it was adults too. In some cases, it was even MORE important for adults to redefine what dance meant to them after growing up in environments that weren’t what All About Dance was attempting to do. So Dance Forever was born.

I would never pretend to claim that dance alone can cure or treat mental health concerns. However, this month, I am honoring the positive impact I have seen dance and movement have on so many children and adults in my life. I hope YOU will find it in yourself to carve out time for movement in your day, your child’s day, however big or small, and for however long or short of a period. Even if what you carve out is just a moment, I promise you, it will leave you feeling at least a tiny bit better, and a tiny bit is better than no bit.

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