Celebrating Tap Dance….

           "When you dance to your own rhythm, life taps its toes to your beat." - Terri Guillemets 

         In 1989, George H.W. Bush declared May 25 National Tap Dance Day. This particular day was chosen to honor Bill “Bojangles” Robinson since it was his birthday, and he was influential in advancing this dance form.

            In the United States, nationwide celebrations take place on May 25, celebrating tap dance. Like all forms of dance, tap dance is beneficial on many levels. It improves cardio-respiratory fitness levels, creates and reinforces neural pathways so that messages are carried efficiently and quickly between the muscles and the brain, and it increases muscular strength and flexibility.

            Additionally, tap provides other specific benefits. Tap requires dancers to shift their weight continuously from one foot to the other, improving balance and reactionary skills. The fact that tap is a high impact, weight-bearing dance form also means that it puts additional stress on bones, which encourages bone growth and helps provide insurance against osteoporosis.
            Moreover, since tap is rhythmic in nature, it stimulates parts of the brain also stimulated by music. Studies have shown that rhythm stimulates an area of the frontal brain lobe called the inferior frontal gyrus. This area of the brain is called upon each time a tap dancer needs to learn or reproduce a rhythmic phrase and becomes very well-developed. The inferior frontal gyrus is the same area of the brain that is called upon when a person needs to understand spoken language. Those who are exposed to rhythm often have been found to have better phonological awareness.  This awareness is the ability to divide words into syllables and detect different sounds at the beginning, middle, and end of words.

            So on May 25, we celebrate National Tap Dance Day and remember once again how dance can make a difference.  In addition to being fun to do and exciting to watch, tap dance helps develop different areas of the brain, can increase literacy levels, and makes us healthier individuals.

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.