I recently received my alma mater’s College of Visual and Performing Arts newsletter and was blown away by the enriching work of a former classmate.
It is becoming common knowledge, thank goodness, that the arts are vital to the proper mental and physical development of our youth as well as the maintenance of a high quality of life for our aging population.
My classmate Emily McKinney, a junior at Radford University, took advantage of the university’s class and degree offerings to combine two of her loves: dance and teaching children with disabilities.
Specifically, she teaches private and/or small group dance classes to autistic children in the community around Radford. Her work has given children who have difficulties communicating and expressing themselves an instrument to “be their true selves.”
Despite the challenges she faces working with them, Emily knows patience and careful guidance help her dance students discover immense amounts of joy that would seem otherwise impossible.
In addition to these findings and personal accounts, I found it interesting that the same is applied for the elderly, namely patients being treated for dementia and Alzheimer’s.
In a study led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, published in the New England Journal of Medicine and summarized by Richard Powers on his blog, researchers found that frequent participation in dance has a 76% chance of maintaining and restoring memory!
Dance improved patients’ statuses better than reading (35%), bicycling and swimming (0%), doing crossword puzzles (47%), and playing golf (0%).
What makes dance different from playing golf?
Dance requires “Split Second Rapid-Fire Decision Making.” This manner of decision-making physically etches new neural pathways into the brain, literally stopping/preventing the creation of blocked and overused pathways. (This is noted by Laura Wilson Mau, a Registered Dance/Movement Therapist.)
Split Second Rapid-Fire Decision Making is especially applicable to ballroom and improvisation dance—the dance form Emily uses with her students.
As the study highlights, it is rare to see the exact same ballroom dance pattern repeated over and over again; instead, partners take what they know of ballroom technique and enhance it by mixing up patterns with natural movement. Improvisation dance is very similar in that the dancer uses steps and techniques they know and perform by naturally sequencing and connecting their movements.
What other studies have you seen that demonstrate that the arts help to improve quality of life, maintenance of memory, and/or truer means of communication? Share with us in the comments below.