Benefits of Ballroom Dancing For Retired Senior People
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1. Use It or Lose It: Dancing Makes You Smarter
A 21 year study done by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York recently showed that freestyle social dancing regularly is one of the best ways to prevent Alzheimer's, dementia and memory loss! Compared to other activities like golf, cycling, reading and doing crossword puzzles in this study, dancing came out on top!
Here are some of the results from the study:
Bicycling produced no benefit in reducing dementia Swimming produced no benefit Golf...no benefit Reading led to a 35% reduced risk of dementia Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week: 47% reduced risk of dementia Dancing frequently...76%!
The 21-year study of senior citizens, 75 and older, was led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, funded by the National Institute on Aging, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Dancing has the greatest reduction of risk dementia among any activity studied, cognitive or physical! We've known that physical activity increases our neurological pathways and synapses, but researchers are discovering that making split second rapid decisions and movements in freestyle social dancing increases neural network connectivity and overall intelligence.
Many people, especially many men, do not like to learn dancing because dancing is the most complex, all encompassing of all brain tasks. Many beginners of dancing are overwhelmed by such mental complexity in dancing and simply give up. However, most people who gave up on learning dancing do not have any physical handicap or disability to prevent them from doing the dancing steps and movements. It is the complexity of the mental aspect of dancing that poses a substantial challenge and obstacle for beginners.
However, looking at such problem from positive viewpoint, dancing is one of the most effective, beneficial and romantic exercise to keep your mind active, sharp and in good working condition. The music does not stop to wait for the dancers to make their decision for the next move. The music just keep going and the dancers of freestyle social dancing must make all those rapid fire split second decisions to guide their dancing movements smoothly and gracefully.
2. A Giant Dancing Place
I started learning and practicing ballroom dancing after my retirement from my busy engineering job. In 2003, our dance-class instructor took a group of his dance students, including me, to go to a very large dancing place for dancing from 8 PM until midnight. This giant dancing place has 9,000 square feet of dancing floor and is the largest dancing floor that I know about. The owner of dancing place is a friend of our dance instructor who told us the following story.
About 20 years ago, a guy bought a supermarket and converted the entire interior of the supermarket into a giant dancing floor. Since you know the size of typical supermarket, you know how big the dancing floor of this giant dancing place is. The reason that this guy created such a large dancing floor is that he was a roofer working on roofs. One day he fell down from the roof and his back got hurt badly. The prescription from his doctor to heal his injured back was to learn and to practice ballroom dancing. Indeed, learning and practicing ballroom dancing cured his back pain problem. Being so grateful to ballroom dancing, he created the largest dancing floor for many people to enjoy dancing exercise with their lovely partners under very romantic atmosphere including excellent music, lighting and interior decoration.
3. Various Methods to Cope with Mental Complexity in Dancing
3.1. Forgetting the Learned Dance Steps Quickly
A common problem encountered by many beginners learning ballroom dancing is that they forget quickly the learned dancing steps, body postures and associated body/arm movements . If the students do not put enough mental effort and physical effort to practice frequently what they have learned, almost everybody forget those steps and movements within about 3 days. Those learned steps and movements all evaporate and disappear very quickly from their minds.
3.2. Some Methods to Memorize Learned Dance Steps
3.2.1. Use of Smartphone, Camera or Camcorder
To cope with such problems, some of our classmates in dancing class bring smartphone, cameras or camcorders and supporting tripods to the classroom to record the movie of the dancing lessons so that they can review them from time to time at home on their PCs or TVs or smartphones. The recorded movie can be played over and over on certain more challenging steps and movements until the student gets it right.
At the end of an one-hour dance class, some dance instructors and his/her dance partner will do a demo dance of the entire dance routine taught in the one-hour class. Such demo dance usually lasts only a few minutes and can be recorded by most hand held smartphones using the movie mode without the need for a tripod. Recording a few minutes of movie of demo dance routine uses about 0.1 GB to 0.2 GB of memory and can be handled easily by most smartphones.
Some students use digital cameras with tripod to record the entire one-hour dance class. A 16-GB memory card in digital camera can record at least 3 hours of movie including video, stereo music and voice instructions of the dance teacher.
3.2.2. Pocket Voice Recorder
Some other dance classmates bring a small voice recorder or small smartphone in their shirt pockets. They records important information on dance steps by talking to their pocket voice recorders while learning in the dance class.
3.2.3. Hand Written Notes plus Computer
The way May Lee and I cope with such problem is to do a lot of mental homework in addition to physical practice. We have 3 hours of dancing class on every Thursday evening. We usually take some quick and cryptic notes during the class. Soon after each dancing class while our memories are still fresh, we work in front of the computer at home to put our class notes and our memories of the dance steps and movements on a Microsoft Word file. We create one file for each type of dance such as Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Rumba, Samba, etc. that we are learning. One of the advantages of using such Word file in a computer is that such file can easily be revised and updated as we learn more in the future.
Usually, May Lee’s file has more information on lady’s part of dance steps and movements while my file has more details on man’s part. May Lee and I exchange our draft files by e-mail attachments and merge our Word files to obtain a more complete description of the learned dance steps, postures and their associated movements of body, hands, arms, fingers, feet, legs, knees, toes, heels, hips, head, eye, etc.
Then, as we continue more learning either from the classroom or from other more experienced dancers on the dance floors in various dance parties, we enter the new information to revise and to update our Word file on the dance. For example, our Word file on Tango has been revised and updated 31 times.
In recent two years, I have been using Method 3.2.1 with my cameras, Canon PowerShot S2IS or SX10 IS, to record movie of my dance class and Method 3.2.3 with my notes and PC.
Some dance instructions in text and table formates are available at the following website:
One of our dance instructors also taught us some simple mnemonic songs to help us memorize the long sequences of some complicated dances. For example, the mnemonic for the Tango dance that we learned is:
CROP IS RICE
Each letter in this 10-letter mnemonic represents the first letter in the following list of 10 major sequential sections in the long sequence of Tango Dance:
1) Corte 2) Rock 3) Outside Step 4) Promenade 5) Inside Turn 6) Snake 7) Raise and Snap 8) Intertwine 9) Corte Sidewise 10) Exchange Side
Similarly, the following mnemonic:
represents the following sequence of Samba dance:
1) Traveling Volta 2) Whisk 3) Outside-Inside with Palm Touch 4) Contra Bota Fogos – Simple & Windmill 5) Heel (Heel-pull-Toe-pull) 6) Arm Roll 7) Promenade 8) Shadow Walk
Our experience indicates that such mnemonics are very helpful to remember the long and complicated sequences of dance routines.
3.2.5. Weekly Practice Session
Some dance studios in East Brunswick, and in Edison, New Jersey devotes every Friday evening from 8:30 PM to midnight for dance students to practice their learned dances. It plays various kinds of dance music sequentially through out the night so that the students can practice many different kinds of learned dances. The students improve their dancing skills in such practice sessions through: (1) their own practices, (2) help from the on-site instructors, and (3) watching the dancing practice of other more experienced students.
3.2.6. Dance Instructions on YouTube Websites or DVD or VCD Disks
Some dance instructions are available free on YouTube websites. For example, instruction for International Waltz is available on the following YouTube website:
Another challenge for beginners in learning dancing is the terminology and acronym used in dancing. There are several Internet websites that provide definitions and explanations for these terminology and acronym. One sample website is Dancer's Dictionary at:
Dance instructions are also available on some commercial DVD and VCD disks. They can be played over and over again until we get them right. These DVD disks can be either borrowed from various libraries or purchased from some dance supply websites. VCD disks from Asia can be bought from some Chinese stores.
4. Both Physical and Mental Exercise
What most beginners feel is quite true that the learned dance steps, body postures and the corresponding body movements will disappear from their minds very quickly if they do not put enough mental effort to work on it. It is up to you to choose your own favored strategy and method to keep what you have leaned so that they will not slip away from you.
Therefore, ballroom dancing is not just physical activities but also substantial mental effort to keep both your mind and body in good shape, especially for retired, senior people.
5. Duration and Amount of Exercise
Although some dances, such as Waltz, Foxtrot, Bolero, Rumba and Tango, are slow paced, and very graceful, some other dances, such as Samba, Mambo, Salsa, Swing, Jive, Hustle, Disco, Polka, Merengue, Cha-Cha, Viennese (Fast) Waltz and Quick Step are very fast paced and energetic.
In such dance evenings, we are doing not just dance “steps”, but also “手舞足蹈” extensively to exercise every parts of our physical body, brain and nerve systems. We move a lot, bounce a lot, spin a lot, bend and twist our body a lot, wave our arms and snap our hands out or up a lot, twist our neck a lot, sweat a lot, and drink a lot of water. The Cuban walk and Cuban motion in several Latin dances also swing our hips a lot. I have to put thick cushion insoles padding inside my dancing shoes so that the bottom of my feet can take all the pounding in such dancing practice sessions.
The gentleman has to use substantial mental effort to lead the lady well through the long sequence of complicated dance and the lady must also be mentally very alert to follow and to synchronize well with gentleman's lead.
Slower dances such as Waltz may look slow and easy. But doing International Standard Waltz well at advanced (Gold) level with very smooth wave-like up-and-down motion requires substantial strength and control of muscle in thigh, leg and ankle to be able to keep these slow and graceful movements in good control and well balanced. Practicing such slow and elegant dance at advanced level is almost like doing Chinese TaiChi exercise in sync with very beautiful and romantic Waltz music. If you have good experience in doing Chinese”站 樁功” exercise, you will understand the kind of strength and control needed to do International Waltz well and gracefully at gold level.
I have 3-hour dance class every week, 3-hour dance practice session on every Friday evening, and 2-hour social dance on every 4th Sunday evening of every month. Furthermore, our dance classmates and dance club friends also send me paper flyers or e-mail announcements of various other dance parties to participate. Some of these dance parties are charity fund raising parties where we donate some money to the charity organizations (e.g., American Cancer Society, education funds for schools in poor rural areas, etc.) while enjoying ballroom dancing.
It makes you feel very good after such 3 hours of very energetic dancing exercise.
After 6 years, now I am learning more advanced new skills to deal with traffic jam on dancing floor with big crowd that interrupt my familiar dance routine frequently, skills to lead my partner to get around the traffic jam to continue dancing smoothly and gracefully.
6. New Dimension in Music Enjoyment
In previous years before I learned ballroom dancing, my enjoyment of music was mostly confined to classical music. However, after I learned ballroom dancing well, a whole new dimension of music enjoyment opens up for me.
When I hear the romantic dancing music, practically every cell in my body is resonating and dancing with the music. It is a very deep and whole body enjoyment of the dancing music. It enhances the quality of life by adding this new dimension of enjoyment.
7. Synergistic Benefits of Combining Exercise with Nice Music
An article in the Health Section of cnn.com on March 25, 2004:
indicates that a study in the Ohio State University on 33 men and women shows that doing exercise while listening to nice music pumps up brainpower substantially as compared to doing exercise without music. The test scores of verbal fluency test doubled after the exercisers listen to nice music while doing exercise as compared to the case of doing exercise without the nice music. The combination of music and exercise may stimulate and increase cognitive arousal while helping to organize cognitive output. The result of this study was published in the Journal Heart & Lung.
Therefore, ballroom dancing is very beneficial to the mental health of senior people through at least 3 mechanisms: (A) substantial mental exercise to keep your mind sharp as described in Sections 1, (B) a nimble body promotes a nimble mind as discovered in several studies, and (C) synergistic benefit of combining exercise with nice music.
8. Exercise and Life Extension
According to the December 2004 Issue of Health After 50 - Johns Hopkins Medical Letter, a large study from Sweden has found that even modest exercise in people aged 65 or older is associated with a longer life. The authors of the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, questioned 3,206 men and women about their activity levels. Over a mean follow-up of 12 years, people who exercised once or twice a week at different intensities had a 42 % lower mortality risk then inactive people.
9. Summaries and Concluding Remark
The benefits of ballroom dancing for retired senior people are:
A. Good physical exercise for longer and healthy life, B. Good mental exercise to keep your mind sharp, C. A frequent advice from doctors is: “Use it or lose it”. Ballroom dancing exercises both your physical and mental facilities very well to keep both of them in good shape. D. Dancing with your lovely partner together under very romantic music and atmosphere is much more fun, enjoyable and romantic than doing exercise alone, E. You get more friends and classmates with a common interest on ballroom dancing and exercise. I am now a member of a (Chinese) Happy Dance Club with many friends in the club. F. You can participate and actively enjoy more social events with dancing instead of being just like another piece of passive furniture in the party room. G. Adding a whole new dimension of music enjoyment to enhance your quality of life. H. Can be done regularly without being interrupted by the bad weather such as rain, cold weather or snow.
If you believe that exercise is good for your physical and mental health, why not enjoy ballroom dancing exercise with your sweetheart under very romantic atmosphere and music so that both can benefit simultaneously?