By JOLIE HIGAZI
Dance is an art form, but it also offers numerous benefits for people of all ages.
For Gladisa Guadalupe, Artistic Director of Cleveland Ballet, it’s pretty much a certainty that dance students walk away with their lives changed in some way. “From my 44 + years of experience, I do know that everyone, whether young or mature, that has been exposed to dance has had a positive outcome,” she said.
At the Thrive Arts Center in Beachwood there was a four-year-old student who was missing connection, responsibility, and strong friendships and was struggling as a result. Through dance teachers patiently working with her, she opened up a bit more every class until eventually she was collaborating with the other dancers and gained a tremendous amount of confidence.
“Her confident smile lit up the stage at the spring recital!” said Cathy Huser, Co-Director of the Thrive Arts Center. “Dance has given her a feeling of belonging. She feels supported, respected, and loves to express herself through movement. Dance has given her a foundation of emotional and social skills to grow on,” she added.
Dance, however, is not always as easy and graceful as it looks. “People look at dance as an art, forgetting the athleticism involved building physical and mental strength. The camaraderie in the classes also builds a person’s social network and confidence for children and adults, men and women,” said Courtney Laves-Mearini, Executive and Artistic Director of Cleveland City Dance.
Dr. Michael Krasnyansky, President and CEO of the Cleveland Ballet agrees. “Dancers have to maintain a very healthy lifestyle in terms of healthy eating, discipline, physical and mental health, preventing injuries, and taking care of their bodies, including physical therapies.”
“For children who have also struggled with school sports, they have found that the dance athleticism has helped them with coordination and strength, and the confidence to be less afraid of school sports,” said Courtney.
“By allowing your feelings to come out through your movements, dance helps you become more empathic because you get in touch with your feelings and the feelings of others. And, of course it is expressive, fun, challenging, good exercise, and can boost your “happiness” levels,” said Cathy.
Aside from overall improving quality of life, there is research that supports that dance may help offset osteoporosis and dementia.
But what if you “can’t dance”?
Our experts were unanimous on this point. “Everyone can dance,” they said.
Being a professional dancer may be one thing, but for recreational dance, there are no limits. “If you spend your time comparing yourself to others, then you are missing out on the pure joy of expressing yourself through moving your body,” Cathy said.
“You never know until you try and give it time. Everything in life takes time and effort, you can surprise yourself. Sometimes it takes finding the right style of dance, class, and teacher that fits your personality,” Courtney echoed.
Dick Blake, a renowned dance instructor and etiquette professional in Beachwood, laughs at how some people never take lessons because of fear that they won’t be good at it. “It’s like not going in the water until you know how to swim,” he laughed. “Everyone has rhythm. I have never met someone who I couldn’t teach to dance.” And that’s coming from someone who has committed his life to teaching more than one million people to dance.
Who can benefit?
All ages can benefit from dance, whether you’re two or 92! For young children and infants, it can be especially helpful as they learn coordination and movements. For parents, it can also be a great thing to do with your children.
“Dancing with your little one (baby, toddler, preschooler) can be a wonderful bonding experience that stimulates the vestibular system, which is responsible for balance and coordination. Dance every day with your little ones, and you’ll create bonding moments and memories that will last a lifetime,” said Cathy.
Dance appeals to students of all kinds and ages: health professionals, doctors, professional football players, and movie stars alike have been taught by Dick Blake, who himself is an example of how dance can keep you feeling young, fresh, and vibrant, even into your senior years. After all, Dick said, “Dance gets you in touch with your body. It makes you feel alive.”
How to get started
For someone who wants to get involved in dance who has no experience, there are plenty of places and organizations that can help you get started. If you’re looking for a place to start, most importantly, you need to be around people that make you feel comfortable.
“Find a place where you feel safe, accepted, nurtured and cared for. A place that values your uniqueness. A place with educated instructors who can help you find the type of movements that reach your heart and soul,” said Cathy.