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Why Dance Is The Feel-Good Exercise You Never Knew You Needed

Professional dancer and personal trainer Zoë Lou Purpuri has a question for you. ‘Have you ever just put on some music and pranced around?’ It felt good, right? Dancing will always make you feel better!’. It’s a sentiment that Kate Hudson clearly concurs with. The actress took to Instagram this weekend to showcase her return to dance. Her caption read: ‘Ahhh…Been a long while. I think 2022 I meet up with my dancing heart again 💫 #dancelover’.

As a full-time worrier who loved dance, but left it behind in my teens, dancing (shaking my way around the kitchen to Beyoncé) has become a daily tonic. I’m not alone; from TikTok challenges to myriad online classes (Ryan Heffington’s Sweatfest, Oti Mabuse’s tutorials, Pineapple Live, Frame online, to name just a few), dance is now a widely accessible and inclusive sport that has – unsurprisingly, given our recent need for all things mood-boosting – taken this past couple of years by storm.

‘Moving your body, expressing yourself, listening to a song that you love – it’s the ultimate feel-good workout,’ says Purpuri. But don’t just take her word for it; there’s real science behind the feel-good power of dance.

When we dance, happy hormones like dopamine kick in which make us feel instantly better

‘Dancing is fantastic for our mood,’ says Dr Peter Lovatt, a former pro dancer turned dance psychologist and lecturer at The Royal Ballet Academy. ‘When we dance, happy hormones like dopamine kick in which make us feel instantly better.’ But it’s not just neurochemicals at work here. Dancing can change the way we think, too. ‘We found in our research lab, that when people dance, they’re able to come up with more solutions to problem-solving tasks,’ says Dr. Lovatt, ‘and, as a lot of our collectively experienced anxieties involve thinking-based problems, dancing can help alleviate anxiety.’

As well as reframing our thoughts, moving our body can also give us a rest away from those thoughts. ‘It’s my way of escaping normal life and not worrying about anything else in that moment,’ says Purpuri. For Lovatt, who just came through a traumatic cancer treatment, dance provided a mental break. ‘Every day I’d dance for 30-minutes, during which I had this free time where my head wasn’t catastrophising or thinking about the most anxious thing in my world.’

Then there’s the fitness side of things. ‘It works your entire body,’ says Purpuri, who often incorporates dance into her personal training sessions. ‘It helps your balance and coordination, improves stamina and cardiovascular fitness and strengthens your muscles.’ But compared to HIIT, for example, dance isn’t as prescriptive and will take into account the variability of the people doing it. ‘A dance teacher is like a DJ,’ says Lovatt, ‘DJs change the tempo of the music based on the response from the audience and the dancers in the club. A good dance teacher will change the tempo of the dance as a function of the ability of the people in the studio – that’s why dancing is a far more natural, interactive and communicative state.’

It’s an experience where time flies and you lose yourself completely to the choreography. ‘It doesn’t feel like a workout, you’re enjoying the movement and focused on learning and retaining the steps,’ adds Purpuri. And while you’ll still benefit from shaking and sweating it out at home, there are additional benefits to dancing with others. ‘It bonds people together, forming relationships and friendships,’ says Lovatt, whose research found that when we dance with strangers, we report liking and trusting them more.

Anyone who believes they don’t have the coordination and rhythm to dance, think again. ‘Everyone can dance,’ says Purpuri. ‘We are all born with the ability to feel rhythm and synchronise our movement to that rhythm,’ adds Lovatt, whose mission is to make dancing as much a part of our daily lives as walking or drinking coffee. Where to begin? ‘Close your eyes, listen to some music and feel an urge in your body to move – that groove, the urge to move, is the essence of what dance is. If you then act on it, then you’re dancing.’

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