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Dance Your Way Into Better Health

Published: December 2, 2017

Dance has been around since the dawn of time, inspiring people to have moves like Jagger, to cut footloose, and to dance like no one is watching.

All ages can benefit from the positive physical, mental, and emotional effects dance can create, but for adults, especially, its impact can help restore much needed health into people’s lives. Jobs requiring time in front of a computer screen and the rise of binge-watching television shows for hours on end can lead to sedentary lifestyles.

According to Robert Morse, exercise physiologist and program coordinator for Danbury Hospital Outpatient Physical Medicine, leading an inactive or sedentary lifestyle can have negative side effects to a person’s health, including “fatigue, sleep disturbances, difficulty with everyday tasks, and decreased self-esteem.”

However, it is never too late to get moving and start new habits to restore health.

Dr Morse recommends that before starting any exercise program, adults should consult a physician. They also should consider choosing an activity that they will find fun.

“If you choose activities that you will enjoy, it will increase your overall compliance to the program,” he explained.

Sticking to a program is important to receive both the immediate and long-term health benefits of exercise.

Charles Herrick, MD, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Danbury Hospital, says that studies have shown how over time activities like dance can protect the brain’s hippocampus, which is associated with memory. Aerobic exercises, he says, can even create more synaptic connections to strengthen the hippocampus, improving memory.

Dance specifically engages declarative memory (also known as explicit memory), which can be defined as the knowledge of facts and events, as well as procedural memory, which is in charge of motor skills.

“It appears that dance is particularly good as you get older in terms of engaging those aspects of your memory to keep yourself young,” Dr Herrick said.

The social aspect to dance can also be a great asset for overall health.

“One of the thoughts in terms of why there are problems with memory as people get older is the fact that they become socially disconnected. By having a social activity that you engage in, you are actually providing a protective effect to the brain,” Dr Herrick said.

When socializing, the element of touch is a crucial component to feeling connected. As a result, dance has the ability to boost a number of neurochemicals, including endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin.

“All of those three chemicals conspire together to bring us closer to one another and to improve our brain health,” Dr Herrick said. “Dance is the perfect opportunity for people to engage multiple brain systems to help them and to provide a protective benefit in terms of the aging process on the brain.”

The social benefits of feeling connected to others through dance is also supported by what is known as “harmonizing.”

Dr Herrick explained, “Harmonizing means getting in sync with our groupmates, our family, our community. If you look throughout history the two elements that have created harmonizing in communities is music and dance.”

Music and dance, he said, are “found in every culture that exists on the planet.” That universal bond shows the power of dance and its accessibility so that no matter what age, all can partake and enjoy the benefits.

Get Moving With These Local Programs

Whether or not someone has ever taken a formal dance class before, there are plenty of programs available in Newtown for all experience levels.

Ballet: Before joining the Newtown Centre of Classical Ballet & Voice’s adult ballet class, Joan Noel had never taken a dance class in her life. Now, after taking two years of lessons, she has seen dramatic results in her health, citing that she has not only lost weight, but gained balance, muscle tone, and became half an inch taller.

Newtown Centre of Classical Ballet & Voice’s Artistic Director Tory Gozzi attributes the positive results associated with ballet to the dance’s focus on posture, flexibility, and working specific parts of the body.

Cindy Carlson, who attends the adult dance class along with Ms Noel every Thursday, from 7:45 to 8:45 pm, said, “Tory is good at running a class where it can incorporate all different levels.”

With 17 years of dance experience with Newtown Centre of Classical Ballet Ms Carlson says many people, herself included, choose to continue ballet “for the love of the art and the fitness, too.”

Zumba: Those looking for a high energy workout can take Zumba Toning and Zumba Fitness offered at the Lathrop School of Dance at the Edmond Town Hall. The classes are once a week on Mondays, at 5:30 to 6:15 pm, and Saturdays at 8 to 8:45 am.

Both classes are taught by certified Zumba instructor Megan Sajovic, who pairs her dances with everything from Top 40 music to reggaetón to merengue.

“You’re experiencing music of low, medium, and high intensity and moves of low, medium, and high impact,” Ms Sajovic said.

Hip Hop: Dance Etc, School for Performing Arts, teaches a variety of adult dance classes including Wednesday morning and Thursday night hip hop.

Artistic Director and owner Jen Turey found that many of the moms who bring their children to dance class had an interest in participating, too. She decided to offer class times for children and adults that ran simultaneously so parents could dance at the same time as their children.

“The moms who already have kids in studio come take the ballet class and develop a friendship with other dance moms that they have something in common with,” Ms Turey said.

Ballroom: Seniors that want to learn different partner dances can attend the Newtown Senior Center’s Ballroom Dance class offered every Monday, at 2 pm. Professional dancer George Maderski teaches his students classic styles of dance, from the waltz to the foxtrot.

“One reason ballroom dancing is good for you because it helps you think,” Mr Maderski said.

With a dance like the waltz, he says it not only helps with balance and concentration, but also fights Alzheimer’s because the movements are not repetitive and force the dancers to constantly think on their toes.

Newtown Senior Center Director Marilyn Place makes sure to always have a dance option among the center’s many programs because “Whether it be line dancing, ballroom dancing, or just dancing by yourself… people just feel good when they’re dancing.”

For more information about these local dance classes, visit the Newtown Centre of Classical Ballet & Voice at 87 South Main Street or call 203-241-5362; Lathrop School of Dance at 45 Main Street or call 203-426-5757; Dance Etc, School for Performing Arts at 117 Mt Pleasant Road or call 203-426-8717; and Newtown Senior Center at 14 Riverside Road or call 203-270-4310.

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