Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A case for dancing: five reasons to get groovy

I did not dance until I was 24 years old. Those 24 years were good years, but they weren't without angst.

Every time I heard a pulsing beat, my inner, imaginary dance diva began to tap her toes till her torso swayed. The next thing I knew she was flying feverishly across the dance floor, spinning and dipping to the music. She was a sight to behold. But behold her was all I did; I never joined her.

My inner diva was compelling, to be sure; but she wasn't as compelling as my inhibitions. "I have no idea what I'm doing" I'd whisper when she urged me to join her. "I don't want to make a fool out of myself." So I let her do her thing while I sat quietly, occasionally allowing myself to sway timidly to the music.

But the pain. Oh, the physical and spiritual pain of sitting still to music that made my heart pound with adrenaline and my soul swell with longing to just.move. Self-doubt has a way of precluding all sorts pleasure and joy.

And then one day, when I was 24, I defied my inhibitions (take that, you silly, false beliefs!) and signed up for a salsa dance class at my town's small community center. My roommate at the time joined me, and together we learned to spin, dip, and follow a lead. And I discovered that dance combined two of my heart's deepest joys: athleticism and music. It was love at first dance.

One of my first salsa dance lessons back in 2009

Since then, I've also dabbled in swing dance, two-stepping, and wedding reception free styling, but I've not gotten good at any form of dance. I've been either too busy with grad school or too incapacitated by illness to get beyond the "I have no idea what I'm doing, but boy this is fun!" stage. But that's okay. Dancing, for me, has not been about mastery and performance. Instead, it has been about personal growth. It has facilitated emotional and physical healing, and has taught me to live more freely and fully.

It turns out dancing, whether in a group, alone, or with a partner, is one of life's greatest gifts. And so, today, I give you a five reasons why you should put on some music and get low, low, low, loooow.

1. Dance helps us to live in the moment instead of the land of "If Only." I'm inclined to take frequent trips to the land of If Only: "If only my life were different"; "If only I hadn't screwed up at work yesterday"; "If only I had more bacon." But when I dance I'm present in my body, in this moment, and I remember why right here and now is the best place to be.

2. Dance causes your body to release endorphins. Endorphins are magical things. They reduce stress and your body's perception of pain, and they increase increase feelings of well-being. They're essentially your body's natural anti-depressant.

3. Sometimes, the best way to eradicate inhibitions is to defy them — when they tell you to do something, go and do the exact opposite. Inhibitions are often rooted in shame. They're a defense mechanism that helps us cover up the parts of ourselves that don't seem acceptable or worthy. But when we bravely bare those "unacceptable" and "unworthy" parts of us, we discover our inhibitions are really just blindfolds preventing us from seeing our worth, and shackles keeping us from living life to the fullest. Dancing, especially in a group, requires vulnerability; and vulnerability, when practiced with safe people and met with acceptance, chases away shame. When we bare the parts of us that we're used to covering and people still accept us, it teaches us we're more okay than we realized. That's when our inhibitions begin to crumble.

4. Dance teaches us that our bodies are our friends. I've spent a lot of my adult life criticizing my body's external imperfections. When I got sick, I began to criticize my body's internal inadequacies. My body has often felt like the enemy. But when I dance, I remember that my body is a vessel that opens me to grace. Without my body, I'd never be able to hear pulsing Latin rhythms or twangy country tunes. Without my body, I'd never be able to spin when the music accelerates or sway when it slows. I'd never be able to sweat, or laugh with my dance partners, or feel those endorphins. Our bodies are our grace vessels — our friends.

5.  Dance cultivates solidarity. A group of humans grooving on the dance floor can remind us that we're all the same — we all have the same capacity to enjoy beauty and goodness, to express and create, and to relate to each other with enthusiasm and vulnerability. We're not just animals; we're sacred and unique souls. We're worth celebrating. And let me tell you: dancing is one of the BEST ways to celebrate!

So there you have it, friends: a case for dancing. And hey, if you're new to this whole dancing thing, maybe start by dancing alone in your room (in your "stretchy pants," obviously (name that movie)) before working your way up to a group dance. And when you're ready for a group dance, give me a call. I want to come join you.

For those of you who can't dance because of physical limitations: these limitations can be so discouraging, but I've found a way to enjoy dance in spite of them. Here's what I do when my body's not well enough to dance: I watch other people dance (Youtube!) and then I close my eyes and imagine myself dancing. It helps! It really, does.

Cheering for you, Skillets,


© by scj


  1. Agreed!

    I would like to submit two additional pieces of evidence in support of your argument.
    Exhibit A:
    Exhibit B:

    I want to see you in a segment in those two videos.

    1. Onlytheloversings,

      Yes! Some super groovy tunes. And some seriously impressive sign spinning skills... The ol' sign spin is a move I've not even attempted yet. Feel free to share any tips if you're a sign spinning pro...


  2. Replies
    1. We haaaave a winner, ladies and gentlemen!