A Step Beyond Founder and former Executive Director Frank Foster says it best, “we choose dance at ASB because it allows students to let go of the stresses they encounter in everyday life and express themselves through movement.” This is just one of the many benefits dance has on mental health. Read on to discover more scientific findings.
In a survey of 1,000 dancers conducted by UCLA research statistician Dr. Prabha Siddarth, a whopping 98% said that the practice of conscious dance helps improve their mood, confidence, levels of compassion, and makes it easier to let go of upsetting thoughts. Conscious dance is defined as self-discovery through unchoreographed movement, usually in a group setting, to a range of music. It is a self-led, meditative practice that emphasizes consent and emotional safety, which enables people of all ages and abilities to benefit from the discipline. (Source: UCLA Health).
Frank’s earlier revelations are supported by research: since dance is an inward practice that heightens sensory awareness, it turns off the prefrontal cortex and allows easier access to the emotional brain, which allows dancers to enter a state of “flow.” Dance brings people who may be dissociating due to trauma back in touch with their senses and allows them to express themselves when words do not suffice (Source: UCLA Health). In fact, dance can even help prevent depression: “dance, music, and related expressive forms of therapy could help lessen mental fluctuations before the onset of full depression” (Source: Psychology Today).
ASB students have certainly reaped these benefits. 9th grader Zuleyca remarks, “I am thankful for ASB because it helped me find myself and cope with my emotions in a more expressive way.” Similarly, 12th grader Ricardo says that time in the studio increased his confidence. “I’ve started to open up more. I feel more confident doing things than I used to.”
Social and choreographed dances, such as ballroom, salsa, and country dancing, also boast lots of benefits. Socializing with others and the cognitive stimulation of learning new steps is good for our brains, as is the opportunity to form friendships. (Source: VeryWell Mind) Looking back at his time here, ASB senior Moises Mendoza says his favorite memory from his time at A Step Beyond was being backstage building camaraderie and teamwork with his friends while performing in The Nutcracker. “We loved being backstage together, and I remember us singing ‘La Bamba’ while we were waiting for our turn to go onstage”.
In addition to encouraging friendship and feeling close to others, forms of synchronized dance can also increase one’s pain tolerance and prevent the brain from aging too quickly (Source: VeryWell Mind). Synchronous movement also requires cooperation, during which the brains of two people become attuned to the same frequency, allowing seamless cooperation, empathy, and harmonic movement. This process engages the whole brain: the motor cortex is responsible for voluntary movement, the basal ganglia controls coordination, and the cerebellum enables fluid and precise movement (Source: Psychology Today).
Overall, dance creates a safe space within oneself and to be with others. ASB senior Heather says of ASB, “I feel safe here. When I’m here, I want to be more, if that makes sense. I just want to be a better person.” Monserrat, another ASB senior, adds, “[ASB] led me into becoming my own person. I’m very thankful for that.” Ricardo sums up many ASB students’ experiences when he says simply, “I found myself here.”