If ever there was a time to cut loose and kick off those Sunday shoes, it’s now. Be it freestyle dancing in the kitchen, learning salsa with your partner or swaying hips to an online Zumba class, the call to get your body moving has never felt stronger or been more available. From videos of actress Naomi Watts dancing with her kids Tik Tok style to hospital staff boogieing to shake off a bad day, dancing seems to be sweeping the world up in its joy. Plus, the benefits are abundant!
It makes you happy
It begins with a head bop and, before you know it, your whole body is gyrating in joy. Those feel-good vibes aren’t just a happy accident. When music and movement combine, they act as a double dose of pleasure to the brain – music activates the brain’s reward centre, the orbitofrontal cortex, located directly behind the eyes, while dance stimulates the cerebellum at the base of the brain, which is involved in coordination and movement.
It melts the kilos
Burning up the dance floor isn’t just a good sweat, it torches fat, too! Researchers in Bosnia found that women who did Zumba over eight weeks lost weight and reduced their total body fat mass. And a US study found that the aerobic dance functions a lot like interval training, with its mix of low-intensity and high-intensity moves. That means you can burn more kJs shaking it than doing a steady-state exercise such as jogging. Besides, and this is key, if your workout feels like a treat, you’re more likely to do it!
It keeps your brain sharp
Because dancing requires coordinating the body, remembering sometimes complicated dance steps and quick decision making, it helps your brain build new neural connections that keep it sharp and nimble. It also appears to strengthen the networks in the brain that help us focus. Point in case: a US study found that Latin-style dancing can help improve working memory, visual recognition, and decision-making skills. While a study published in the New England Journal Of Medicine found that the mental effort and social interactions involved in busting a move can help reduce dementia risk.
Here's how three women over 40 benefit from dancing
“Dancing makes me feel so empowered”
“It was only when my gym rebranded to The Upbeat and started ‘to the beat’-style dance workouts that I discovered the fun of dancing. The teachers encourage you to let your hair down and they play fun retro music like the Spice Girls, Madonna or JLo and dance in a way that personifies the artist. So, whenever we dance to Beyoncé, it feels gutsy and strong and I leave feeling so empowered.
If I’ve got something on my mind, I find I let go of it when I dance and it puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day. Even if I wake up tired, I find it’s easy to become motivated, which is one of the magic parts of dancing – you don’t feel the exertion or high intensity, because it’s fun! It’s only later that you realise how hard you pushed yourself.
During the recent isolation, it kept me sane and healthy. At home, I dance every day! On top of a good cardio workout, keeping up with the moves also works my brain and helps my coordination. To be able to move my body, dance in rhythm and keep up with the girls in their 20s that I train with makes me feel young – which is pretty cool considering they’re a lot younger than me.”
Christie Godby, 47, Deputy Principal
“Dancing is just this joyful judgment-free zone”
“At 21, I was a go-go dancer during the height of acid music, and then I met my husband and we’d go out for a dance. But I got to the age where I was too old for clubbing and too young for piano bars, so I started dancing at home. I love it because you can do whatever you want, no one is watching and it’s just this joyful judgement-free zone! I’m a tragic ’90s girl, so I’ll put on Salt-N-Pepa and cool down to Aretha Franklin. And that’s the beauty of dancing at home: you don’t have to dance in a fashionable way, you just release to the joy of it.
For me, dancing feels like time travel. When you hear your favourite song, you’re instantly transported back to high school or a road trip that made you happy. During isolation, it also helped me loosen up when I felt caged. Sometimes I’d dance to one song on the hour, every hour. If I was tired, I’d give myself two songs, which often became 10… then 20! I once heard that someone asked Gandhi how often he meditated. He replied: ‘An hour a day, except when things are hectic, then I do two.’ For me, dancing is the same. I try to dance an hour a day, four to five times a week, but when things are stressful, I dance more – life’s too short!”
Alicia Young, 52, Author
“Sometimes dancing feels like I’m flying”
“It wasn’t until I reached 40 and was pushing myself to exercise that I tried Zumba. At first, it felt awkward. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, God, my bum is wobbling, my arms are jiggling,’ but then I started to like it and realise it meant something was happening! I love how it allows you to move your body in a variety of ways. There’s one step in salsa that, whenever I do it, I feel like I’m flying.
About 18 months into my dancing journey, my relationship fell apart, and I truly believe that, if it hadn’t been for dancing, I would’ve been in total despair. Dancing has now given me a sense of wellbeing and has led me to discover a whole vocabulary of movement and even explore yoga and meditation.
During isolation, I was in seventh heaven with online classes. I absolutely loved the ‘Latin funk workout’ – combining salsa, cha-cha and reggaeton with hip-hop, jazz and swing – run by Sydney Dance Company.
I used to fear being the oldest one in a class, but too often we hold back from things that are fun. Now, whenever I see articles on women who are 101 years old and jigging around, I think, ‘I hope that’s me one day!’ I don’t think dancing will ever stop feeling joyful, so if I can shake my leg even a little bit, I’ll be doing that!”
Christine Long, 50, Business Owner