Jane Austen the author of the classic novel Pride and Prejudice once claimed, “To be fond of dancing was a certain step toward falling in love” (10). Although Ms. Austen probably was not referring to swing dancing, she did recognize one of dance’s very beneficial features.
Swing dancing, or any type of dancing for that matter, can be advantageous on multiple levels. In order to discover some of the beneficial aspects of dancing, I decided to experience dancing on a first-hand basis by attending swing dance lessons hosted by the University of Kentucky Swing Dance Club. Although I did not find true love in my endeavors, I did discover that dancing can improve physical, intellectual, and social aspects of a person’s life.
The first and most obvious benefit of dancing is how it can improve physical health. After learning a few basic dance steps demonstrated in the video “How to Dance The Lindy Hop Basic,” the first thing I noticed during the dance lessons was how much physical effort was required for the dances. After just one dance of jumping, twirling, and twisting, I was already beginning to sweat.
This is because swing dancing is basically an aerobic workout. Depending on the length of the song, dancing could be from three to five minutes of sustained physical activity (Mabson). Dr. Richard Weil of MedicineNet.com claims that this sustained physical activity (aerobic exercise) makes the heart, lungs, and muscles work a little harder, and if aerobic exercises are done on a regular basis, the heart becomes stronger and is able to pump blood that contains oxygen more efficiently through the body. Figure 1
is a diagram of the flow of blood from the heart to the rest of the muscles in the body. The muscles will consume the oxygen in the blood and use that oxygen to burn the fat and carbohydrates needed for energy. People who can exercise aerobically for long periods of time have muscles that are very efficient at converting fat and carbohydrates into energy (Weil).
So swing dancing is a great form of aerobic exercise, but why does a person need to do an aerobic workout on a regular basis? Should a person exercise just for the sake of exercising? Dr. Richard Weil also states that regular aerobic exercise is believed to reduce the likelihood that a person will develop many life-threatening illnesses and diseases such as osteoporosis, depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bone loss and allows the bones to break easily. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can be used to treat and prevent this disease by preventing bone loss and increasing bone density (“Osteoporosis”). The Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center lists dance along with other types of exercise as a way to prevent and treat osteoporosis.
Another reason why swing dancing is a great form of aerobic exercise is because exercising in the gym can be difficult without motivation, and swing dancing can provide that motivation. It is much easier to go dancing with friends at a local swing dancing community like the UK Swing Dance Club or Swing Dance America than to go to the gym and run a few miles on the treadmill. These communities provide free swing dance lessons as well as dances where people can dance with others and improve their dancing skills. When I attended free dances lessons hosted by the University of Kentucky Swing Dance Club, I could tell that I was getting a workout when I was swing dancing and I was still having fun.
Being part of a swing dancing community can also promote intellectual health. A study reported by the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that dancing frequently can reduce the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in senior citizens. The study, which tested the effect of different types of physical exercise on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, found that dance was the only type of exercise that had any significant effect on the diseases (Verghese et al).
Joe Verghese, one of the authors of the study and a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine thinks that this is the case because “unlike many other physical activities, dancing also involves significant mental effort and social interactions.”(qtd. in Ianzito). Richard Powers, a dance instructor at the Stanford University, agrees and adds to the argument that dance involves situations in which a person must make “split-second rapid-fire” decisions. This fast decision making that is required when dancing helps keep the mind fresh and young. While there are other activities such as brain teasers and strategy games that can help keep the mind healthy, dance is the only activity that has been found to keep a person both physically and mentally fit.
Citlali Lopez-Ortiz, who is a researcher at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and a volunteer dance teacher, believes that dance also has a positive effect on patients with Parkinson’s disease (Ianzito). Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that causes those affected to have tremors and problems with movement and coordination (“Parkinson’s disease”). When teaching her students with Parkinson’s, Lopez-Ortiz says that “the focus is on helping them find new ways of moving and to improve the speed at which they can move” and she has found that her students eventually begin to have increased mobility (Ianzito).
Besides improving a person’s physical and mental health, joining a swing dancing community can help build both verbal and nonverbal communication skills as well as give a person opportunities to make new friends.
One way that swing dancing does this is by forcing the dancers to communicate with each other. Aaron Mabson, the president of the University of Kentucky Swing Dance Club, says that swing dancing destroys social bubbles.
When you are swing dancing, you have to be almost uncomfortably close to your dancing partner in order to feel how he or she will move so you can respond to that movement. The best way to feel how the other will move and to
direct your follow is to maintain a good frame. As the couple in figure 2 is demonstrating, the arms are kept slightly stiff so the dancers can feel a little resistance while dancing (Sears). Nobody wants to dance with a partner with noodly arms.
Dancing is also extremely fun and it is a great way to make new friends. You do not have to be in a certain social class or have a lot of money or dogs or boats in order to learn how to dance and make a hobby of it. Anyone can learn to dance and have fun doing it. The people in figure 3 seem to be having a pretty good time swing dancing, and I know that I had a lot of fun when I was taking swing lessons.
“Fast Swing Dancing – ULHS 2006” is a video of a swing dancing competition that demonstrates how swing dancing has several aspects that can improve a person’s physical, intellectual, and social life. The couples at this dance competition are obviously in excellent physical shape. With all of their jumping, twisting, kicking, and twirling, these dancers are definitely getting an excellent aerobic workout. A person cannot dance like this without maintaining a relatively healthy body.
Along with maintaining a healthy body, these dancers must be able to think quickly and make fast decisions about the dance they are doing. Because these dancers are moving so fast, they must make the “split-second rapid-fire” decisions that helps the mind healthy (Powers).
They must also have great communication with their partners. None of these couples could dance this fast without having excellent communication skills. If the lead dancer wanted his follow to do a certain step, but she thought that he wanted her to do something else, one or both of the partners could get injured.
And finally, it is quite obvious that everyone in the room is having a great time. All the people are smiling, cheering, and clapping along with the music. Not just those dancing in the competition are enjoying the social aspects of dancing.
Swing dancing can help a person stay physically fit, mentally fresh, and it is a great way to make friends and build communication skills. Whether you are young or old, skinny or fat, rich or poor, healthy or sick, you can dance. As seen in figure 4, anyone can dance.