You can take the person out of the dance class, but can you take the dance class out of the person? Even after we leave the studio and the structure of a dance class, I think we can all agree that there are habits and ways of operating that we take with us wherever we go. It can translate to better posture, improved mobility and elevated mood. This can be a good thing, but without a system of checks and balances, it can also create problems for our physical as well as emotional health. For example, a strict discipline in the dance studio can reinforce little flexibility in daily life. Overtraining in the studio can translate to overexertion in the workplace leading to emotional burnout.
Let’s look at five ways dance can translate to everyday life and what we can do to make it as beneficial as possible.
Learning how to balance, shift weight and center the body is an important aspect of dance. Consider that balance in life is vital as well. All too often, we hear the phrase “work-life balance.” Balance can mean setting limits, creating healthy boundaries and prioritizing self-care. A key takeaway is that when you notice that you may be physically off-balance, this will inevitably translate to feeling emotionally off-balance as well. The beautiful thing is that we can use our body to seek balance in order to feel more grounded in our mind. Try planting your feet on the ground and slowly raising your heels or holding onto a table while gently lifting one foot off the floor. Pay attention to your posture as you challenge your balance.
Dancers are often known for their flexibility, but typically in the form of splits and straddles. Keep in mind that the more movement we have at our disposal, the more elastic our brain and mind can be. When we move more, we have the ability to increase our range of emotions as well as our ability to manage those emotions. This flexibility can also translate to decision-making and relinquishing some control over things we may have no control over. The ability to “stretch” the body ultimately allows us to stretch the parameters of our mind as well. Find ways to stretch and expand your body. Find new ways of moving or even simplifying current movement patterns.
This is a skill that dancers often take for granted. The ability to stabilize the upper body while moving the lower body or engaging in two opposing directions simultaneously are just a few examples. Coordination outside the dance studio can look like managing our schedules, holding multiple conversations, or juggling different roles such as student and employee. Practising coordination in the body can allow for greater coordination outside of the classroom. Coordination is about working together efficiently and smoothly, which can be a wonderful asset in the real world. Coordination in the body can help facilitate collaboration within communities. We can learn to share ideas, challenge viewpoints, and adapt our methods to be more inclusive and equitable. Practise movement on both sides of your body as well as crossing the midline or center or your body.
Martha Graham said, “Dance is communication.” It is one form of nonverbal communication and not only facilitates expressivity but can also allow for emotional release more than any word or phrase can. The more we learn to communicate with our body through dance, the more we can freely express ourselves within our relationships. Find ways to use your body to express a point of view, emotionor lyrics to a song.
Movement supports play, improvisation and imagination — key components of creativity. Exploring new ways of moving and learning new dance skills supports creativity and expands the mind’s horizons. A moving body supports a creative mind. Try improvising or authentically moving without a script or agenda.
Identify other categories or aspects of the classroom and see how they translate to life outside. Other elements of dance you might explore are rhythm, flow, timing, partnering, choreography, even performance! These five categories are designed to inspire you to take what you learn in the dance studio and apply it to other aspects of your life. Learning shouldn’t be compartmentalized, but adapted across environments and situations. You have unique talents and skills that are applicable across all aspects of your life. You can practice them wherever you go and make dance a part of everything you do!
By Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT, Dance/Movement Therapist, Chicago Dance Therapy.
Erica Hornthal is a licensed professional clinical counselor and board certified dance/movement therapist based in Chicago, IL. She received her MA in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling from Columbia College Chicago and her BS in Psychology from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. Erica is the founder and CEO of Chicago Dance Therapy, the premier dance therapy and counseling practice in Chicago, IL. As a body-centered psychotherapist, Erica assists clients of all ages and abilities in harnessing the power of the mind-body connection to create greater awareness and understanding of emotional and mental health. For more, visit www.chicagodancetherapy.com.