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Movement as medicine: the health benefits of dancing

Updated: Sep 4, 2023


Dance class getting a good workout. [Photo by Danielle Cerullo]


Dancing for fun, exercise and social connection is on the agenda for adults of all ages. Meetup.com lists numerous dance socials and classes every week in South Florida.


“We have a large population of people of all ages who like to participate in social dancing,” says Kathleen Davenport, a physiatrist at orthopedic clinic HSS Florida in West Palm Beach.


Davenport serves as company physician for the Miami City Ballet and is president-elect of the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. At HSS Florida, the regional outpatient location of New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery, she treats professional and recreational dancers.


A competitive ballroom dancer herself, she supports the activity for its physical and psychological benefits.“Dancing checks a lot of boxes,” Davenport says. “In social dancing, you interact with different people and can make new friends, which has multiple psychological benefits. On the physical side, you need good balance. You need core strength. You need strength in your lower and upper extremities if you’re doing partner work. Dancing can also be an excellent cardio workout.”


Some studies show that physical exercise is good for brain health. “In terms of cognitive benefits, with dancing you need to remember the steps, and you need to remember how to do them,” she says. “We have found that dancing is beneficial for people of all ages as it can help keep memory active.”


Many dancers experience a sensation similar to a runner’s high. “When you do something enjoyable, particularly physical exercise, endorphins are released, which are our happy hormones,” Davenport says. “By releasing these hormones, our body encourages us to keep engaging in these activities.”


A dancer since age 3, she understands dancing culture and dancers’ needs. “It’s different from putting on cleats and pads. You may have to put on heels and perhaps special attire.”


As in any athletic activity, good practices go a long way toward preventing injury. Davenport offers the following advice:


● If you’re new to social dancing, take some lessons to learn the correct steps and techniques so you’re not setting yourself up for injury.


● Ramp up gradually as you build muscle strength and endurance. Don’t start by dancing for hours without a break or you’ll risk injury.


● Start slowly with a good warm-up. Cool down after the dance with some gentle stretching.


● Listen to your body. If it’s tired, rest. To avoid overuse injuries, you might have to skip an event if you overdid the dancing the day before.


● If you experience pain or a potential injury, however slight, leave the dance floor. Continuing to dance could turn a small problem into a serious injury.


● Choose the right shoe for your style of dance. For Latin dancing, for example, heels are generally recommended, but they’re not the right shoes for all women. Wear shoes that support you without causing pain.


● Parents should check their children’s dance shoes every year to ensure they fit well. Adults should check their shoes at least every two years or after recovering from foot injuries.


● If you used to dance but took a break, ease back into it.


● At some venues, the music is loud. Consider asking the DJ to lower the volume if it’s uncomfortable, or wear ear plugs.


● If you’re new to dance, learn about dance etiquette. Studios and dance clubs often post helpful information on their websites.


Davenport says good practices can help everyone benefit from dancing now and in the future.



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