L to R: My Husband, Jeannie, George, The Healthy Librarian, & Mark--Want to Have Fun? Go Square Dancing!
"All cultures dance. You don't have to teach people to dance. Basically people learn not to dance."
-Choreographer Mark Morris, at the keynote address for the 2008 Society for Neuroscience Conference-
"As a dance critic for some twenty-five years, I've long been aware that choreographers and dancers seem to age, mentally and physically, so much more slowly than the rest of us.
What is the connection between how dancers spin magic out of intricate physical movement and how they keep their cells humming along vigorously well into their eighties and nineties?
What are the mechanisms that keep their brains, muscles, bones, and organs so much more vital and active than the same parts in the rest of us?
Dancing....combines many of the elements of longevity revealed in the latest scientific research on stress and aging:
- Intensely focused mental and physical attention
- Grappling with novelty--to build new neural pathways rather than just etch existing ones deeper
- Aerobic and resistance exercise together
- The elimination of abdominal fat
- Dealing with risk, but within a controlled environment
- Meditative practices--talk about mindfulness!
- A sense of spirituality
- Powerful social relationships
- Eating healthful diets rich in fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
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No joke. For 23 years I've been wanting to go to the Tree Tapper's Ball--a community square dance that celebrates the annual tapping of the maple trees. And just so you know (after the "Bitter Truth of Sugar" post)--my vote for the healthiest sweetener goes to maple syrup--because of its great taste, minerals & low fructose content.
This year, I was going to make sure that I made it the dance! As soon as I learned of the date for this year's dance, I sent out emails to friends I thought would enjoy an old-fashioned country square dance--and since I could only make reservations for 8--the first 3 couples to respond were in!
The announcement read: Celebrate the maple season with our ever-popular, old-fashioned square dance. Novices needn't feel like saps: all dances are taught in fun fashion.
A Few Brix Shy provides rip-snortin' old-time string band music for roof-raisin' entertainment.
Hands-Down - A Hoe Down is One of the Best Ways to Feel Like a Ten-Year Old Again!
The Guy on the Far Right? My Husband (looking like he's 10 years old) Having a Laughing Fit
The Magic Three of Square Dancing
1. It's just plain fun--Dr. Stuart Brown, the physician founder of the National Institute for Play, firmly believes that adults need to play as much as children do. Without it, we risk becoming depressed, rigid, unable to problem-solve, unsympathetic to others and humorless. Who wants that to happen? Read more about Brown's views on the importance of play in the New York Times, "Taking Play Seriously"
2. Music & Laughter are so good for the heart--and the soul. Music, like laughter benefits the heart. According to Dr. Michael Miller of the University of Maryland, if you're listening to music that makes you feel "joyful or euphoric"--like the bluegrass music that Two Brix Shy played at the Tree Tapper's Ball, your blood vessels will dilate 26%, improving blood flow--which is an effect similar to that of exercise. But, wait--dance is exercise--does that mean we had a 52% improvement in blood flow? Miller says: "The inner lining of the blood vessels--the endothelium--serves as the gatekeeper to vascular health." Keep them dilated & keep them healthy.
3. The element of touch. Do-Si-Do. Alamande Left. Promenade. Swing Your Partner. Square dancing is definitely "touch" dancing--and you're not just dancing with the partner you came with--you're dancing with everyone in your square, so there's plenty of touch. "The Research Behind the Benefits of a Little Touch - High Fives, a Pat on the Back, a Touch of the Arm"
Humans thrive on touch--and what better way to connect with friends--and strangers, for that matter, than through the casual touch of dance? Touch releases oxytocin--the hormone that creates a sense of trust--and reduces cortisol levels--the hormone of stress. When oxytocin is released through touch, we relax, we feel good, we feel bonded.
Here's the thing about square dancing--or contra dancing. All those things you loved to do as a kid--you'll find them all on the dance floor!
- Spinning Around. Remember how much fun it was to spin around and around purposely making yourself dizzy? Go square dancing--every time the caller says, "Swing your partner!" you can spin around like crazy, if you like. At least that's how we like to do it.
- Rolling down hills. Remember how much fun it was to roll down a big hill as a kid? You'll get that same feeling when you square dance.
- Screaming for Fun. Remember how much fun it was to scream at the top of your lungs--hoop & holler? Every individual dance begins and ends with everyone holding hands in a circle and coming into the center to let out a loud "Woo Hoo". Lots of screaming to stimulate the sacculus--the pleasure organ of the inner ear!
- Getting all mixed up & not worrying one bit about it, because you're a kid. Remember how much fun it was to mix up your left from your right, go one way when everyone else was going the other way? Get all mixed up, and no one blamed you--you all just laughed? Go square dancing!
- Laughing so hard. Remember how much fun it was to laugh so hard you could hardly breathe--or worse? Go square dancing.
- Active kid games. It's like playing tag, statues, London Bridges, Crack the Whip, Duck Duck Goose all rolled into one--and you don't have to know a thing about square dancing to do it! It's the caller's job to teach you!
- Running & skipping. Remember feeling just pure joy from running or skipping and hanging out with your friends? Go square dancing!
Every single one of us had a blast--and danced non-stop for three hours. Even the folks sitting on the sidelines had smiles on their faces watching everyone else makes fools of themselves. It was freezing outside--but we were sweating buckets on the inside! Not a drop of alcohol was served--just old-fashioned lemonade and plain old water.
Dr. Stuart Brown and the National Institute for Play
Dr. Stuart Brown, is a physician and researcher, who is the founder of the National Institute for Play.
He firmly believes that adults need to play as much as children do. Without it, we risk becoming depressed, rigid, unable to problem-solve, unsympathetic to others and humorless. Don't want that to happen!
I first learned about his research almost three years ago on Krista Tipppett's award-winnig Public Radio "Speaking of Faith" broadcast, called, "Play, Spirit, and Character". Brown totally captivated me--because frankly, once we grow up it really is so easy to leave the world of play behind.
After studying both animals, infants, and children at play, Brown is convinced that it's through play that we learn how to get along, how to forge friendships, develop empathy, trust, irony, problem-solving, and how to just "blow off steam."
"When one really doesn't play at all or very little in adulthood, there are consequences: rigidities, depression, no irony — things that are pretty important, that enable us to cope in a world of many demands."
"Sometimes, I have to realize that wherever I feel stuck, it's often a cue to start playing. And it's as if play can actually open my mind again, actually help to reinvigorate the work that I'm doing." from Speaking of Faith, "Play, Spirit, and Character".
The Roots of Play - What We Learn in Infancy & Childhood
According to Dr. Stuart Brown, if you're lucky enough to have a normal childhood, you learn early the basic elements of play--and for the rest of your life, when you're feeling pure exuberance and joy--it's likely that you're revisiting one of these elements.
Interesting how these three elements are integral parts of dance!
1. Attunement Play: When you dance, you have to make eye contact with your partner(s). You have to get in sync with each other. And if you don't want to get dizzy when you spin or swing around--you have to stare straight into each other's eyes. "When an infant makes eye contact with her mother, each experiences a spontaneous surge of emotion (joy). The baby responds with a radiant smile, the mother with her own smile and rhythmic vocalizations (baby talk). This is the grounding base of the state-of-play. It is known, through EEG and other imaging technologies, that the right cerebral cortex, which organizes emotional control is “attuned” in both infant and mother."
2. Body Play and Movement: What's dance? It's movement & play. "If you don’t understand human movement, you won’t really understand yourself or play. If you do, you will reap the benefits of play in your body, personal life and work situations. Learning about self movement structures an individual’s knowledge of the world - it is a way of knowing, and we actually, through movement and play, think in motion. For example the play-driven movement of leaping upward is a lesson about gravity as well as one’s body. And it lights up the brain and fosters learning. Innovation, flexibility, adaptability, resilience, have their roots in movement. The play driven pleasures associated with exploratory body movements, rhythmic early speech (moving vocal cords), locomotor and rotational activity - are done for their own sake; pleasurable, and intrinsically playful. They sculpt the brain, and ready the player for the unexpected and unusual."
3. Social Play: Dance is nothing more than social play. "The urge to play with others, in addition to being fun, is often driven by the desire to be accepted, to belong. Kids start this process by “parallel” play, i. e., without much consciousness of the feelings or status of the play partner. But as development proceeds, friendships happen, empathy for another is felt, with mutual play as the crucible in which it becomes refined. Group loyalty and affection ensues, and with it the rudiments of a functioning community. In animals, affiliative play appears to be kindled by the release of certain hormones and neurotransmitters, but it requires the experience of play to make “belonging” occur.
What's Up With My Love of Square Dancing?
Bob Howell, educator, ski instructor, life-long square-dance caller
Junior High assistant principals are supposed to be the "Enforcers". The ones who keep kids in line, and dole out the detentions & suspensions.
How lucky for us that our junior high of the 1960's had someone like Bob Howell as the Assistant Principal. Funny, firm, kind, easy-going, and always wearing his signature red socks. Just so happens that he was also a professonal square dance caller--so everyone who went to my quasi-urban junior high school learned how to square dance--and learned how much fun it was!
Mr. Howell got me hooked as a pre-teen. And when I set out to write today about how much fun we all had at "The Tree Tapper's Ball", I remembered Bob Howell--who was still teaching skiing & square dancing well into his seventies or maybe even his eighties. He passed away March, 2010, at 87.
"Howell has traveled the world putting the fun back into square dancing. He's cued dancers to promenade in the South Pacific, allemande in Australia, and swing their partner in Sweden.
I go back to the roots - the basic stuff - that's where the fun is. Keep it simple, keep it folk.
He's taught nursing home residents confined to wheelchairs to do solo dances like "Alley Cat". And he's shared sashays with the severly mentally retarded, who pen green and red dots on their hands to keep left and right straight. He's even taught a precision unicycle team to square dance - on unicycles.
One of Howell's most memorable jobs was calling for a group of foreign exchange students who had just arrived from Nigeria, Japan, Poland, Trinidad, and other countries. He vividly recalls a beautiful Indian woman dressed in a silk sari, red dot on her forehead, a diamond stud piercing her nostril.
She came into the circle and had to swing her corner, and she froze. He was a Pakistani - an untouchable. He froze, too.
After a few tense moments, the man and woman joined hands and danced together the rest of the evening. Howell sees it as only one of the many miracles that dance can bring about.
At home, they'd be shooting at one another, here, they're holding hands. The world has to dance. Dance together and we're going to get along." Source: "His calling is the Dance" Plain Dealer, January 29, 1993.
This Snake Dance Got Faster & Faster & Coiled Up Tightly
Under, Over, Inside Out - A Sure-Fire Recipe for Rotator Cuff Injury and Laughter
The Motley Blue Grass Band, A Few Brix Shy, led by the Master Square Dance Caller Bob Smakula from Elkins, West Virginia
Janet & George, "Swing Your Corner"
About to Collide with Another Couple During the Virginia Reel
A Little Bit of Acrobatics
The Pure Joy of Dance
George and Laurie
Group Hug? No--It's a Dance Move. Women's Arms Around the Men. The Men's Arms Around the Women. Then You Spin Around & Around as Fast as You Can! Oh, Baby Is That Fun!
1. Learn to Dance - from: "Happy Anniversary - Secrets of a Good Marriage - Luck, the 5-1 Ratio & Bill Murray's Groundhog Day"
2. More Dancing, Singing, Laughing, Playing, Schmoozing, and Mahjing. What's the point of staying healthy without having fun? That's the reason we work at staying healthy. Cool fact: There's a little organ deep in the ear, called the sacculus--and it gives us a great sense of pleasure and well-being when it's stimulated. But, it can only be stimulated through singing! That's why it was so much fun to hoop & holler before & after every dance! From: "The Report Card on the Healthy Librarian's 2010 Simple Strategies for Staying Healthy and Happy - What's Working, What's Not, What's New for 2011?"
3. Why sit on the sidelines watching everyone else dance? Trust me, no one is watching you--just get out there and have a good time! We're now checking the calendar for upcoming square and contra dances! Get those dancin' shoes on!
4. It's a 2-fer--Have Fun & Burn Calories-my friend Snez dances regularly, and often clips on her step counter at dances--she regularly logs in over 18,000 steps during an evening, just having fun! Can't beat that!