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Connection between dance and mental health is often ignored, research shows

MDX academics celebrate dance as a tool to improve emotional and physical wellbeing

Photo by Michael Afonso on Unsplash

Dance can have important mental health benefits but is often overlooked due to straddling both the sports and arts sectors, research has shown.

This World Mental Health Day, MDX academics Sian Hopkins and Claire Farmer are keen to champion the positive impact dance has on physical and mental wellbeing.

Dance Science Lecturer Ms Farmer said there were “so many benefits” including improving balance, strength, co-ordination, gait and improvements to aerobic capacity in older adults.

“Dance also offers a fun and creative activity for young people who may not be meeting the recommended guidelines for physical activity, especially young females,” she added.

“Although dance has been shown to have similar physical benefits as participating in other sports and exercise, adherence to dance activities appears to be higher. This may in part be due to the social and creative aspects of dancing, with opportunities for expression, forming new relationships and working together.”

Ms Farmer and Ms Hopkins, MDX Lecturer in Dance, have been working with the Movement and Dance division of The Sport and Recreation Alliance to look at the social value of movement and dance for the general population.

The report was launched by Strictly Come Dancing judge and ballroom dancer, teacher and adjudicator Shirley Ballas earlier this year.

In her address, she said: "It is not just the health and wellbeing benefits we should focus on, but the ability it has to bring communities together. Dance events and festivals provide platforms for cultural exchange and celebration of heritage. They promote understanding and appreciation of different cultures, fostering social cohesion and unity."

Shirley Ballas launches the report

It identifies the support required to bridge the gap between the cultural contribution of dance and the lack of recognition, investment and support given its contribution to national strategic objectives for sport and recreation.

“Movement, dance and exercise are understood to have significant benefits for physical and mental wellbeing, and many clubs serve as pillars of their community, but it does not get the funding, attention or support it deserves.”

Key findings of the report were:

  • The annual social value of movement and dance is £3.49 billion, representing around five per cent of the total social value generated by community sport and physical activity.
  • Of every £20 of social value created by sport and physical activity, £1 is created uniquely by movement and dance.
  • Movement and dance creates £430 million in savings on physical and mental health.
  • Movement and dance prevents more cases of breast cancer and hip fractures than its ‘market share’.
  • There are a host of other benefits – delayed onset of Parkinson’s disease, reduced loneliness, and improved retention in activity of young people, older people, and people living with disabilities.

In order to maximise the social value of movement and dance, the report recommends that they are better used to relieve pressure on the NHS, by being integrated into health, care and prevention practices.

It should also be a key method used to keep an ageing population active and reducing the risks of being sedentary.

Photo by Danielle Cerullo on Unsplash

Sport and Recreation Alliance CEO Lisa Wainwright MBE said: “Movement and dance should be at the forefront of the conversation as we continue to campaign for better support for the sport and recreation sector in light of the current cost of living crisis.

“Movement and dance is a vital part of our society and culture, and deserves to be supported for the incredible value it provides for so many people. We hope that this report can be the start of that process.”

Ms Farmer said that dance is a beneficial prevention tool to support mental and physical wellbeing as well as helping those with chronic health conditions to sustain a good quality of life for longer.

She has had a keen interest in the health of dancers since completing her undergraduate degree.

Ms Farmer added: “Whilst I was studying I also started working as a dance artist in hospitals with Trinity Laban and Vital Arts which I absolutely loved. I wanted to be able to share the benefits of dance for everyone, as well as helping dancers learn more about themselves (body and mind), what they are capable of achieving and how amazing the instrument (their body) they have at their disposal is.”

MDX has a long history of carrying out research related to dance and movement.

In August 2019, Professor Chris Bannerman and Dr Lucy Irving visited Tokyo and Tottori in Japan to meet older individuals who were interviewed about their dance and movement activities.

A return visit took place in August when MDX welcomed guests from Japan to take part in a public seminar, ‘Dance and Healthy Ageing in Japan and the UK’.

Speakers were Dr Naomi Inata and Professor Hidehiro Sugisawa (JF Oberlin University, Tokyo), Dr Yuichiro Nagatsu (Kyushu University), and Team MDX Professor Lisa Marzano and Dr Loraine Leeson.

The seminar, which promoted healthy ageing through dance and movement, has led to an initiative to run dance events for the over 60s.

Funding will be sought to continue this project so that comparisons can be made between Japan and the UK, with researchers measuring life satisfaction, loneliness, anxiety, depression, frailty, and subjective cognitive decline.

To find out more about dance courses at MDX, click here.

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