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New Studies Show How Dancing Relieves Depression

Recent evidence points to the fact that dancing relieves depression.

Educators at arts-integrated high schools and middle schools can certainly vouch for this.

For some of these teachers, they’ve witnessed firsthand the way that the personal and profound experience of dance supports healing in their students. And it’s inspiring.

Dancing Out of Darkness

Depression sucks. There’s no way around it. You simply have to go through it.

When in its throes, it can be difficult to engage in even the simplest of activities. Yet, for those who struggle with symptoms but are able to rally to engage in soothing movements, dance can have transformative effects.

2021 meta-analysis of 28 studies found that adults who engaged in a dance intervention for a minimum of 2.5 hours per week reported less stress, anxiety, and an easing of depression symptoms.

To clarify, a dance intervention is not like a drug intervention. It’s organized and structured bodily movements to music and with a dance therapist.

In addition to improving mood, dance also promotes the production of feel-good chemicals, improves cardiovascular health, and encourages social connections. Yet, even dancing solo can help alleviate depression symptoms.

Dance As Therapy…

So is there such a thing as dance therapy? You betcha.

In fact, the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) defines dance therapy as “a psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual.”

Much as you might go to a therapist to talk about your feelings, a dance movement therapist guides and encourages you to express your feelings through movement.

You may be taken through specific movements or work on marrying intentional breath with those movements. The therapist may mirror your movements to promote connection and empathy.

But really any kind of dance is therapeutic and doesn’t necessarily require a therapist. Maybe you dance in your kitchen while cooking dinner. Or perhaps you grab some friends and go out to a club. Perhaps it’s a dance class.

Whatever the case, the movement should be enjoyable rather than just another thing to do to try to get better.

How Dancing Relieves Depression

As we stated above, arts-integrated educators have seen the healing power of dance for their students who thrive on movement. This is especially important for adolescents struggling to make sense of their bodies, their lives, and the world at large.

For them, dancing can do the following;

1. Enhance Mindfulness

When in a depressive state, it’s difficult to free oneself from rumination and intrusive thoughts. The tendency is to either cling to a negative feeling about the past or stress about a future that has yet to happen.

The key is getting into the present moment. And a 2021 study found that dancing more than once per week is associated with increased mindfulness.

Moving one’s body in tempo with music has both a freeing and grounding effect. It brings the dancer out of their head and into the moment.

2. Help with Trauma Recovery

Working to recover from hardship or trauma is not the sole domain of adults. Adolescents are often exposed to traumatic experiences that can lead to depressive symptoms. Especially when they don’t work through the trauma and store it in their bodies instead.

It’s been said we hold issues in our tissues.

Dance is a somatic intervention. It helps individuals move through and feel those difficult memories so they can heal without not ever having to speak a word. This is why dance is an intrinsic part of many of the somatic healing modalities gaining increasing popularity.

3. Social Bonding

When depressed, there’s a tendency to isolate.

While dancing in a group is not necessary to garner the healing effects or dance, there’s something to be said for the power of feeling connected with others. This sort of social bonding releases endorphins and can alleviate depression symptoms.

4. Enhanced Neurotransmitter Activity

At this point, we must clarify that we’re not saying dance is a cure for depression. For some, depression symptoms are the result of reduced neurotransmitter activity in the brain. In some cases, medication is warranted to help bring the brain into balance. And there is nothing wrong with that.

A small study in 2021 of 27 people hospitalized with major depressive disorder revealed that a combination of medication and dance enhanced patients’ self-esteem more than medication alone. Another study suggests that music also helps release dopamine – offering another reason that dance can be a powerful intervention.

Whatever the case, dancing releases mood-boosting endorphins to relieve depression while providing a cardiovascular workout. So it’s a win-win – no matter what your age.

Arts-Integrated Education Helps Creative Children Thrive

One challenge with depression is that it can reduce one’s interest in once enjoyable activities. Some of the research referenced above suggests that dancing relieves depression and may help with this.

Students at Arts Academy in the Woods studying dance, or any other art form, are free to express themselves in an open and non-judgmental setting. And this helps them both emotionally and academically.

So if you have a child who thrives in the arts, then contact us today to set up a tour of our school. You can start with a virtual tour here.


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