WHO IS AFRAID OF DANCING? July, 2018
I was. Until I put on my cowboy hat, I mean my Rational Hat. That was 7 years ago and after 4 years of Christine’s constructive nagging.
What did my hat tell me? My rational hat told me that as we grow older, it’s better to do low impact exercise. Check. We need to practice balance. Check. Be socially active. Check. Need to continue to engage our brain. Check (especially with line dancing where every dance is choreographed to a specific song and must be memorized). That was a stunning score of 4 to nil!
I found no excuse not to go to the local YMCA and at least check out the beginner line dance course. I went reluctantly, I tried, and I got hooked. Credit goes also to Miriam, a great teacher and a wonderful person, who made it seem so easy.
At that time, I had no idea that my reluctant trip to the YCMA, the result of a cascade of rational decision making steps, would bring me so much joy. Only later, did I learn about clinical studies, that suggest significant benefits of dancing. More on this later.
In the meantime, I am addicted, in a good sense, and have long crossed the chasm of no return! I even remember when I had reached the point of no return. That was when I had realized that I can dance "It's America (video of me dancing)", a beginner level dance that remains one of my favorites.
STARKS October, 2018
Starks is the place of our bi-weekly social dance. On a recent such evening, this couple watched us while having dinner. They enjoyed it so much that they stuck around for the entire evening - cheering us up, and occasionally letting us know how good we were!
Photo Credit Judy Huftel
A POETRY IN MOVEMENT AND A PERMISSION TO BE SILLY October, 2018
As I started to learn line dancing, I became aware of an analogy between learning a dance and learning a new language. A line dance choreography is a sequence of moves (steps, turns, touches, etc.), which are divided in subsets. This is similar to a sequence of words (subsets) made from alphabets (moves). Memorizing a short paragraph consisting of words with an alphabet count of 100, for example, can be relatively easy if you know the language and its grammar; and if the sentences in the paragraph make sense.
A choreography is a short paragraph too. It is written by following subtle "rules" and "logics" of movement. A well written choreography is physically graceful and is in harmony with the music. Such dances are more fun to dance and relatively easier to learn. In fact, I’d suggest that a well-choreographed line dance is nothing short of a poetry in movement.
Human beings are naturally poled to respond to melodies. Music automatically triggers neural, emotional and physical changes in the body. This effect is significantly boosted when combined with a harmonized physical movement. This is natural and true in all cultures. No wonder that dancing has such positive effects on our emotional and physical states (see my previous entry titled WHY DANCE).
Some of the choreographers, who are great at writing such poetry include Ria Voss (NL), Simon Ward (Australia), Jo Thompson Szymanski (USA), Frank Trace (USA) and Rachael McEnaney (USA/UK). In some of the newer dances, mostly from young male(!) choreographers, I miss the grace and the harmony. Such dances remind me of a “shushtong kashtong” way of writing rather than a poetry (sorry you won’t get the analogy unless you speak the Bengali language). This is of course a matter of taste.
The other thing that had caught my attention is that line dancing gives you permission to be silly. Just observe playing children and watch their movements. They run, they jump around, they hopscotch, they gesticulate, they move their body in ways that can look silly when looked in isolation. But this is what the body wants to do to release tension and to feel good (feeling good is very, very important for the evolution of species).
As young kids we used to do that too. But then social norms got in the way – adults are not supposed to move that way. On a dance floor however, you can jump around, turn in circles, wiggle your butt – and it is OK. This is what the choreography tells you to do, and EVRYONE ELSE is doing that too. There you have the permission and the opportunity to get in touch with your inner child. Not a simple thing to do anywhere else, especially for a highly rational scientist and a male of age! Try it. It is a lot of fun and it is good for you too!
WHAT IS LINE DANCE? October, 2018
Line dance is a gender neutral, social dance where the participants form lines or rows on the dance floor and independently perform the same movements that are choreographed specifically to the song being played.
The choreography is shorter than the song and is repeated over and over until the song ends. It is made up of multiple 8 counts (or 6 counts if it is a waltz music). Several counts make up basic movements like vine, shuffle, sailor step, jazz box, etc. A simple dance can have as few as just 2 such sets of 8 counts, while an advanced one as many as 12.
The counts can be simple (1, 2, 3, etc.) or syncopated (1 & 2 & 3) or rolling (one-and-a, two-and-a, etc.). In latter variations, the number of moves increase significantly.
Then there are differences how the choreography cycles are repeated. If the new cycle starts before the end of the ongoing one, then it is called a “restart”. Sometimes, a shorter, and different piece is inserted before starting the new cycle, in which case it is called a “tag”. A tag can be at the end of the previous cycle or in the middle of it. Usually the tag is followed by a restart. In rare cases though, a tag at the middle of a cycle is followed by completion of the ongoing cycle, in which case it is called a “bridge”.
To make matters more interesting, dances can be one, two or four wall dances. In a one-wall dance the choreography cycle always starts and ends on the same wall (e.g. the front wall). This happens only in easy beginner dances. In a two-wall dance the cycle ends and starts either on the front or the rear wall. And in a four-wall dance, the cycle ends and starts on different walls during the dance. Then there are the corners. Even though no cycle ever starts or ends at a corner (at least, I haven’t seen one yet), an orientation towards a specific corner can be prescribed during a segment of a choreography cycle. Additionally, there are contra line dances, where instead of everybody facing the same direction, alternate lines face each other. Considering all these, “wall dance” would be a more appropriate term then “line dance”. It can be surprisingly difficult to dance a newly learned dance in a new location.
If it sounds complicated, then it is. Advanced line dancing requires mental exercise related to orientation and memory. This has to be done while being in sync with the rhythm and with everyone else on a crowded floor. On the positive side, I have never seen any line dance police on a floor. So just take it easy and enjoy. And like with everything else, one can start at the beginner level, which is already a lot of fun and then move up - if one wants.
WHY DANCE? September, 2018
The short answer is because it is fun. But if you want a better answer then do a DuckDuckGo search. Why DuckDuckGo? Because DuckDuckGo, unlike Google, doesn’t make money from your surfing history. Besides, I don’t like monopolies. The result will make you wonder whether there is ANYTHING good that dancing does not do.
Dancing helps lose weight, increase energy, improve heart health, prevent depression, reduce stress, improve balance, coordination and flexibility, boost memory, etc. while helping make new friends. Want more reasons? Dancing also prevents dementia and Alzheimer!
A clinical study was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In this study researchers had compared, over a period of 21 years, the effects of various activities on the onset of dementia. Surprisingly, hardly any physical activity they had studied offered protection against dementia. Those activities included playing tennis or golf, swimming, bicycling, and doing housework. But reading and crossword puzzle did - by 35% and 47%, respectively. Impressed? Now hear this - dancing reduced the likelihood by a whooping 76%!
Why is dancing so effective? That is because it is a complex cognitive, social and physical activity that demands participation from a much broader sphere of our brain. It’s all about use it or lose it.
There is more …. dancing also releases feel good hormones like serotonin (as shown in the Harvard study) and endorphins. If feeling good by itself is not a strong enough incentive for you(!), remember that pleasure and avoidance of pain are two incentives evolution uses to make species behave in ways that make them better fit for survival.
If now, for some strange reason, you still don’t want to dance (may be not so strange – after all it took more than five decades for a smart guy like me to start dancing), then there is still hope. Eat lots of curry. There has been a host of recent studies correlating eating curry with a lower rate of Alzheimer. The beneficial effects point to turmeric (holud), the main spice used in all curry variations in the Indian subcontinent. More specifically, it is supposed to be the antioxidant compound called curcumin.
Now that I have pointed out several things that can help against dementia and Alzheimer, I wonder what the chances are for a curry loving, trilingual line dancer, who also likes to read books. That person would be me. But then I also know that all statistics can include outliers, and there is no defense against outliers. Therefore, I choose to “forget” about the chances and dance simply because it is fun.