Dancing to Lead a Better, Healthier Life

“On no occasion in the life of primitive peoples could the dance be dispensed with. Birth, circumcision, and the consecration of maidens, marriage and death, planting and harvest, the celebration of chieftains, hunting, war and feasts, the changes of the moon and sickness- for all these the dance is needed.” – Curt Sachs

When I was in elementary school, we did not have much in the way of dance education. There was, in the midst of a lackluster PE class, a short segment of time devoted to torture square dancing where I recall being consistently paired with a badly behaved, bad buzz-cut kid named Cody who had a special enchantment with putting a death grip on my wrists and wringing them like wet tea towels. Yee-haw, isn’t dance class fun – even for those of us that love dance in whatever form (circle, square, line, ballet) that it comes in.

Aristotle said ‘to sing and dance well is to be well educated’. Most American schools tend to disagree. Art classes aside, even PE is being cut from many school curriculums- a real pity since letting off some steam through a rousing game of dodge ball is actually beneficial in so many ways. Aside from the sheer physical bonuses, we all know that exercise helps release endorphins, boosts metabolism, and balances the mind. Movement improves mood and the ability to focus. I recently saw an interview with Jonah Lehrer, the author of ‘Imagine; how creativity works’ (yes the one on the Colbert Report) in which Lehrer describes the benefits of taking a break in the middle of academic work or creative thought to take a walk in order to refresh and refocus the mind. Plus, it gives people like me an excuse to procrastinate on the boring sit-down stuff and stretch my legs.

Both movement and music have been proven to have powerful positive effects on the brain and body so why more schools don’t have dance or movement class is beyond me. Perhaps this is because dance isn’t seen as an integral part of society the way it was in the afore-mentioned primitive societies. Has dance ceased to matter to us? 

I can say that for me personally, dance offers so much  more than a physical challenge. I always feel emotionally cleansed after a good class and as if my mind has been sharpened the following day- I think the side-effect from having to learn multiple combinations. As someone who has and continues to experience the benefits of music and dance in my life, it’s an easy gospel to preach. The question for those of us who are passionate about this correlation between the arts, health, and education is, how do we get anyone else to feel the same? And that, like most aspects of education, comes down to the effectiveness of our teachers and the experience they offer to students in the few classrooms still employing dance-tactics. The proof is in the pas de bouree.

Me, Alice, Sean, and Sean with our wonderful character teacher Marina at her home in St. Petersburg opposite the Marinsky Theatre (and a doodle of me in severe back-pain in her class)

Luckily, for the teachers who want to sharpen their skills, their students, those student’s parents, and on and on and on- there exists such an opportunity for professional development. The National Dance Association will be hosting their Dancing for Health and Wellness Pedagogy Conference  in Norfolk, VA. To take place August 2- 4 at Norfolk State University.

The conference is designed to excite and educate physical education, health education and dance instructors on using dance to motivate their students to embrace a healthy lifestyle and educate dancers on how to maintain their own health despite injury and stress. “Our goal is to reach out to physical educators, health and dance teachers and recreational professionals to encourage them to help keep dance on the forefront of health and wellness programs in both schools and communities nationwide,” says Colleen Dean, NDA program manager. “Dancing is ideal for any age and has been shown to have a positive impact on how well people learn and process information, from students to older adults.”

Highlights of the Sessions and Guest Presenters include:

Dr. Joyce Paul Poursabahian, Arpan (Bharatanatyam Institute), Redmond, WA, “The Basic Technique and Dynamics of Natyam” Classic Indian dance 101—participants will get the basics of the art form down and learn mandalas (positions), adavus (units of movement), talams (rhythm cycles) & mudras (single/double-handed gestures) that make up the primary vocabulary of Bharatanatyam.

Dr. Susan Biali, Vancouver,Canada, “It’s Never Too Late!  A Flamenco-Dancing Doctor’s Secrets for a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate Life” This award-winning doctor, life coach and flamenco dancer will share lessons in life, dance, and health from her internationally recognized journey as a “mature” dance student.

Fabian Barnes, Dance Institute of Washington, Washington, DC, “Ballet Technique—An Enriching Experience” The former soloist with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the recipient of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award will teach the power of a plié!In this class, attendees will learn about the health benefits of ballet and what is considered the proper alignment and placement along with musicality, agility, spatial and kinaesthetic awareness.

Freddie-Lee Heath, Enloe High School, NC, “Teaching Them Where They Live or It’s All About the Hook” Teachers will explore both the technical and creative components of dance at the middle school level. Participants will walk away learning a variety of movements to show students with little to no dance experience how to feel confident in their steps, learn how to evaluate students with an easy to follow rubric and how students can realize their own potential.

Greacian Goeke, San Francisco, CA, “Freeing the Dancer Within” An experimental workshop where participants will learn creative movement curriculum for elder adults. The workshop is based on improvisation, reflection, and a “move it or lose it” philosophy. Perfect for community health and wellness programs!

Josie Metal-Corbin, University of Nebraska-Omaha, “Dancing in Place: Site-Specific Work” Josie Metal-Corbin will chronicle four decades of her experience working with artists, educators, librarians and scientists. From zoos to deep in prairie grass, she will help participants discover the hidden meaning in the spaces around them.

Kadidia V. Doumbia, International Dance Council-UNESCO, Northern GA, “Dance as a Way of Living” This independent dance teacher and choreographer will inspire attendees through her dance philosophy–dance is part of every culture on earth. It unites people in joy and sadness. It is through dance that generations are united. She will share the latest research on how dance has the power to create a common understanding that cultures can share throughout the world.

Lida Winfield, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, Burlington, VT “In Search of Air” Participants will learn innovative approaches for hands-on type of learners/students and use spoken word and dance to demonstrate different ways to transform learning for students with and without disabilities.

About National Dance Association (NDA)
The National Dance Association is a members-driven organization that advocates for dance education as a creative, healthy lifestyle that benefits people of all ages and abilities.  NDA promotes and supports creative and healthy lifestyles through high quality dance programs and furthering knowledge and sound professional practices in dance education. It is one of five national associations within the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD). To learn more about NDA, visit www.aahperd.org/nda.

About American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD)
AAHPERD, an alliance of five national associations, six district associations, and a Research Consortium, provides its members with a comprehensive and coordinated array of resources, support, and programs to help practitioners improve their skills to further the health and well-being of the American public. It is the largest organization of professionals involved in physical education, recreation, fitness, dance, health promotion and all specialties related to achieving an active, healthy lifestyle. AAHPERD serves 20,000 members and has its headquarters in Reston, Virginia, 25 miles west of Washington DC. For more information, visit www.aahperd.org. 

I personally would love to take the Classical Indian Dance 101 class- I just adore the aspect of storytelling and vocabulary entirely defined by intricate steps, gestures, and positions. Talk about body language!

To register for the conference, view a full list of guest presenters, and learn about their background, visit NDA’s conference page.  In the coming weeks, refer back to the NDA website for finalized program sessions and workshop schedules. Dance education contact hours are available through NDA and CHES/MCHES credits are available through the American Association for Health Education (AAHE).  And if anyone happens upon an extra ticket, you can send it to me. You can register me under the name Jess DanceEducatorBeliever2. (Jess DanceEducatorBeliever1 was taken already.)

We look at the dance to impart the sensation of living in an affirmation of life, to energize the spectator into keener awareness of the vigor, the mystery, the humor, the variety, and the wonder of life.” -Martha Graham

3 thoughts on “Dancing to Lead a Better, Healthier Life

  1. Pingback: Dancing to Lead a Better, Healthier Life « BODIES NEVER LIE | Studio News

    • Hi libramoon- of course not! I write in the hope that it helps someone out there in some way, and am grateful for any helping hands in spreading the message (which is the joy and benefits of the arts, and dance in particular). Thank you and all the best to you 🙂 -jess

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