How can dancing help us socialise?
I recently met an old friend for dinner. She and I did ballet together through our childhoods, and now living in different places, and pursuing different careers, it’s nice to meet, and realise how many things we still have in common.
This friend, though not dancing professionally, still has dance as a big part of her life. After moving to university, she turned from ballet to ballroom, and then to swing dance, a pursuit that quickly had her making friends and travelling to different events around the north. In fact, a swing dance social was the reason she had come to Leeds.
“It’s so lovely, Isla” she said as we tucked into curry. “I dance with a complete stranger at one event, and then at the next I see them again and we have a chat. A lot of the time I don’t even remember their names, but we can still dance together and have a really good time.”
She told me about how swing dance shares a lot of the improvisational aspects that contemporary dance does, that, although there are set steps to learn, dancers can have fun and play around with the order of movements, creating new combinations together on the dance floor.
It sounded very similar to the ‘improv jams’ frequently held in Leeds, events that are seen as social events as well as places to train and practice your improvisation technique; and at Curious Motion we consider the social aspect as one of the major benefits of dance.
Dance, historically had a social aspect to it too. In Europe, many early forms of dancing were based on folk traditions, dances that were often done in a large group and were simple and repetitive enough for people to pick up and enjoy easily. Ceilidh dances, popular in modern Celtic cultures, are an example of this tradition surviving. And I know from experience that a good Ceilidh doesn’t necessarily need a lot of people that know what they’re doing! Instead, it’s about connection, getting stuck in, having fun, and have a good laugh when someone goes the wrong way!
Scientifically, dancing with others activates parts of the brain called mirror neurons. These are cells which ‘light up’ when we watch or imitate a movement that someone else is carrying out. This can help us build empathy with others, as we are physically experiencing the movement of someone else. And dancing with someone else, improvising with them, copying them, means that the mirror neurons in the brains of both people are constantly active. The result is a strengthened ability to relate to the other person, and it is thought we can build stronger relationships with others if we do this regularly.
Alongside this intriguing neurological aspect, joining a dance class can present an opportunity to meet others with shared interests, and can help reduce the loneliness of someone by expanding their social circle. This is one of the reasons that time for coffee and a snack is always scheduled with a class at Curious Motion.
As I said goodbye to my friend and she went off to her swing dance social, I realised I did indeed have dance to thank for my friendship with her. Standing together at the ballet barre, sharing snacks backstage, and performing together were all formative parts of my childhood. It’s testament to how beneficial dance was for us that we both choose as adults to have it as a big part of our lives.
In our post-pandemic world where many people are worryingly lonely, I feel that dance is more important than ever to help us form meaningful relationships with others. And so perhaps it’s not always good advice to dance like nobody’s watching. Sometimes it’s nice to know that somebody is.
Until next time… Isla x