The topic of mental health for youth is of paramount importance, especially in the context of the current global pandemic. This week, Gov. Jay Inslee signed an emergency proclamation requiring all public schools in Washington to provide 30% in-person instruction for students of all ages by April 19th. Schools closed suddenly one year ago to slow the spread of COVID-19. Inslee identified the mental health of students as a chief reason for creating the new requirement.
“This has been a long year for our state’s students and their families. They have lived with fear and uncertainty,” Inslee said. “The youth mental health crisis has become significantly worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is time to provide an in-person learning option to help students that need it.”
Pacific Ballroom Dance is one of the few youth organizations in our state that has never delayed or paused its youth programming during the pandemic. This has meant adapting and innovating for staff and students alike. “We knew our kids would need us when so many other things have been taken from them,” wrote Coach Hannah Anderson. “For some of these kids, dance has been the only thing giving them a
sense of normalcy and social interaction. Mental health struggles are real for these kids, isolated and uncertain as they are.”
Hannah continued, “At Pacific Ballroom Dance, we strive to create an inclusive, welcoming, and safe space for our students with their mental health and physical health being at the forefront of importance. The pandemic has brought forth many struggles and challenges for the mental health of many youth and adults young and old. Though we cannot offer mental health fixes and agree to leave that to medical professionals, we know that dance has a positive, powerful impact on mental health struggles of our students.”
There is a scientifically proven positive correlation between dance and physical health but also mental health. As the topic of mental health becomes more and more prevalent, an increasing amount of research surrounding the positive effects of dance on mental health has emerged.
Dance can improve mood, reduce stress and anxiety. Within the scientific community, a growing number of researchers have proven that, while dancing, an abundance of mood-improving chemicals are released within the body. “According to research carried out by The Arts in Psychotherapy, when unleashed, these chemicals help improve one’s mental state; even one ‘lively’ session of dance can reduce depression.” Forms of dance that engage in person-to-person touch, such as ballroom dancing, are particularly helpful in improving mood. When establishing human-to-human physical contact through touch, “there are notable reductions in levels of stress and anxiety, consequently bettering one’s overall mental wellbeing.”
Although dance cannot take the place of the advice of medical professionals, studies show that dance can be used as a form of depression reduction. According to one study, when placed in recreational dance sessions, patients hospitalized for depression showed a measurable level of reduction in their depression. Similarly, in several other studies conducted in non-clinical environments, when placed in a 12-week dance and movement program, teenagers diagnosed with mild to moderate depression also “showed reduced levels of depression”. Swedish researchers studied more than 100 teenage girls who were struggling with issues like depression and anxiety. They performed a study where half of the girls attended weekly dance classes, while the other half did not. The results showed the girls who participated in the dance classes improved their mental health and reported a boost in their mood. These positive effects lasted up to eight months after the dance classes ended. The researchers concluded dance could result in a very positive experience for participants and could potentially contribute to sustained new healthy habits.
Pacific Ballroom dance strives to create a space within the current world climate that fosters positivity and personal connection. Staff and students value the positive effects that ballroom dance can play in mental health. Said Hannah, “In November, when our studio was closed down to the public, we created Blacktop Ballroom rather than return to virtual instruction. Students traded ballroom shoes for sneakers, dancing outside in the cold parking lot because we knew our students needed us. We know we have important work to do for and with our students.”
Teija Ravelin, Jari Kylmä & Teija Korhonen (2006) DANCE IN MENTAL HEALTH NURSING: A HYBRID CONCEPT ANALYSIS, Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 27:3, 307-317, DOI: 10.1080/01612840500502940
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