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Health & Wellbeing

How to actually get good at dancing.

Written by Vanessa Marian

Whilst I never want to lose the feel-good essence of having fun whilst you dance, I have truly seen the difference in people’s lives when they commit to regularly dancing vs simply popping in on occasion.

Some of you may know that I’m a Bharatanatyam dancer, an ancient Indian classical art form. Whilst this may sound exotic, cultural and deeply spiritual, the reality is just consistent hours with my guru, Sahastra Samboorthi, drilling technique, writing lines in my theory notebook, holding painful stretches and occasionally stealing glances at the clock. 

In sharp contrast, Groove Therapy has traditionally run as a ‘come whenever’ kind of structure, in which people casually book, flake and giggle with their friends as they navigate through the complexities of a two-step whilst a budget party light blinks back of shot. 

But after all the practise, hours of work and failed attempts at executing difficult techniques, one of the most common questions I get from beginners is ‘how do I get good like you Vanessa?’

Are you ready for my big secret? Consistent practice and time.

But wait, there’s more. Here are the benefits I’ve seen from regular dance attendance.

Increased mental agility

For one, I’ve seen noticeable technical improvements in my regulars. This improvement doesn’t just come from getting physically better at a step, but more so from increased mental agility when it comes to processing a dance class. Think about it; when you take dance class, you are watching the teacher with your eyes, listening to their instructions with your ears then processing these moves through your own body…whilst trying to follow the rhythm of a song. 

I understand that learning dance involves mental acrobatics, and it takes practise just for your brain to adjust to this new, whole-body, learning style. For those wondering, it takes about three to five weeks for your brain to adjust and stop freaking out. 

Your dancing will improve exponentially from there as your mind ceases to act as a hurdle.

Increased mental-wellness coping mechanisms

Dance is exceptional for activating three of the four natural mood-booster chemicals in our body; serotonin (the mood booster), dopamine (the reward chemical) and endorphins (the pain killer). The only hormone I’m not including is oxytocin (the love chemical), which is triggered by giving a compliment or physical affection – both of which are technically possible when you dance. I just avoid advocating for it in a class environment because that can get creepy real quick. 

It was a known thing growing up that we dancers would be in foul moods, prone to snapping at our poor mothers when dance studios closed down over the school holidays. It took just one hour of dancing to feel like our usual selves again. 

Secondly, when you dance, you can express yourself, and self-expression is cited as the most fundamental necessity for mitigating mental health issues by all the big mental health dogs – from Headspace to RUOK to Batyr. 

Talk, they say! Talk it out, get it off your chest and express yourself!

Dance is talking, just not with words. You can let out the aggression, open your chest and flail your limbs in frustration. I’ve been teaching for 11 years and have seen the dance studio repeatedly serve as a gateway for people to open up and talk.

I can’t vouch for life being perfect or predictable, but I can certainly vouch for dance as an exceptional mental health coping mechanism. 

Increased physical wellness

We don’t talk about this often in Groove Therapy marketing because I don’t want our movement to centre around fitness and abs. It attracts the wrong mentality, and we’re not here to offer weight loss vibes.

The truth, on a physical level, is that dance is phenomenal for boosting your blood flow, increasing your flexibility and pumping that cardio. Continued technique-based training also builds core, quad, back and arm muscle.

Again, I’m wary of marinating in the physical benefits of dance because capitalism has made our physique the central fixation that we hang our self-worth upon – especially for female-identifying people. 

So let’s move on to the next point.

Increased creative thinking

So what does dance offer that no other exercise offers? Artistry. 

First of all, when you begin to master the techniques, you can take your freestyle to the next level. Freestyling involves playing with polyrhythms, abstract concepts, rhythmic patterns, telling stories through gestures, choreographing movement phrases and infusing your physicality with your own personal flavour and soul. 

This kind of creative thinking involves your entire body, and I feel many artists are missing out on enhancing their own practices by not diving into the processes we dancers engage with every day. 

In conclusion

As I log in to my weekly Zoom dance class training with my guru, I am not applauded or showered with Instagram likes for merely turning up. I am only rewarded with increased personal discipline, better dance technique and an overall improvement in the quality of my life.

My advice? Consistently turn up, and give it time. I challenge you to tell me your life hasn’t changed for it.

Vanessa Marian runs a weekly Zoom beginner adult dance class (on Australian EST) as well as a real life beginner dance class in Byron Bay every Tuesday at Cavanbah Centre. 

All images in this blog are from the Gucci 2017 pre-fall campaign, in which the brand paid hommage to London 70s dance scene.

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