Dance yourself happy: Feel the rhythm - and the physical benefits

Turn up the music and bust out some moves for an instant energy lift. It's even better when your friends join in
Dance yourself happy: Feel the rhythm - and the physical benefits

Dancing for the mental health benefits: Tara O'Sullivan, Deirdre McArdle and Sheeona Gorman at the Kindred Spirits Choctaw Monument at Midleton, Co Cork. Pic: Larry Cummins

“I need a hero. I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the end of the night.”

As I belted out the Bonnie Tyler classic, I looked around and saw jubilant faces everywhere, all singing along and dancing like their lives depended on it.

I was with a few friends at an 80s/90s disco night at Ballycotton’s Sea Church. All busy mums in our 30s and 40s, we couldn’t remember the last time we’d been out dancing. The music was nostalgia central — from Belinda Carlisle and Bonnie Tyler to Backstreet Boys and Britney.

The energy in the room was infectious. Everyone was dancing to the same song, all in their own way.

Sure, myself and my friends have had plenty of great nights out. But this was different. In the taxi home, we gushed about how much we enjoyed it. What resonated with all of us was the feeling of being free, of not having any worries or cares, of not feeling self-conscious or judged.

Perhaps it was the company: Overwhelmingly women in their 40s, all of us probably with similar stresses and responsibilities.

For me, it acted like a much-needed recharge. The afterglow gave me a boost that helped me through a stressful few weeks. 

One of my friends, Tara O’Sullivan, tapped into the feeling of abandon: “It was great to be able to let my hair down, forget the day-to-day, and have a couple of hours of pure enjoyment and a relaxed mind.”

For another friend, Sheeona Gorman, what was unique about the night was the feeling of connection in the room. “There was a shared sense of joy, euphoria even, in the nostalgia of the music.”

Cork-based Zumba instructor Sonia Le Bled echoes our feelings about dancing. She sees firsthand the positive effects it can have on the people who attend her class. 

“It’s an opportunity for them to forget about everything else, all the worries and responsibilities, and let the music and the dancing take over. People who come to my classes tell me that the classes have helped them become more confident and less anxious. They also say that the positive energy they have at the end continues long after the class is finished.”

Tara O'Sullivan, Deirdre McArdle and Sheeona Gorman at the Kindred Spirits Choctaw Monument at Midleton Co Cork. Pic: Larry Cummins
Tara O'Sullivan, Deirdre McArdle and Sheeona Gorman at the Kindred Spirits Choctaw Monument at Midleton Co Cork. Pic: Larry Cummins

A project in Limerick is trying to harness this sense of wellbeing. Limerick Mental Health Association (LMHA) in conjunction with Dance Limerick, is providing dance classes to people who are managing mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and social isolation.

“The dance classes are aimed at people who have left the acute psychiatric unit in Limerick and are attending their local mental health centre, says LMHA general manager Ian Hackett. 

“Our focus is body, mind, and social. Dancing ticks all three boxes. First and foremost, it’s a physical activity, which we know produces endorphins. These endorphins can naturally lift people’s mood, aid stress reduction and promote wellbeing. The classes also offer that social connection these people may be missing.”

Social bonding is just one of the many benefits of dancing, particularly dancing in a group setting, like myself and my friends in Sea Church, or the people attending the Dance Limerick classes.

“What we do in the classes has a ripple effect,” says Arianna Guasson, dance artist with Dance Limerick. 

“The group dance in our class, and feel the boost from that activity. Then they might hear one of the songs from class on the radio at home and it sparks feelings of recognition and happiness; they may even dance at home to the music.

“In the following days or weeks, they begin to feel more comfortable in their bodies and more confident. They start to share and participate more with the group and begin to feel more connected.”

But social bonding is just the tip of the iceberg. Dancing can also contribute to a person’s general wellbeing, from how they feel day to day to a general sense of purpose. Dance movement therapy is considered an effective treatment for people with depression, and dancing can also help people to feel more comfortable in their bodies, and more confident in general.

It’s little wonder then that dancing is proving so popular, and there’s so much demand for opportunities to dance. 

From one-off nights to retro music festivals such as Forever Young in Kildare, people of a certain age want to dance. 

One-off nights, like the event in Sea Church, sell out quickly. Forever Young, with its focus on 80s nostalgia, is one of the fastest-growing festivals in Ireland — more than 21,000 people attended in July 2023. 

In the Cork area, Dance Fitness Ireland went from four locations just three months ago to its current tally of 17 locations across the county.

The beauty of dancing is how inclusive it is. Anyone can dance, anywhere. It could be a night out with friends, a dance class, or in our own homes. In the busy lives we lead, we often forget to stop, listen to the music, and have a boogie around the kitchen. 

Try it. It might just do you the power of good.

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