Humans have been dancing together for ages, as seen in cave paintings created more than 13,000 years ago.
Why? Because it feels good. Researchers and therapists confirm what our ancient ancestors must have intuited. “Dance is an antidote to stress, a way to combat negative emotions, an elixir for the body, mind, and brain,” write neuroscientists Julia Christensen and Dong-Seon Chang. In a similar vein, a meta-study found that people who participate in dance and movement therapy decrease symptoms of depression.
It turns out that dance can sometimes be just the thing to get us out of a funk, especially if we’ve spent too much time staring at a screen. “When we dance, the pleasure centers in our brains light up,” says Jody Wager, a board-certified dance therapist.
What’s more, the benefits of dance are not just about pleasure and happiness. Emily Cross, a professor of psychology, has found “striking changes in brain activity when we combine dance and music in the learning context,” indicating that dance and movement aid learning.
Taken together, these benefits of dance highlight why this practice is so important from an evolutionary perspective, why we still mark major life events such as weddings with dance, and why it can play such a helpful role in the lives of kids.
Ideas for a Dance Party
Try these ideas to get moving at home — perhaps to close out the day, to mark the end of an activity, or to celebrate a major achievement.
Ground rules. First, lay down a ground rule: No mocking or teasing. Everyone should feel free to dance how they want. When you’re silly or vulnerable together, you reduce shame in the house. Dancing is the perfect time to do this.
Warm up. If family members feel too nervous to start dancing together, you might have to do some prep work before you launch right into a full-blown party. Invite anyone who is too nervous to practice first for a week or two in their room, with a closed door. Have them listen to a danceable song and move however they want to move. Encourage them to go with whatever motions feel the safest. Let them know that dance does not need to be performative — at all. In fact, dance can be most transformative when it isn’t associated with performing but is instead about connecting with the deepest part of yourself.
If someone has had a traumatic experience that hinders their desire to dance, it might take much longer than a week for them to warm up to dancing together. In such a case, let them know that trauma is often a cognitive and a bodily experience. This is why many therapy practices now include movement and the body.
With all of that in mind, once everyone is on board try these ideas!
- Turn on a danceable playlist and see what happens. Chances are, someone will start grooving. Let it happen naturally from there. Give our Uplift Playlist a spin.
- Play freeze dance. Starting with the youngest, give each kid control over the pause button. When they hit the button, everyone stops.
- Learn a dance together. If you or one of your kids have seen a dance online, see if you can learn it together — step by step.
- Mirror dance. Starting with the youngest, each person does a dance move. The other people in the family have to mirror what they do.
Notice how it feels to dance together and whether or not it works for your family as a way to improve the mood and wellbeing. In either case, start a conversation. Who knows? You might want to make it a routine to keep the mood up at home.
See additional ideas as well as dances from around the world in our dance lesson (for members).
Photo Credit: Pindi Setiawan