Dancing our way to physical and emotional wellbeing

Gwen dancingDancing is a great way to de-stress and feel good. It can also help improve MS symptoms and positively impact emotional health. To unpack the benefits of dance for people with MS, we had a chat with Gwen Korebrits, CEO and Co-Founder of Dance Health Alliance (DHA) - a nonprofit organisation that provides people with the opportunity to regain freedom through movement, and Dr Ameeta Gajjar, medical advisor to DHA.

Why dance?
As human beings we were born to move, it’s in our DNA. Dancing not only offers physical activity but also social inclusion, creative opportunities and cognitive challenges. 

Dancing meets you where you are on your MS journey
Everyone, regardless of their range of movement, can benefit from dancing. Whether you’re sitting or standing, use a walker, a motorised scooter, a walking stick or no aids at all, you can move to music in ways that challenge your muscular strength, flexibility, range of motion, balance, coordination, and rhythm.

The benefits of dance on our emotional and physical wellbeing
When we join a group such as a dance class, we build social connections, which is important to mental health, helping to reduce anxiety, depression and stress, and improve self-confidence, memory, and overall quality of life.

On a physical level, dancing improves the condition of the heart and lungs, increasing muscular strength, endurance and motor fitness, improves muscle tone and strength, helps with weight management, strengthens bones, encourages better coordination, agility, and flexibility, improves balance, spatial awareness and mental functioning.

The power of music
When dancing, the combination of music, flow and fluidity helps people lose themselves in the moment. Music is known to activate specific brain pathways related to emotion (including the hippocampus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and hypothalamus) through various mechanisms including neuroplasticity, neurogenesis (increased BDNF – brain-derived neurotrophic factor -  “miracle-gro” for the brain) and synthesis of neurotransmitters like dopamine and endorphins, which make you feel good!

The power of dance from a doctor’s perspective
Dr Ameeta Gajjar stated that the combined power of dance and music provides a proven, positive, and cost-effective intervention for people in the community living with MS, “dancing stimulates strength, spatial awareness, agility, endurance, flexibility, balance and coordination, and integrates the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social aspects of health.”

Best of all, you don’t have to be an expert!
People dance for different reasons, but everyone dances to satisfy their desire to move and to feel good in their own body regardless of ability. You don’t need technique, talent or dance experience – we believe that everyone is a dancer, and our aim is to get people moving and stimulate them physically. There is no right or wrong way to dance, only freedom to explore who you are and how it feels to move.

Would you like to see how dancing can help improve your physical and emotional wellbeing? DHA’s DanceWell classes are held online twice a week via Zoom on Mondays and Wednesdays at 10:00am – 10:45am, and at the Studdy MS Centre in Lidcombe, Sydney on Mondays at 10:30-11:30am.  For more information, email info@dancehealthalliance.org.au or call 1300 183 342. 

We asked some members of the MS community who are also DHA participants, about the benefits of dance. Here’s what they had to say: 

“Dancing has given me a chance to exercise according to my abilities and it's reassuring to know that there is scientific backing to prove its worth, it's not intimidating. I look forward very much to my session for social interaction also.” – Julie 

“Dancing has given me so much happiness. And in fact, I dance more now than I ever did before I had MS, in my classes and with my husband!" – Gail

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