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Dance for Joy and Healing

“Our arms start from the back because they were once wings.”

Martha Graham

Welcome back beautiful people! In this blog, I will go over a brief history of dance, because I find it fascinating and hope you will as well. My other objective is to provide a brief description of the benefits of dance on the body and brain, as well as the role dancing has had throughout my life and its relevance in my healing journey.

The existence of dance can be traced back to ancient civilizations, where it was originally used in the form of a prayer. From the earliest moments of known human history, dancing has accompanied ancient rituals, spiritual gatherings and ceremonies, as well as celebrations.

•Top image: Photo by Ryan Somma taken at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum

•Bottom left image: Image that dates back to between 13,600 - 20,000 years ago and is the oldest figurative art of it's kind and It looks like they are dancing! This image is from a cave in East Kalimantan, Indonesia

•Bottom right image: The Bradshaw Rock Paintings, also known by the name of the Aboriginals Gwion Gwion which are located in the north-west Kimberly Region of Western Australia

Many cultures have dance weaved within their history, but the earliest form of structured dance was used by Egyptian Priests for religious and entertainment purposes.

Not only was dancing a part of Egyptian ceremonies and merriment, but it provided a form of communication to portray important events of the day, in lieu of our modern day newspaper or television reports. It is believed that the dances originally started on a more sombre note however, as a way of both mourning the dead and appeasing the goddess Sekhmet. As the myth goes, Sekhmet once nearly destroyed all of mankind when asked by the sun god Ra to punish those who had forgotten him. Subsequently, there was a lot more dancing!

Think of the song, "Walk like an Egyptian" Click the link to listen and dance to The Bangles.

Image: A depiction of the Tomb of Nebamun: Thiebes, Egypt 1350 B.C.

Courtesy of the Bristish Museum in London

This tradition continued into ancient Greece whereby dance brought to light the birth of the famous Greek Theater. Later in time, with the rise of the Renaissance and the innovative art and music of the time, ballet became an integral element in the lives of wealthy Europeans.

Dancing has now become an art form in it's own right. The style of dances that you can try are ever expanding. Dancing is everywhere. It is rooted deep within our pop culture too! Footloose, Grease, and Fame are several wonderful movies whose main theme is dancing. The earliest use of dance appeared in late pre-cinema in the late 1800’s and was used as a method to show human scale. Subsequently, the first two full length films to feature dancers were released in 1915, The Whirl of Life and The Dumb Girl of Portici.

Now with the advent of reality T.V. there are many programs dedicated to dancing such as Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, and Bring It. Also, if you were around during the advent of MTV, you will agree that dancing and music videos are forever linked like movies and popcorn. In fact, the third song that aired on MTV was Rod Stewart's song titled, "She Won't Dance with Me". Dancing and music are entwined! Dancing is like a long, shiny ribbon that connects the many aspects of our lives and life would be dull and boring without it.

Dancing in essence is a part of being human. To be human is…to dance!

“Every day is a day to draw in a breath, kick off your shoes and dance.”

Oprah Winfrey

I just love Oprah’s quote because for me, dancing means freedom. It is a beautiful form of expression that also happens to be great not only for one’s spirit, but also for the mind and body. I am blessed to have cultivated a love for dancing. It has helped and served me throughout my life.

As a child, I remember closing my bedroom door, turning on my music and dancing to my favorite 45rpm records. I knew early on that dancing was a way for me to release negative emotions and to feel a connection to music and to my joyful self.

The photo below is a snapshot of me on my tenth birthday. This captures the epitome of me in this happy place where I have ALWAYS felt FREE movin' and groovin' to my favorite tunes.

Photo taken by Dr. Stephen Samson (my talented and loving father)

When I was twenty, I did not have the proper skills to handle the stress of managing the rigorous schedule of architecture school. My family and I decided it was best to for me to spend a year at home. I reconnected with some high school friends who guided me to an aerobics studio. I noticed that when I danced in the morning, my mind felt calm and my body seemed to crave the exercise, so I would attend an evening class as well.

I fell in love with the teachers, London and Anolan, and the creative choreography and song choices that they used to develop our dances. The dance studio was a sacred space where I could lose my thoughts and solely feel my connection with the music and movements.

Warming up and practicing for the competition

Because of our love and enthusiasm for dance, we bonded and created a unique dance family. London and I would continue dancing at night in the clubs of Miami. Anolan invited me and a few other students to participate in a dance aerobics competition that we actually won for our division and category! Dance became my safety net during a challenging time in my life. The memories that remain, resounds with the beauty of movement, connection and joy.

Performing our dance aerobics routine at the competition

Studies have repeatedly shown that exercise helps reduce stress and makes you feel good due to the release of the feel good hormones .

Dancing is a wonderful form of exercise, but goes a step further in helping your well-being.

A 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine discovered that dance improves brain health. Studies have shown that dance boosts the connectivity between both cerebral hemispheres, and long-term dance practice positively affects brain activity promoting change within the brain. This is the amazing concept of neuroplasticity that many of you are familiar with, and that I am using on my pathway to healing.

I definitely can attest to those findings based on my own experiences. In recent days, I have again incorporated dance as one of my therapeutic tools. Another brain retrainer friend created a What's App group called the DNRS Boogie Down group. I began attending her zoom dance parties in January of this year and soon took over as the host. The group has grown and we now have a few people leading. We do silly things that are concordant with our laughter yoga groups. We entertain each other, dance, sing, and sometimes wear costumes. It is extremely mood elevating. This group has accelerated my healing and increased my feeling of connection to others and joy within my own being.

I encourage you to integrate dancing into your life. There are plenty of dance routines on Youtube and dance classes are available online now as well. Perhaps you are interested in the traditional dances like Salsa, Tango, Tap, Hip-Hop to name a few. The Five Elements, Ecstatic dance or Prayerdanse are options that are more free form dancing which propel you to go within your psyche. Another one to check out is NIA, which is a sensory-based movement practice that draws from martial arts as well as the healing arts and yoga. There are so many choices. Instead of the typical saying, Just Do It, I have to shout out here: JUST DANCE!

I would love to hear from you if you have any questions or need guidance about what dance form would suit you best. I'm also interested in learning what movement practices you are using or a new one you try out after being inspired here.

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