Re-Claiming Wellbeing: Dancing & Learning Choreography to Improve Wellbeing
This year has been a strange one. Whilst I have continued to exercise through the medium of Zoom, or go for a socially distanced run with a friend, I haven’t been doing my go to stress relievers which are my dance classes.
I really felt throughout the winter lockdown my motivation wane. It is easy to ‘fake’ your exercise movements in front of a screen knowing the instructor can barely see you. I soon realised what I was missing was not just the social side to my exercise classes, but also the challenges learning a new dance routine brings. It allows me to switch off and I feel refreshed after a dance class. I feel like my brain and body have been cleansed of all the daily routines. Just doing aerobics, dance fit, calorie crunch, HIIT and cardiokick weren’t hitting that spot. They were keeping me ticking over physically, but not mentally. I needed to dance.
The last few weeks have been a little different. The dance studio I attend reopened its doors. I have been back doing classes with people, real people and not with a screen full of people. It felt strange as we have our own marked out box to dance in. I've never had so much room before! We are normally packed in to the studio, but at the moment numbers are limited due to covid regulations, which gives us more space to exercise in. So nearly normal I guess. Many still choose to take classes online- I get that. Being in the studio is a big step, but it suits me. I work harder. You feel more in the zone and I have noticed that not only do I work harder, I feel so much better after a class. I feel happier. I feel more like me, pre-pandemic.
So far I have managed to do one ballet class alongside the fitness classes I do. I’m no Margot Fonteyn or Dacrey Bussell so lack their gracefulness, but I like the familiarity of doing pliés, pirouettes and port de bras and pretending to be a prima ballerina. I know these movements. I danced as a child and I have the memory in my head and muscles. No choreography to learn, but I did feel like my soul was being cleansed when I did that class. In ballet you have to stand correctly and remember a lot for one simple movement. As you work through port de bras, you aren’t just moving your arms, you are performing with them, your body, your face and also trying to remember to breathe and keep your balance with the movement. It is that time, thinking about how to place an arm, angle your head, that takes you away from thinking about anything else. You also feel the music washing over you, which also helps create a space for you to feel calm. It is by putting my mind to graceful movement (or at the very least trying to look graceful) that makes me happy. Of course, ballet is great for posture, lengthening of muscles, providing strength and keeping me active, keeping my mind active, which is great for overall wellbeing.
Onto learning choreography. That starts from now. Urban Funk dance class is back. To say I’m excited is an understatement. I’m also slightly anxious. I haven’t had to put my mind to learning a new dance since last September when Urban Funk made a brief return to the studio for a couple of months. Urban is so different to ballet. It's freer. We all pretend to be in Diversity when we are dancing in our Urban class. Are we any good? Who knows, but back before the pandemic took hold, we came 1st in the freestyle adult dance section of a national dance competition with our Urban routine, and 4th overall in the competition (we came second with our show dance to One Night Only), so you can see why getting back to dancing with the dance team is important, as clearly we were doing something right. We have to try and come first again when we are allowed to compete.
Learning new choreography also allows my mind to focus on nothing else but the movements we are being taught and linking them together. It gets frustrating when I get it wrong – which is frequently – but once nailed, you hear whoops or delight and that sense of achievement is amazing. It makes me feel happy. It makes me feel like I have done something good for my wellbeing. It makes me remember that dancing is a great way to exercise. You don’t have to do loads of squats, sit ups, burpees or star jumps. Exercise should make you be able to forget the daily grind of life and afterwards feel refreshed. Dance does this for me. Normality is slowly returning and I like the steady pace of the studio reintroducing classes slowly. So I say to you, find something that heals your soul and don’t think about exercise as a means to an end of something. Find something you find fun and enjoyable. If you love to dance, come and join me! After all, I dance like no one is watching!
Written by Catherine Hewins, who leads the Diploma in Health and Social Wellbeing at Wrexham Glyndŵr University and is a senior lecturer on the wellbeing programmes.