Using Dance to Help People Grow...

            "What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?" Vincent van Gogh

         I am a dance educator and, on a cold day in January, 21 college students apprehensively entered my dance studio. Some had registered for the class because it seemed like it would be a fun elective, some because they had danced before and wanted to continue, and some because it fulfilled a requirement.

            It is impossible for me to imagine a life without dance.  I am passionate about what I do and I fight a constant battle – trying to convince others that dance is beneficial in a myriad of ways.  The easy part of my job is to teach the students who want to be in class – those who are looking for a fun elective or have danced before.  The challenge is to find a way to reach those who are there because it is a requirement and are hoping it will not be too painful.

            As the semester progressed the students learned about how the body works, the roles that muscles, tendons, and ligaments play in movement, and the importance of proper nutrition and hydration.

            They reaped the benefits of new neural pathways forming as they mastered dance steps and combinations, their circulatory and respiratory systems grew more efficient, and they increased the range of motion in their joints.

            They learned to trust each other, to take risks, to laugh at themselves, and to feel pride when they accomplished what seemed impossible on that first cold January day.

            Last week was warmer, but those 21 college students were still a bit apprehensive as they entered the college quad.  Their final class assignment was to perform in a flash mob in front of their peers and anyone else who might be passing by.  The music began, they all looked at each other and took a deep breath, and they started to dance, and they laughed and had fun!

            For a short three minutes they were all dancers and for many of them, it was the first time this semester that they truly believed it. The physical benefits had been apparent all semester, but last week there were emotional and mental benefits as well. These 21 students did something that scared them, something they had not thought they were capable of, something that took courage and confidence.

            Some may choose to continue to dance, but some may never dance again, and that is okay.  They will all have a greater appreciation for other performers in the future, they may become arts advocates, and they might look at dance differently because of this semester.  My greatest hope, however, is that they realized that sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone, sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind, sometimes you have to trust in yourself, and sometimes you just have to dance – just because…..and in doing all that, you might just realize that somehow dance helped you grow.