Feel Good? 4 Scientifically-Proven Benefits Dancing Has On Your Brain

by Dan Scotti

There’s no right or wrong way to dance; anyone who’s ever been to a bar mitzvah – or busted out the shmoney dance on a Federer match point – could attest to this. Dancing is an art. Art is a form of expression and expression, by nature, can have no wrong or right: It just is.

And that’s part of what makes dance, itself, so beautiful. Everyone articulates his or her own bodily rhythm differently, and that’s why – whether it’s capoeira, hug-and-sway or any other style of dance – it’s all still dance, in essence.

Having said that, the diversity within dance also allows for it to be used in a variety of different ways; It can complement a moment, like a teary-eyed father slow dancing with his newlywed daughter or an entire culture – like salsa does, with Latin flare.

But dance is more than just a supplementary component or background music, for bigger and better things.

In fact, there is a great deal of research on the topic suggesting dance, alone, can give rise to a variety of different emotional and cognitive benefits.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of these findings is that you don’t have to bust moves like Jagger or moonwalk at MJ’s caliber, either.

As long as you can move your body to a beat, you’ll be able to reap the physiological rewards of dance.

And, according to these studies, there are quite a few.

Dancing can make us more intelligent.

As reported by Richard Powers of Stanford University, frequent dancing can make us smarter. As told by Powers, intelligence isn’t simply a number attainable by any type of standardized test. Intelligence isn’t reflected by your job, or salary or overall success in "Final Jeopardy," either.

Powers believes intelligence is, as Swiss Psychologist and Philosopher Jean Piaget defined it, “what we use when we don't already know what to do.”

Therefore, the most intelligent creatures (plants and animals included) can respond to stimuli in the most effective way possible.

In Powers’ own words, “the essence of intelligence is making decisions.” He continues to add that dance requires “split-second, rapid-fire decision making,” and typically makes use of, “several brain functions at once — kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional — further increasing your neural connectivity.”

Dance will ultimately help strengthen our muscle memory and the communication between multiple different neural systems.

So, while dancing might not directly aid your performance on the SATs by itself, it will, in fact, make you “smarter” in the natural sense.

Dancing can battle depression.

I mean, I’ve heard people toss around the age-old clichéd “happy dance,” but I never really believed it had much literal meaning, however, according to research conducted by Akandere and Demir, it seems as though the link between dance and happiness is a concrete one.

In their experiment, half of the subjects were required to participate in a 12-week long dance-training program, while the other half of the participants made up the control group.

Following the completion of the program, the depression levels of participants were gauged using the Beck Depression Scale for measurement.

Results showed, “the depression level of males and females before training has meaningfully decreased after 12 weeks of dance training,” while the control group showed no significant effect. These findings support the use of dance as an efficient treatment for depression.

Dancing can boost your self-confidence.

It’s always evident the dude in the center of the party floor busting the running man isn’t lacking in confidence, but, according to the Examiner, it appears that dancing can improve self-confidence, as well.

“Dancing increases self-confidence and self-esteem by providing an outlet for self-expression and the opportunity to learn something new and fun,” the Examiner states. Part of the reason many people don’t dance in the first place is that they fear getting scrutinized by those around them.

Just a few weeks back, we saw a man getting shamed for trying to dance, go viral across the Internet.

According to the Examiner, however, the first step may be the hardest one. “Breaking through fear and anxiety of any kind always increases self-confidence,” and when you do, you’ll immediately feel more comfortable in your own skin.

And your own skin will thank you as well, as, “dancing also increases self-esteem because it does wonders to tone the body and increase the mind/body connection.”

Dancing can help our memories.

One study, led by the University of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City and conducted over a 21-year span, suggests the link between dancing and the prevention of various forms of dementia.

According to their data, which were longitudinal in relation to their sample of senior citizen test subjects, “dancing frequently” reduced their chance of developing dementia by 76 percent, which nearly doubled any other form of physical or cognitive activity included.

Ilene Serlin PhD., of Psychology Today, expanded on those findings – specifically with regard to “freestyle dancing,” a type of dance predicated on improvisation and fast movements.

According to Serlin, “freestyle dancing requires constant split-second, rapid-fire decision making, which is the key to maintaining intelligence because it forces your brain to regularly rewire its neural pathways, giving you greater cognitive reserve and increased complexity of neuronal synapses.”

Additionally, the social aspect of dance – specifically the interaction involved within dance groups – has been known to combat risk of Alzheimer’s.