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Whether we’re jamming to Wiz Khalifa, rocking out to 1D, or foxtrotting with our beloved, dance makes us feel physically and emotionally revitalised. And any time we could use a workout, dance is available in unlimited styles and intensities. “It is a happy way to exercise,” says Alesha B., a fifth-year undergraduate at the University of Windsor, Ontario.

1. Boost your mood, brain, and confidence

“It brightens my mood and makes me feel better about the day.”
—Courtney W., first-year graduate student, St. Clair College, Ontario

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Dance is therapeutic, emotionally and mentally as well as physically. Dancing involves a complex combination of systems in our bodies and brains—motor skills, coordination, rhythm, synchronization, and so on—according to a 2006 study of dancers’ neural activity (Cerebral Cortex). This may help explain its multiple benefits.

  • Dance improves our mood and sense of well-being, and is an effective treatment for depression and anxiety, according to a meta-analysis of 27 studies in Arts in Psychotherapy (2014).
  • Doing the tango with a partner lowered participants’ levels of the stress hormone cortisol, reported the journal Music & Medicine in 2009. In a recent survey by Student Health 101, more than one in three respondents said they had danced to relieve their stress.
  • Dancing boosts cognitive activity in the brain, preserves motor skills, and is an effective way to stave off dementia, according to a 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
  • “Over my 30 years of teaching, I have seen firsthand the positive emotional and psychological effects of time spent in the dance studio for so many people,” says Peggy Reddin, Director of Arts Education at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, Prince Edward Island.

“I dance to let out some stress and tension and just let go of my problems for a few seconds.”
—Jill L., second-year undergraduate, University of New Brunswick

“There is a release when we move to music. It’s a stress reliever, and provided the music is relaxing, it can positively impact our mood.”
—Stephen-Caleb F., third-year undergraduate, University of Windsor, Ontario

“My career as a professional dancer gives me a whole identity outside of school, which keeps me balanced and helps me keep academic stress and obligations in perspective.”
—Roxanne K., third-year graduate student, University of Toronto

“Dance is a stress release and something fun to do. After a long day at school, I’m mentally exhausted and sometimes it’s fun to do something when you don’t have to really think!”
—Cassandra H., fourth-year undergraduate, Burman University, Alberta

“It just makes me feel good! I feel connected to myself when I dance. I feel like being fully me. It calms me down when I am nervous. It brightens me up when I am down. It makes me careless of the surroundings, of the problems, of the reality...sweeps me away to another world.”
—Parri A., second-year graduate student, University of Waterloo, Ontario

2. Love your body

“Dancing makes me feel confident about my body because I feel like I’m not being judged.”
—Heather G., fifth-year undergraduate, Memorial University of Newfoundland

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Dance can help improve our body image and self-esteem, research shows.

  • Dance makes us feel better about our bodies, according to a meta-analysis
    of 27 studies in Arts in Psychotherapy (2014).
  • In a 2006 study involving 50 British teens, a six-week aerobic dance program improved participants’ body image and sense of self-worth, according to the journal Body Image.
  • Dance students benefit from seeing slideshows about dance history featuring different-sized performers, says Anna Sapozhnikov, a performing arts dance instructor in Illinois. “It really helps [students] see that any body can move.”

“Dancing is freeing. There’s something nice about just letting your body go.”
—Jordan R., fourth-year undergraduate, Trinity Western University, British Columbia

“Movements in dance make me feel proud of my body.”
—Kaylee V., second-year undergraduate, University of Guelph-Humber, Ontario

“It makes me feel good about my body and more physically capable. It also keeps me in tune with my body.”
—Ivanka Y., third-year undergraduate, University of Windsor, Ontario

3. Get fit and energized

“I do Zumba, and it’s a fun way to get cardio and also practice a few dance moves. It makes me feel more energized.”
—Silvia L., second-year graduate student, Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario

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Looking for a new workout? Dance offers a vast range of options. “Dance contributes to improved coordination, balance, and flexibility,” says Peggy Reddin, Director of Arts Education at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, Prince Edward Island. “It’s an excellent aerobic activity, improving heart and blood vessel function.”

  • Three months of low-impact aerobic dance training was as effective as cycling and jogging for weight management and aerobic fitness in overweight women according to a study in Applied Human Science.
  • Dancing for 20 minutes three times a week was more effective than traditional cardio workouts for improving heart conditions, in a 2008 study in Circulation: Heart Failure.

“I dance to get some physical exercise that is not based out of a gym or going for a run. It’s a fun way to work out and is a great stress-reliever.”
—Kaitlyn Y., second-year undergraduate, Mount Allison University, New Brunswick

“I dance for exercise and self-expression. It eases tension and makes me feel more relaxed.”
—Name withheld, first-year graduate student, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, British Columbia

“Ballroom dancing is a great, fun exercise. It’s truly the fountain of youth; look at elderly people who have ballroom danced for decades.”
—Brian T., first-year undergraduate, Tulane University, Louisiana

4. Give back or lead

“People who came in with no dance experience have really been empowered.”
—Nick, volunteer dance instructor, graduate of Indiana University

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Looking to make the world a better place?

  • Dance does this too! So says Anna Pasternak, founder of Movement Exchange, a dance outreach program connecting university chapters and communities domestically and internationally. “Movement Exchange is truly the result of my desire as a dancer to make a positive difference in our world. As a student, you have a voice and can make a difference in your local or international community [by] promoting peace-building and violence prevention,” she says.
  • To get involved locally, volunteer at an after-school dance class for kids, or become a mentor for a younger student.

“We’ve had people come in with no dance experience and now they’re leading dance workshops. They’ve really been empowered and found a home in it.”
—Nick, a volunteer at Movement Exchange (teaching capoeira, a Brazilian dance incorporating martial arts)

“I dance to have fun. Dancing makes me happy, especially if it makes people smile.”
—Samantha B., first-year undergraduate, Nova Scotia Community College—Institute of Technology Campus

“I am blessed to say I dance for my university’s dance team. It is such hard work, but I love it. It makes me feel so good to be a part of such an awesome team, and performing is just an amazing rush.”
—Brittany R., third-year undergraduate, Western Carolina University, North Carolina

“It makes me feel empowered.”
—Taylor L., third-year undergraduate, Mount Royal University, Alberta

5. Connect culturally

“Salsa dancing helps me connect with another culture.”
—Fifth-year undergraduate, University of New Brunswick, name withheld

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  • Start a local chapter of Movement Exchange, a dance outreach program connecting university chapters and communities.
  • Take flamenco lessons to complement your Spanish classes.
  • Learn about Canadian aboriginal culture through dance. Look for classes in your community.
  • Search online for unique dance events in your area.

“I like learning different types of dance (Latin, ballroom, belly dance) because they’re fun and I love having skills and knowledge.”
—Lauren M., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Waterloo, Ontario

“I find music connects people regardless of language or culture. It helps me connect with others.”
—Pamela E., third-year undergraduate, University of New Brunswick

“When I first saw people dance [hip hop], I thought, ‘I need to learn how to be like them.’”
—Tyler A., fourth-year undergraduate, Concordia College, Minnesota

“[I like to] imitate K-pop artists at home.”
—Jialing W., third-year undergraduate, University of Waterloo, Ontario

6. Express yourself

“Dance makes me feel free to express myself.”
—Carmen L., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Waterloo, Ontario

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Dance is socially liberating. “For dancers, the act of moving can connect us to the essence of what we are feeling,” says Peggy Reddin, Director of Arts Education at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, Prince Edward Island. The social effects may be particularly powerful for anxious people. “I have taught dance for years and have built my bonds with my students. The shy ones take time; however, once they get comfortable it is amazing to see what they can achieve,” says Laura Barr, a second-year undergraduate at Memorial University of Newfoundland. In a recent survey by Student Health 101, 37 percent of respondents said they had danced for self-expression. Forty-five percent said they had danced because they couldn’t resist the music and movement.

“Dance is a form of art where the mind and body become one. The body reflects the mind’s feelings and thoughts at the time.”
—Skylar H., first-year undergraduate, University of Saskatchewan

“Dance has always been a huge part of my life because it’s so expressive and artistic.”
—Heather J., second-year undergraduate, University of New Brunswick

“I love the fact that you can tell a story or portray certain body language through dance.”
—Holly A., fourth-year undergraduate, Brock University, Ontario

“Dancing is a language. You get to communicate with your dance partner without the need of speaking. I believe it to be a part of being a human being.”
—Ronann C., fourth-year undergraduate, Johns Hopkins University, Maryland

“Dancing lets me express my joy.”
—Chungman Y., graduate student, University of Waterloo, Ontario

7. Bond with others

“I dance as a way of social bonding. It is fun to use my lack of moves to make people laugh.”
—Anthony N., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Windsor, Ontario

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In a recent survey by Student Health 101, 75 percent of respondents said they have danced for social bonding—the leading reason, out of 12 options—and 34 percent said they had danced for romantic or sexual bonding. If you’re looking to dance informally with others, join a dance club or meet-up in the park, or find a flash mob.

+ Find a dance meet up

“Sometimes it’s fun to dance, whether to music or not. Usually my dancing is bad enough that it makes others laugh and is therefore socially rewarding.”
—Devon E., third-year undergraduate, Trinity Western University, British Columbia

“I usually [dance] at a club. It makes me feel good and connected with those around me.”
—Mike C., fourth-year undergraduate, Mount Royal University, Alberta

“I dance to feel connected with everyone, [to] bond with others, and have fun. It puts you in a good mood.”
—Ashley C., third-year undergraduate, University of Guelph, Ontario

“My kids and I have silly dance parties in the kitchen on a daily basis. It relieves stress and it’s fun bonding time.”
—Kathryn C., first-year undergraduate, Mount Royal University, Alberta

“A dance floor is the best place to see sides of people you haven’t seen before, like grandma killin’ it with the elbows flyin’... or momma rockin’ out to a song you’ve never heard before. I’ve really enjoyed dancing at weddings or school dances throughout the years. But especially weddings.”
—Ryan M., graduate student, Old Dominion University, Virginia

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Chelsea Dill, MA, has degrees in creative writing, and English, writing, and mass communications. She has written for digital and print publications in the US and UK. She enjoys wellness lifestyle research and devising healthy alternative cooking.