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If you told Mike Bosen last year that he would be dancing, he wouldn’t have believed you.
“Dancing makes me laugh and smile, because I suck at it,” says Bosen, who came to the Albuquerque metro area in June to work at a software company. “I’m not a graceful person. Dancing doesn’t come handily to me.”
However, after two months of dancing classes, he sees major benefits.
“The mental exertion is exhilarating. I don’t even know my own part, but I’m supposed to cue someone else so they can follow,” he says. His balance, agility and coordination have improved. Maybe more importantly, he feels happy about his life again.
Moving here after a difficult divorce from a small town in Idaho, Bosen felt cut adrift and a little depressed. “I moved here with no furniture, no friends, no nothing. It’s weird; it’s therapy, both physical and mental.”
He rides his bike from his home on Wyoming NE to his work on Jefferson NE and would always pass by CSP Dance Studios on Osuna NE. He decided to check it out, because he thought it was a CrossFit gym, an exercise program he knew.
It was a lucky mistake. “Nice people seem to gravitate to dance. I didn’t have any aspirations, so I’ve been pleasantly surprised. A whole new world has opened up.”
He was surprised to learn that researchers have been measuring the mental and emotional benefits of dancing, similar to those he’s experienced.
Research shows all that fancy footwork, no matter what music gets you moving, will get your body and your brain into shape, often better than many other exercises, researchers say.
Researcher Terry Eckmann of Minot State University in North Dakota, recently studied a small group of seniors, 65 to 91, and found that after 12 weeks of Zumba, a Latin-style dance fitness program, subjects had improved moods and more nimble cognitive skills, like visual recognition and decision-making. Dancers were also stronger and more agile, she says.
“It was amazing,” Eckmann says in a recent phone interview. “I was surprised to find that significant of a change.”
Her results are scheduled to be published in Prevention magazine.
Other benefits of dance, supported by research, include improved cardiovascular function, increased lower body strength, balance development, enhanced agility and coordination, improved gait, stronger bones, improved and reduced depression and boosted self esteem and confidence, Eckmann says.
“Research suggests that freestyle partner dancing may offer the best benefit of all,” she says.
Eckmann says previous research shows the benefits of dance are so wide-ranging because the brain has to focus and work in many areas.
When a dancer’s brain is scanned, several areas of the brain that correspond to vision, rhythm, balance, coordination and complex thinking light up and work together, she says. Socialization is also a benefit of dance for both older and younger people.
Her interest was piqued when a landmark study following 469 seniors for five years, conducted at Albert Einstein School of Medicine, showed a preventive link between dancing and the onset of dementia. Those results were published in a 2003 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.
More experienced dancers have even more benefits. Ballet dancers have developed mechanisms in their brains, so they don’t respond to twirling movements with dizziness, or feeling like they are falling, according to other research published this past fall in Cerebral Cortex.
Ballet and other similar dance techniques could help people who experience dizziness, researchers say.
Albuquerque’s Paul Fekete, who also dances at CSP Dance Studios, who has cerebellar ataxia, a disease that attacks the part of the brain that controls coordination, says dancing keeps him mobile in the rest of his life.
“I know for a fact that dance really helps. Focusing on balancing when I’m dancing creates new pathways in my brain,” says Fekete, 64. “My doctors are amazed I can function like I can.”
Louis Van Amstel, a professional dancer from “Dancing with the Stars,” says he created LaBlast, a dance program that teaches various dance styles in an exercise class format, to bring the benefits of dance to as many people as possible.
“Many people are not realizing what dance can do beyond the physical benefits,” he says. “People think they can’t dance because they are too klutzy, too clumsy or have two left feet. Even if they come feeling uncoordinated, they soon realize they can do it. We make it accessible. We broke it down, but we don’t dumb things down. We have 16 dances, but we make it simple enough for everyone to do it.”
The class is taught so partners aren’t required. Van Amstel recently taught a master class at Riverpoint Sports and Wellness on Coors Boulevard and at workshops at CSP Dance Studios.
It’s also offered along with traditional dance styles like ballroom or tango at other studios around Albuquerque, including Reignite Studios on Hawkins NE.
No one has to tell Angelina Rosser, 33, who owns the nonprofit studio, about the value of dance for mind and body, because she sees it in the kids she works with every day.
Many of her students come to her through foster homes and have been in situations that created trauma.
Of the 160 kids registered in her classes, she sees benefits all the time. “Kids come here with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and we watch them beat out their frustrations on the floor.”
“In our society we’re only taught to go forward, never sideways or back,” she says. “In dance we go in all directions. You can be creative outside the normal box.”