Want to Have Fun, Get Fit & Burn Mega Calories? 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.
If you received this via email, click here, to get to the web version. LOTS of photos & links!
Want to feel like you're a kid again?
How about hooping & hollering in public? And I'm not talking about sporting events!
Remembering skipping, spinning around like a whirling dervish, & laughing so hard you almost had run to the bathroom?
How about listening to live fiddle, banjo, guitar, & bass Bluegrass music, too?
And what if I told you that you could also burn almost 1000 calories on a Saturday night just having good old-fashioned fun?
Honestly, this is play-time for grown-ups, pure & simple--and kids of all ages. It's impossible to not have a good time!
You Should Have Joined Us at the Silver Anniversary of the Tree Tapper's Ball Last Saturday Night!
Last Saturday night was the 25th Anniversary of the Tree Tapper's Ball. That's a big deal! Translation: A big old-fashioned 3 hour Square Dance to celebrate the start of maple sugaring season. All ages. All kinds of folks with big smiles on their faces--all evening long.
Who Could Resist This Invitation for Fun?
"The Tree Tapper’s Ball has always featured live old-time string music.
If you square danced in middle school or junior high, now’s a good time to thank your old gym teacher for making you hold hands and dance with members of the opposite sex, Senior Naturalist Dan Best joked.
“It’s the most fun dance west of the Appalachians!” declares Bob Smakula, a professional instrument repairman and champion string musician from Elkins, West Virginia, who has called 22 of the past 24 balls.
This year, the "Wild Spiles" are tuning up to provide rip-snortin’ old-time string band music on fiddle, claw hammer, banjo, mandolin, guitar, and bass.
Steps will combine Appalachian-style square and New England-style line dances.
And last year plenty of smiles and laughter could also be seen and heard with fumbled allemande lefts, mis-stepped promenades and swings lost to centrifugal force – it’s all part of the fun!"
It was 3 hours of old-fashioned, high-energy, foot-stomping, belly laughing, promenading, spinning, circling, & allemande lefting fun. The 1000 calories burned was a side benefit. Just for the heck of it, I strapped on my heart rate monitor to see how many calories are burned squaring dancing.
Can't wait until the first Saturday in April. That's the next dance event--Contra Dancing! We want more of this dancing action!
Guests Even Came from as Far Away as Germany & Canada
The Girls (and the Guys) Just Wanna Have Fun - Square Dancing Has It All: Joy, Fun, Friendship, Music, Laughter, Exercise & More
My photos from this year's dance are all a blur. Spinning/twirling dancers are impossible to photograph on an iPhone. Aargh!
You'll have to settle for photos from the Tree Tapper's Ball of 2011. Nothing much has changed.
Same caller. The band has a new name. Same dances. Lots of the same dancers. And always loads of fun!
My Back Story:
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 to the ball! The thing is--you can't delay--or you get closed out. There's only room for 225 people. You snooze, you lose. 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 (this isn't everyone's cup-of-tea)--and since I could only make reservations for 8--the first 3 couples to respond were in!
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 The Wild Spiles 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.
In addition to the friends we came with, we got to also dance with new friends: Johanna, Sarah, Tom, Doug, Dottie, Cindy & that's the limit of the names I remember!
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, The Wild Spiles, 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! This year I strapped on my heart monitor to see how many calories I would burn. 1000!!