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When meditation meets the dance floor

‘Free moving’ dance is good for the soul

Conscious dance can boost happiness and reduce stress, a study has found.

A group of international researchers, including University of Southern Queensland’s Dr Ineke Vergeer, found that conscious dance could help people struggling with common mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.

The research was based on a survey of more than 1000 dancers across the world, including Australia.

Conscious dance is an unchoreographed, free-moving and mindful practice, which encourages self-expression and discovery.

Usually performed to music in group settings, it is practiced globally in many different forms, including 5Rhythms and Ecstatic Dance.

Dr Vergeer said the study, published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, was the first of its kind to explore the potential benefits of conscious dance.

“While the psychological, well-being effects of dancing are well documented, we were still quite surprised by the number of participants who reported therapeutic effects from conscious dance,” she said.

For example, 98 per cent of all participants said conscious dance improved their mood and helped them to be more present in the moment and in their body.

Among the dancers surveyed, 81 per cent self-reported at least one of five stress-related health conditions: chronic pain, depression, history of trauma, anxiety, history of substance abuse or addiction.

Most reported that conscious dance helped them cope with their health condition, ranging from 88 per cent among those with a history of addiction to 96 per cent for participants with anxiety or depression.

More than 90 per cent of all participants reported the practice gave them greater confidence and compassion, while a large percentage said it made them feel less lonely and helped them let go of distressing thoughts.

The study also found longer term benefits of conscious dance. Participants who had been dancing for more than five years showed significantly higher levels of mindfulness and life satisfaction, compared to dancers who were relatively new to conscious dance.

Dr Vergeer, a Research Fellow in Physical Activity and Health, has spent more than five years exploring the prevalence and motivations for practicing holistic movements, including yoga, t’ai chi, Pilates and conscious dance.

She said the free movement in a non-judgmental atmosphere meant conscious dance may offer greater benefits to our mental health than more conventional forms of dance.

“It’s a physical activity, but can also be meditative and spiritual, as well as emotional,” Dr Vergeer said.

“It allows you to explore and express how you feel through movement.

“You don’t have to learn any steps and there’s no pressure to perform, which makes it easier to relax and for your body and mind to get into a state of flow.

“Unlike dancing at a night club or party, there are no shoes, no alcohol, no talking and no judgement.

“People can express themselves freely in a safe space and connect with their inner-self without having to conform to ideas of what dance should be.”

Dr Vergeer said she would like to see more research to evaluate the role of conscious dance in improving health outcomes and how it compares to other approaches.

However, she hoped the results would encourage more people to step into a conscious dance class.

The study ‘Conscious dance: Perceived benefits and psychological well-being of participants’ was co-authored with Dr Kelsey Laird and Dr Prabha Siddarth from the University of California, Los Angeles and Dr Sarah Hennelly from Oxford Brookes University.

It can be read here.

woman smiling in dance room
Dr Ineke Vergeer found that conscious dance could help people struggling with common mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.