Dance is always close to my heart and has been part of my life from my early childhood. With my father having a transferrable job the biggest challenge was to find a classical dance teacher in some remote areas. And for a child with lot of passion for dance can’t just sit and wait. So, whenever I got an opportunity, I was dancing, be it folk or semi classical. I also get immense mental peace when I create a new piece. Sometimes, I wondered why do I love dance so much. At one side, it makes me feel tired, it takes away my social and personal time and it probably affects my studies. And on the other side, I remember how energized I become after a dance rehearsal, how cheerful I am when I teach one step to my students and how peaceful I am after I perform. I have been always very shy expressing my emotions thru my speech but my emotions during the dance are unstoppable. There has been many instances when it’s too hard for me to get out of one emotion and switch to next. I am relieved relaxed and energized after each dance sessions. It feels like coming out from a meditation.
What does the dance do? How does it help to me getting this level of relaxation? And I am amazed to see how much research scientists have done and how much research is currently going on.
Dance has the potential to motivate and excite people and it can be a way of engaging people in physical activity. Scientific research proved that in males and females dance practice and physical activity can have a positive effect on physical fitness and it also increases lung function, lung capacity, flexibility and aerobic capacity. As a physical activity and a creative art form, it is believed that dance can make a significant contribution to the healthy-living agenda. Now-a-days in many hospitals and medical settings it has been used as a form of therapy not only for mental health, but also for physical health as well.
Dance therapy as exercise is known to increase the neurotransmitters called endorphins which increase a state of well-being. Dance increases total body movement, which helps to improve circulatory, respiratory, skeletal, and muscular systems.
There are many benefits of Dance. It is an excellent form of exercise as it includes stretching, aerobic, high-endurance movement levels. How it differs from any other exercise is that it moves with rhythm. Rhythm is big part of our life. The day and night happens with a rhythm (24hrs), the world goes around the sun with rhythm (365/364) and if you see the universe follows a cycle which is a rhythm. When we exercise mindfully with rhythm, magic happens. It not only gives stamina but also develops focus, strength and speed.
Dance always helps in improving posture, strengthening the arch of the foot and fingers and eye, neck muscles. It helps in building a toned body, glowing skin and healthy hair and a very beautiful way of smiling.
In India, most of the religious and social events involve dance and music. Whether it’s wedding or a puja or a social gathering. We sing and dance. Ayurveda held dance as a power of healing (therapy) and inner awareness (psychology).
Indian temples often had Mandap music/dance hall opposite the main door. Public performances of dance, play and music would happen here. The architecture reflects a synthesis of arts, the ideals of dharma beliefs, values and the way of life cherished under Hinduism.
Indian philosophy also supports the facts of Sangeet (song, dance and music) for benefit of human health physically as well as mentally. The Natyashastra, a millennium old Indian treatise, seems to be the first in recognizing the two-fold importance of psychology in connection with the production of a natya (drama),comprising of geet (song), badya (music) and Nritya (dance). According to the Natyashastra, among the four techniques of representation (abhinaya), such as gestures (angika), words (vacika), make-up (aharya) and the sattva (sattvika), the angika consists of physical representation by using various gestures and postures. The eyes have different kinds of glances depending upon the expressions of psychological states (bhava) and sentiments (rasa). Eyeballs are also liable to similar changes to create impressions of different feelings and emotions, and so are eyebrows, nose, cheek, chin, neck, head, limbs, etc. It also holds different body (torso) movements, hand gestures, movement of different body parts in its actual directions and their effects on dance as well as human body and mind.
Some calls Indian dance as mystical for its beauty and charm in captivating the hearts of audiences all over the world. Indian Classical Dance is a sacred movement of the various limbs with a divine feeling. The songs are purely devotional love songs with the dancer being the devotee and God being her beloved. The Nayika (Nayika/Jeevaatma -Individual Self) longing for the union with the Nayaka (Nayaka/Paramatma/Divine Self). When the dancer believes in this, she not only transports herself to a higher plane of consciousness but also takes her audience with her. And that’s the reason Indian Classical dance has been described as being at the top of the pyramid. of all other art forms.
The dancer learns the Language, song/literature, the music composition and imbibe the visual ( as evidenced in traditional painting and temple sculpture), spatial (expanding or truncating movements according to stage space) & time (rhythm) elements. The literature of the dance compositions are based on mythology, customs and traditions still alive in the country. The dancer brings about the grand synthesis of all the arts in the performance.
The relationship of health with various types of dances is of great interest now-adays. Indeed, the approach of therapy is maintained in India knowingly or unknowingly from a very long time.
Indian Classical dance also offers many therapeutic benefits to handicapped children e.g. improves body balance and mind-body coordination. This happens as the dancers does many repetitive movement again and again helping children improvising on their attention span, releasing stress and increased patience level. As we repeat each movement and step in both left and right sides, the left brain coordination improves tremendously.
There are many Indian classical and folk dances. The recognized classical dances are Bharatnatyam of Tamil Nadu, Kathakali of Kerala, Kuchipudi of Andhra Pradesh, Manipuri of Northeast India, Odissi from Odisha, Mohiniattyam from Kerala, Sattriya from Assam and Kathak from north India and Pakistan. Each of these styles has a strong regional connection and has got lot of health benefits if practiced for a prolonged period.
Odissi repertoire consists various forms of sitting, walking, leaping and elevations that reinforce some of the basic therapeutic movements of the dance. Prolonged practice of this dance forms give a very good body shape, with thin waist and tender look, to female dancers. During the present study it was noted that the Odissi dancers have great lung function, and muscular control of waist, hip and thigh.
The fast footwork of Kathak helps to release anger and tension. The thaat performed in this dance form is now used for the treatment purpose also as a form of physical exercise.
Bharat Natyam, one of the most popular indian classical dance, dancers expresses their inner feelings through Mudra and eye movements and it helps to release their emotions. This practice can be well used for emotional wellbeing and psycho-therapy. This dance form strengthens the hamstring muscles including semitendinosus, semimenbranosus, biseps femoris.
Now, let’s talk about the Folk dances. These dances are created by the people for the people. The true folk dance is a participative dance which is just few simple dance steps repeated several times among friends, family and community. It’s not an individual talent show case rather dancing for yourself. It’s the simplicity of steps and symphony of music that brings a lot of excitement to body, mind and spirit.
Folk dance improves body image, self-esteem, attentiveness, and communication skills. It reduce stress, fears and anxieties, as well as lessen feelings of isolation, body tension, chronic pain, and depression. In addition it can enhance the functioning of the body’s circulatory and respiratory systems. African, Punjabi bhangra, Sambalpuri, Garba Dandiya and Latin American forms rank among the highest-intensity folk dances in the world. It’s easy to see why they’ve been integrated into western aerobics classes—they’re definitely calorie burners.
The survey conducted with folk dancers revealed that these dancers are physically and mentally more fit than the non-dancers of their locality. With the popularity it helps them to gain self-esteem, self-confidence and interest to learn to the young dancers. Thus many parents of folk culture are interested to train their children to dance forms. It also indirectly or directly helps in their educational studies, too.
As dance is mainly dealing with physical movements, it has an immense role in health science as well as from the therapeutic point of view. Other cultural aspects like drama and music also have such type of effect on human health, but the exercise like dance needs much confidence, body control, regular practice and proper movements. Any types of negligence or improper body movements may cause the dancer to be injured, thus should be practice under a guide/teacher. But by modulation in movements it can make glorious future to the dancers as well as dance itself. The breathing time and muscular control are very important in these regards.
In Summary, a dancer is a well rounded with physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. I am thankful to all my teachers and supporter who helped me to be a dancer And I feel so fortunate to also be a teacher spreading dance and health together.