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While We're Waiting For A Dance

by Sandi & Dan Finch

It looks like we are in this mess, i.e. the pandemic, for some time to come. The experts cannot agree on when there will be a vaccine or how effective it will be (considering the normal flu vaccine is not 100% effective). Events are still being canceled—we have just had to give up the Palmquist Palm Springs Round-Up and its 50th anniversary celebration set for September. The Colorado Gala in October has been canceled.

The big “tell” came this week when we went to book Winterfest in January 2021 at its usual location, the Cypress (CA) Senior Center. The city reserved the date—Jan. 16—but would not let us pay a deposit on the hall until there is some assurance from government officials that the hall can reopen by then.

But remember all those studies over the years that show how important dancing is for one’s overall health and mental well-being? And if there is no dancing? If nothing else, you can find a Zoom site. A new study is underway to determine if we will get those same benefits from Zoom dancing.

It seems that Zoom dance classes—legal now that cuers are securing ASCAP new media licenses—may be the only way to experience those health benefits for awhile, except for small group, reservation only, in-person classes that can secure a physical location.

The new study is being done by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York as an offshoot of a six-month study underway pre-pandemic. Helena Blumen, a cognitive neuroscientist and associate professor of medicine at the college, said a pilot study had been comparing the health effects on two groups who exercised twice a week—one group walking on a treadmill and the other social dancing. “It’s hard to get people to exercise regularly, especially older adults,” she said in a recent YouTube interview with Time for Health Talks. Dancing, she said, added a dimension that makes exercise more enjoyable and may even be better for you.

The dancers showed more improvements in tests of their cognitive functions than those working only on the treadmill, Blumen said. The social nature of working with a partner along with the intellectual skills required to learn steps and connecting movements could be contributing to those results, she said.  Dancing requires more cognitive effort “to remember where you are in space,” she added, which ramps up brain functions, which translates to better brain health.

Time For Health Talks, a project of Time magazine, included dancer Derek Hough in the interview. Hough, six times winner of the mirror ball trophy given on Dancing With The Stars and now a World of Dance judge, called dancing “artistic athletics.” When you are walking, he said, you tend to “zone out” but dancing forces you into the moment, constantly problem-solving to determine the right movement. He called dancing a jigsaw puzzle to synchronize your movements to help you and your partner maintain balance.

The remote video interview, which originally aired July 29, 2020, revealed that the study has been reinvented to see how Zoom dancing impacts the original study.

During the interview, Hough was asked what he thinks about when he is dancing. “Color,” he said. He sees color when he hears music and that translates to a feeling that inspires how he dances. He said salsas inspire bright colors, fast impact; waltzes more cool tones, mellow, dramatic.

He encouraged dancers to begin to hear the nuances in music. In the beginning, a dancer will hear the bass beats, the most obvious, but as you advance, he said, listen for the sounds of the different drums— the bass versus the snare—and any of the other instruments and the vocal, all of which might give you a different feeling and timing.

When people say to him they don’t like to dance or can’t dance, he said he asks them “when did you decide that.” That takes them by surprise. “As a kid, you enjoyed music and reacted to it,” he said. “Something happened to make you doubt that.”

The interview finished with a quick salsa teach by Derek in a garage. Anyone can do it the way he taught it. Cucaracha left and right, forward and back basic two times. Hand to hand, both directions. He even encouraged ladies to let the raised arm drop to wrap behind their head. Cuban breaks, roll 3, a shimmy, a grapevine and something he called a Beyonce move. Voila, designed to get anyone moving.

This is nothing new—the only question is whether you get the same benefits from Zooming. Many studies over the years have shown the physical fitness benefits of social dancing. You can burn 300-400 calories an hour doing what we do.

There is also that mental aspect—a euphoria like a runner’s high that comes from the release of endorphins—reduced stress and decrease in blood pressure. Studies have also shown dancing improves short term memory and reduces the risk of dementia better than almost all other physical activities and even working crossword puzzles.

No question that dancing is social. It now can provide a needed connection between people in a world where we are more and more disconnected, with working and learning from home, social distancing, and keeping our facial expressions—a major form of communication—hidden behind masks. Whether we like it or not, Zoom dancing is here, and maybe w should be thankful for that.
Get Up & Dance
Some of us are coming down with coccygodnia. It will be recognized as one of the pandemic diseases, a rare condition also known as “TV bottom,” caused by prolonged sitting in front of the TV— especially in bad positions—that results in poor posture and lower backaches.

Symptoms are said to improve by standing or walking. So, get up, get moving, better yet, get dancing. Most of us are watching too many movies, too many sports events now that football, baseball, golf and basketball are all trying to have their much-delayed championships, and maybe too many cooking shows. Over the past six months of the pandemic, we have cleaned out closets, reorganized files, considered taking up new hobbies, and resorted to TV, initially to keep up to date on infection numbers, the latest shut-down or reopening news, or where the latest surge is occurring.

Sitting too long, especially slouching, puts pressure on the sacrum and coccyx, those bony structures at the bottom of the spine. With that, the sciatic nerve can be impinged, and then you have pain in the lower back, hips and legs. We slump and our shoulders sag, heads protrude and our core disappears. Coccygodnia (it is a real thing, look it up) most often has occurred from a fall, such as while skiing, being thrown from a horse, or hitting the frame when bouncing on a trampoline. But that was before the pandemic set in.

If you aren’t ready to venture out for one of the dances/classes now starting to be offered around the country, and if Zoom dancing isn’t your speed, just get up and exercise to good music. [As with any exercise program, be sure you have no medical condition that would be exacerbated by exercise before trying these.]

To strengthen and limber the spine, put on some foxtrot music, stand with feet parallel, hands on hips. Keeping back and knees straight, bend your torso to the right, then forward, to the left and back, counting 1-2-3-4, in one measure of music. Do it the opposite way, then repeat several times. Do it again, this time bringing your left arm up overhead as you bend to the right, let both arms dangle as you bend forward. Straighten, then bend to the left, letting right arm go up overhead.

Put on some tango music. Step forward with the right foot, twisting your body so that your left shoulder comes forward. Walk forward onto the left foot, twisting your body so that your right shoulder comes forward. Do eight steps. These exaggerated walks are walking into contra body movement position (CBMP) that occur in many figures. Do it going backward, which is important for ladies to recognize the feel when dancing in closed position.

Exercise those knees with simple lowering, important for good rise and fall and for taking strain off the back. Do this whenever you lift anything, to spare your back.

For the purpose of exercise, stand as though a plumb line dropped from your ears, through your collar bone and ribs, to your hips, knees, and to the arch in your foot. Count 1-2-3-4 to foxtrot music as you flex through the knee to lower while keeping your back straight and the plumb line in place. Rise to a count of 4. Your heels can release from the floor as you lower.

Work on your balance. Put on some salsa or mambo music. Stand with feet together, arms up as in frame. Step to the side on count 1; as you slightly bend the standing leg, make a small circle forward, out and around with the other foot on count 2, take weight with the circling foot on count 3, and circle the other foot forward, out and around.

With waltz music, thinking of balance, stand with arms as in frame, feet together. Reach back with the right leg, stretching the foot and holding it slightly off the floor for a measure (1-2-3). Step onto that foot. Repeat, reaching back with the left.

We can all use this time to work on our foxtrot footwork. By that I mean the heel toe, heel toe, toe heel of the basic Three Step (when man does that footwork) and Back Three Step (when lady does it). In the Three Step, lady steps back three steps toe heel, toe heel, toe heel. This is the man’s footwork going back in the Back Three Step (or the second measure of a Reverse Wave).

It doesn’t take boring gym exercises to maintain your balance, protect your back, and achieve a body discipline that will improve your figure control. You just have to get up off the couch and do it.


From club newsletters, August & September 2020, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, October 2020. Find a DRDC Finch archive here.


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If you would like to read other articles on dance position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit the article TOC.



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