This blog subject may be a surprise to those of you who follow my posts on the topic of murder. Today I’m going to deviate from those darker, homicidal issues and talk about another of my passions – Ballroom Dancing.
Why include such a topic under “Prescription For Murder”? Because this week I’m in Rhode Island at a Ballroom Dance Camp and I’m sure my wife would have murdered me if I didn’t go. In fact, she might even consider homicide if she knew that I’m hiding out writing a blog rather than practicing my dance steps.
Actually, I love ballroom dancing and believe that I’m healthier and maybe a little smarter as a result. There’s even scientific evidence to support the “smarter” part of my belief.
A report in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that dancing was the only physical activity that offered any appreciable protection against dementia. The statistics were surprising! Golf offered 0% protection against dementia; reading, 35%; doing crossword puzzles at least four times a week, 47%; and dancing offered the greatest protection at a staggering 76%.
Studies show that dancing stimulates the cerebral cortex (that part of the brain involved in memory, attention and thought processes). With mental stimulation, the cerebral cortex goes into action and even rewires itself based on need. Repetitive activities (like a golf swing) don’t offer enough mental stimulation to help the brain remain functional.
When that concept is applied to dancing, it’s been shown that certain dances are better than others. All forms of dancing may provide cardiovascular stimulation and benefit our bodies (as is walking that golf course instead of using an electric cart) but the type of dancing that requires us to learn something new and to react continually is the most helpful to our brains.
That means the so-called “lead and follow dancing” (like waltz, foxtrot, swing, cha cha, etc.) may be the best at stimulating the cerebral cortex. Those dances require split-second decision-making for the leader to direct the partner and the partner to interpret that lead quickly into the next step.
So in addition to keeping us heart-healthy, those rapid-fire dance floor decisions stimulate our brains as well. And it doesn’t really matter if the dance is slow or fast. It’s the continued decision-making as to where our feet should go next that makes the difference, even when we’re sure that we have two left feet.
The good news is that, with some practice, we learn – and those two left feet eventually right themselves into graceful dancing.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!