Does dancing improve you as a human being? For most of us, I’d say yes.

Learning to dance offers unique opportunities no other activity can provide. If you choose to take advantage of those opportunities, you can kick a whole lot more ass in life.

green lantern by jd hancock flickr

What would it mean to kick more ass in your life? It could mean that you learn more quickly. It could mean that you have more energy for the things you want to do. It could mean that you adapt to change and bounce back more easily from stress.

It could also mean you connect better with people. Or that you’re more confident and less socially anxious.

But there are no guarantees. Becoming a better person is not something that is automatically awarded to you by virtue of taking dance classes, or by busting out your collection of six moves on the dance floor every night.

If you want a zero-effort method to improving your life, look elsewhere (and perhaps adjust your attitude).

If you want a fun method that requires some patience and hard work, you can’t beat dancing. Especially social dancing, which can fascinate you for years.

So what are these “side benefits” of dancing? Step into Professor Brightly’s office and consider these four fabulous opportunities dancing can give you:

Improve Your Mind

Exercise does amazing things for your mind. It improves your memory, reduces stress and anxiety, helps you sleep better, and it’s more fun than you predict.

Dancing in particular can quickly bring you into a state of euphoria much like that induced by recreational drugs (which of course I would not know from first-hand experience).

RebeccaPaul-12

Why? Because in dancing you express yourself. You create art. You connect with music and your partner. Dancing engages another part of your brain that swimming, running, bowling, bobsledding, and caber tossing do not.

Over the long term, these changes can add up. What will your life be like when you engage your mind through dancing for several years?

Improve Your Body

Dancing requires moving your body in completely new ways. Coordination, conditioning, increased resilience. All of this (and more!) can be yours when you become a dancer.

Improved balance and faster reflexes have saved me half a dozen sprained ankles over the years. My tag line could be: “Still klutzy, but now with more grace!”

Overcome More Roadblocks

roadblock by supervillian flickr

In my style of dance (lindy hop), we’re mostly a bunch of young, white, middle class, chair-dwellers. Here’s the first roadblock we must overcome: How in the hell do I coordinate my body parts to create some vague impression of swing dancing??

Later on, when you think you’ve got something down perfectly, you’ll take a private lesson and find out 8 things you can improve!

Oh, the pressure! How do you deal with it? You’ve got to have a sense of humor. A while back, a friend created a Facebook group called “There Are No Good Pictures of Me Dancing.” Hundreds joined and posted awkward photos of themselves dancing.

In dancing, challenges are thrown your way again and again. The difference is that classes and social dances are much more of a controlled environment. No one is getting cancer, your house is not burning down. It’s just dancing, and you have a teacher there to help you out. (You can also try The Beginner Dancer’s Survival Guide.)

By overcoming these small challenges, you learn a process for accomplishing hard things. That leads to greater confidence, a healthy dose of humility, and deeper self-knowledge.

Develop Your Posse

It’s more fun to overcome roadblocks when you’re doing it with friends. It’s also SO much easier and faster when you have people to support you.

How can your friends help you improve yourself? “…Manipulating context is the most powerful method of change, and who we spend time with—who influences us on a daily basis—may be the most powerful form of manipulating context.”

Social dancing is the quickest way to meet good people to positively influence you.

If lindy hoppers aren’t your type, you can also try tango, west coast swing, blues, balboa, or any other social dance. The key is to explore the “social” side of social dancing. Don’t just take classes. Go to social dances. Introduce yourself to people. Ask questions about them. Figure out whether you have things in common. Do you like these people? Do you respect these people?

If you don’t feel a connection after a couple months, try a different dance. Maybe social dancing isn’t your thing, and you really want to try b-boying or belly dancing. Every dance has its own community; which do you fit into? Go find out!

Bottom Line

For those of us who give dancing some time and effort, we know our lives are on an upward path. Every week, I discover a new way to apply what I’ve learned in dancing to another area of my life.

How awesome will you become?

If you’re a dancer, leave a comment and tell me one thing dancing has done for you.

Photo credits: JD Hancock (Green Lantern), Cindy Yetman (Rebecca and Paul), Jarkko Laine (roadblock)