© Copyright 2021 Artwork by Cordi Neckermann
It is not a new discovery that the benefits of dancing go beyond the physical. Dancing is wedged in the little space between sport, art and culture. In times where dementia and mental health problems are on the rise, I believe it is even more important to take a closer look at the benefits of dancing that go beyond the physical.
Now, I’m not a neuroscientist or psychologist, but I have felt those hidden benefits of dancing myself and have used them to keep me and anyone who attends my classes inspired and motivated throughout these extremely challenging months.
I qualified as a BollyX dance fitness instructor three years ago after recovering from Mum burnout. Until then, I had dedicated most of my time to teaching yoga. Yoga is a wonderful way to calm and centre our body and mind, but knew I needed something more. I needed something that would take me to those positive, energetic, high vibes that flood you with pure love for life. Yoga taught me how to control my thoughts and guide them back to peace; dancing made me fall in love with myself and life again.
Feel the love
It takes a great deal of courage to step out onto the dance floor and have a boogie, but even more so to step up and motivate and inspire a group of people to dance. I remember the first time I joined one of the classes at Fleur Estelle Belly dance school here in London. Even though I used to dance competitively when I was young, I hadn’t put a foot on the dance floor for over 10 years. Thinking back, I had butterflies in my stomach on joining the line of dancers in the studio. However, it took only moments to remember the magic that dancing has on me and the wonderful community that dancers are part of. The music starts and all of a sudden, a feeling of unity and connectedness fills the room. Dancers smiling at each other, enjoying getting lost in the rhythm and the moment together. To me it feels like home. I have taken many different kinds of dance classes and danced in many different parts of the world, but the feeling is always the same. Having just recovered from burn out, this feeling of effortless connection and pure joy was absolutely priceless.
After this wonderful experience on first coming back to dancing, I went on to enrol in Odissi classes, with the amazing Elena Catalano. Odissi is a beautiful form of traditional Indian Dance and that’s when I learned that there is a connection between dance and yoga. In Odissi, yoga is practised as warm up to prepare body and mind for the art of dancing and storytelling. The mind and heart are then balanced to allow the emotions that are portrayed in the dance to shine through.
Odissi is a refined art that takes a lifetime to master. I was lucky enough to learn the basics and get a little taste of the powerful traditional choreography pieces that tell beautiful stories. Opening up and letting this kind of expression flow through the body was the ultimate creativity boost for me. Using the body as a tool to express feeling, settings and props unleashed the confidence to tell my own story and let emotions rise and fall through movement. Dance really is language that we all speak fluently, if we just allow ourselves to try.
As I mentioned before, I’m not a neuroscientist, but having exerienced burnout and what that felt like, I became curious about the workings of the brain and have since read my fair share of books on the subject. The titles which stand out for me are The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge and Grain Brain by David Perlmutter. The magic words I learned from these books were neuroplasticity and neurogenesis. Both of these terms basically mean that it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks! Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form new connections and pathways and neurogenesis is the ability of the brain to grow new neurons. My generation grew up under the impression that none of these things can happen at an adult age. There have been many studies done to prove the opposite, but it is always best to try it out for yourself.
Armed with that knowledge, I took the leap of faith and became a dance fitness instructor at the age of 40. I could feel that committing choreography to memory was much harder work than it was 20 years ago, but believe it or not, it got easier with practice. Learning the first 12 songs for my playlist was hard work, but over time it got easier and easier. The length of my practice sessions which allowed me to teach a choreography effortlessly became shorter and shorter, even though I was an old dog!
Now I'm not saying you have to become a dance fitness instructor in order to benefit from this kind of memory training. It's already enough to challenge and expose your brain again and again as a participant, to pick up and execute new movements during a dance fitness class.
Bust some new moves
Picking up new moves is the groundwork for creating new connections between the neurons in our brain. In our daily life, we are used to certain types of movements, such as walking, housework, gardening etc., but when we bring dance into the mix, we start looking at a full body challenge; from fingers to toes to hips and all combinations of different body parts working together. The extra challenge lies in combining and isolating movements in different parts of the body. An even greater challenge is to move different body parts to different rhythms and timings. Your own body becomes the ultimate playground.
All this exploring and expressing in dance fired up a certain amount of curiosity in me. The more comfortable I became with learning new moves, the more curious I became with what else there is to try and how different forms of dance are fused together. This is how I fell head over heels in love with Bollywood dance, as it combines a whole array of dance styles into one incredible and unique form of dance and storytelling. Even as a simplified dance fitness version, it can make you feel like a star in a Bollywood movie, with all the drama and glamour!
I’m so glad my curiosity got the better of me and I jumped into the Bollywood dance world to become a BollyX Instructor. I now learn something new on every level, from music to movement to culture and language. Best of all, I became part of the BollyX family, which is a growing community of BollyX instructors and Bollywood dance lovers that fans out across the world. There is an incredible sense of community between instructors and class participants that goes beyond just a common interest. It is the passion for dance and music that ties this community together. We all speak the same language of dance, which is the foundation of our highly motivated, inspired, and loving community of dancers (or BollyX Rockstars as we call ourselves!).
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See you soon,
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