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Healthy Dancing for Every Body

Posted By IADMS Newsletter, Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Updated: Monday, September 30, 2019

Invited authors: Rebecca Barnstaple, Ph.D. candidate, York University, Toronto, Canada
Lucie Beaudry, Ph.D. candidate and assistant professor, Université du Québec à Montréal
Professor Sylvie Fortin, Université du Québec à Montréal


IADMS has recently expanded its mandate to include a focus on Dance for Health (DfH) with the aim to promote and validate dance as a life-long partner for health and well-being for all publics. The development of innovative research related to a variety of healthy dance practices is a key aspect of this initiative. In this brief report, we present core aspects behind the rationale for this new direction of IADMS, followed by a description of a substantial DfH research collaboration in Montreal, Québec, Canada, host city of IADMS 29th Annual Conference.


While dance is historically connected with healing in many cultures, medical and scientific interest in applications of dance within rehabilitation, therapy, health care and well-being are more recent, accompanied by an emerging body of research exploring the efficacy and mechanisms of dance-based interventions through a range of methods. These may be qualitative, quantitative, mixed, or art-based, reflecting the inherent complexity of dance as a holistic activity encompassing art, physicality, sociality, and environment – essential aspects of our humanness (Fortin, 2018). Clare Guss-West and Emily Jenkins in their blog post Introducing Dance for Health (DfH) suggest that “The joyful, social, creative and expressive elements of dance are perhaps the precise reasons for its efficacy within health contexts”[i], and the DfH roundtable in Helsinki identified a primary need for research addressing “dance beyond physical activity”. We could add that DfH explores dance beyond psychotherapeutic uses of dance/movement, associated with dance/movement therapy.


DfH initiatives are not presented as therapy, but nevertheless can offer many therapeutic benefits. Dance has the potential to act as an adaptive and widely-applicable health intervention that is multimodal both in delivery and benefits. Beyond physical activity, dance requires complex coordination of motor skills, cognitive strategies, affective and attentional resources, and aesthetic components. Cognitive tasks such as learning choreography (Bar and DeSouza 2016) or responding to cues that invite improvisational problem solving (Batson et al 2016) recruit distinct brain regions and neural networks, while partnered dance forms and exercises can involve complex social strategies such as mimicry (in mirroring), communicative responses (partnered improvisation), and learned roles or vocabulary (such as in tango or salsa).


Interoception, proprioception, and kinesthetic awareness are all heightened by dance, which can improve body image as well as fine and gross motor control (Muller-Pinget et al, 2012; Gose 2019). Dance is also a creative form of emotional expression, which may be enhanced by music. Entrainment, or action that is synchronous with external cues such as music, has been shown to modulate neural entrainment (Thaut 2006). Finally, dance makes use of space in specific ways that extend beyond exercise studies. These broad engagements of the situated nervous system through dance demonstrate its relevance for all bodies; thus IADMS has expanded its activities to be inclusive of anyone dancing. However, research on dance in the context of health interventions can be difficult due to the involvement of, and interactions between, many factors. Interdisciplinary collaborations blending the best tools of science with the nuanced approaches of humanities and the creativeness of the arts may be optimal for addressing the challenges involved in developing meaningful research on DfH.


An example of this is found in Quebec, Canada, where the project Audace (2018-2020) brings together 11 researchers with different backgrounds (dance, creative arts therapies, education, kinesiology, neuropsychology, rehabilitation and sociology[ii]). This highly interdisciplinary team demonstrates the challenges involved in negotiating a shared language to develop and assess interventions across various population groups: adult out-patient rehabilitation service users; healthy inactive community-based older adults; children with neuro-visual problems; ex-homeless women with mental health issues and addictions; adolescents with cerebral palsy; people with Parkinson’s disease. The inclusion of various approaches in DfH is an intentional effort on the part of project members to go beyond labels (such as dance therapy, adapted dance, expressive/arts therapy, creative dance, modified dance intervention, developmental dance, Laban-based dance, community dance, etc.) and to focus on complementary relationships rather than abstract stances. Presuming that the content and the pedagogy can vary greatly under the same label, or that different labels might present quite similar content and pedagogy, one objective of the research is to open and explore details within the “black box” of different interventions.


While looking for compelling evidence of the effects of dance for health, we want to better understand the “active ingredients” of dance-based interventions in terms of pedagogy and content. We also want to go beyond these laudable intentions by recognising that dance, across cultures, is fundamental to our embodiment as human beings, and aspects of movement experiences may evade complete description or sophisticated analysis. For these reasons, the Audace project will culminate with a “creative act” engaging all parties involved. Organized in partnership with the National Centre for Dance Therapy, this will be a multi-media event bringing together many artistic modalities (live dance demonstrations, videos, pictures, projections, etc.), highlighting the myriad approaches and applications within dance that influence health and well-being.


With its innovative interdisciplinary design, the Audace project does not seek to establish the competencies of an individual practitioner, or a single professional role, or a specific research method, but rather to explore the potential inherent in people from distinct professional backgrounds coming together to create a unified field of practice and research. The future lies in our ability to collaboratively encourage all bodies to explore the myriad ways in which dancing can contribute to experiencing health, well-being, artistry, and agency throughout the lifespan.




Bar RJ & DeSouza JFX. Tracking plasticity: Effects of long-term rehearsal in experts encoding music to movement. PLoS ONE 2016;11(1):p. e0147731
Batson G, Hugenschmidt CE, Soriano CT. Verbal Auditory Cueing of Improvisational Dance: A Proposed Method for Training Agency in Parkinson’s Disease. Frontiers in Neurology 2016;7(2):215-215.
Fortin, S. Tomorrow’s dance and health partnership: the need for a holistic view, Research in Dance Education 2018, 19:2, 152-166, DOI: 10.1080/14647893.2018.1463360
Gose, R. Extraordinary dance requires extraordinary motor learning. Journal of Dance Education, 19: 34–40, 2019 Copyright © National Dance Education Organization ISSN: 1529-0824 print / 2158-074X online DOI:
Muller-Pinget S, Carrard I, Ybarra J, & Golay A (2012). Dance therapy improves self-body image among obese patients. Volume 89, Issue 3, December 2012, Pages 525-528.
Thaut MH. Neural Basis of Rhythmic Timing Networks in the Human Brain. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. First published: 24 January 2006.

[ii]Bonnie Swaine, Sylvie Fortin, Raymond Caroline, Duval Hélène, Lemay Martin, Lucie Beaudry, Louis Bherer, Guylaine Vaillancourt, Patricia McKinley, Frédérique Poncet, Sarah Berry


Tags:  Dance for Health  IADMS Newsletter 


Introducing 'Dance for Health'

Posted By Clare Guss-West and Emily Jenkins on behalf of the Dance for Health Task Force, Tuesday, February 19, 2019


IADMS enhances health, well-being, training and performance


by cultivating medical, scientific and educational excellence."


The forthcoming IADMS 2019 conference in Montreal will see an exciting development that reflects the evolution of the IADMS mission statement in the visionary field of Dance for Health (DfH). Capitalizing on IADMS Health for Dance (HfD) expertise, the Association enlarges the focus of its medical, scientific and educational research and activities to validate the role of dance in society and enhance the health of all dancing publics.


Whilst the benefits of dance as a physical activity are widely known1,  it is perhaps the components of dance that transcend physical activity which render it an effective, holistic movement form capable of improving our global health. As a physical means of self expression dance enables communication, both internally reinforcing mind and body unity, and externally promoting social cohesion. The creative and communicative elements of dance have attracted the attention of neurologists,2 3 4 physicians and social scientists.


Dance-based, Dance for Health interventions interconnecting with Arts for Health, use evidence-based, high quality, creative arts interventions to promote general health and well-being, stimulating physical, creative and social engagement for all. Arts in Health initiatives are currently impacting change in both national and international public health policies. In the UK, for example, ‘Social Prescribing’ is available from general medical practitioners5, and the National Institute for Health Research calls for research on ‘Participatory Arts to Improve Health and Wellbeing’. Furthermore, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing (APPG) have asked for an accredited module to educate clinicians, public health specialists and other health and care professionals on the evidence-based and practical use of the arts for health and wellbeing outcomes.6 Inspired by the APPG model, The European Dance & Creative Wellness Foundation presented to European Members of Parliament in Brussels last year to highlight the potential innovative role that dance might play in response to some of Europe’s chronic health challenges.


Private healthcare is also actively seeking innovation in the face of global epidemics they identify such as, ‘Sitting’, Depression, Obesity, Type 2 ‘Lifestyle’ Diabetes and to address the healthcare needs of the ever-increasing senior population.7 Some are starting to recognize the opportunities dance offers as Begoña San José, clinical psychologist, Axa France observes,


We incentivise members for staying physically active. Dance however has multidimensional benefits: It’s music, coordination, fun, social and foremost a positive experience. Gym is also not for everyone. Dancing is!”8




‘Dance for PD’® (Parkinson's Disease) program director David Leventhal, from Mark Morris Dance Group NY, adds:

"In the US, we're starting to see large health management organizations like Kaiser Permanente, which operates in eight US states, approach dance organizations to deliver community-based dance for health programming. Kaiser just sponsored the first year of Dance for Parkinson's classes at San Francisco Ballet, and the program has been a great success."




Participation in dance fosters communication and cohesion both internally and externally. If the intra-systems of the body are not communicating then there is ill health, and similarly if social interaction and cohesion is not supported there is an unhealthy and fragmented society.  


“Dance . . . is part of our collective DNA. Our bodies and brains have evolved to dance in synchronized unison and dancing on a regular basis seems to change the way we think and interact with one another.”9  

 - Christopher Bergland, world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and public health advocate


An example of how dance can promote interaction and social cohesion is captured in Dance Network Association’s (UK) Active Families project (pictured below). Situated in a deprived area for residents of a culturally diverse neighborhood, the project was designed to prevent isolation by bringing parents and children together to participate in creative dance. As participants spoke a variety of different languages, dance became an alternative means through which to communicate. Outcomes from the project detail that dance has the ability to transcend cultural, social and economic challenges, and bring people together to feel emotionally, physically and mentally connected10.




The potential of dance to enhance internal intra-system communication, as well as promote cohesion and global health, is motivating researchers to explore these exciting new territories. For instance, looking at how dance might build cognitive reserve and stimulate new synaptic connections11 in the case of Dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease; enhance neuroendocrine and immune function12; and promote cell regeneration to support the treatment of chronic autoimmune disorders.


Dance-based interventions can support prevention, treatment and management of physical and mental illness. For instance AESOP's (UK) falls prevention dance program for older adults13, and The Alchemy Project (UK) which was designed to support the wellbeing of troubled young adults14. Dance has also been recognized in aiding rehabilitation, recovery and quality-of-life care, such as the work being done at St Elisabeth Hospital, Tilburg (NL), where dancing in the hospital is being explored to support and maintain patient autonomy; and Scottish Ballet’s new dance project ‘Time to Dance’, for people living with dementia and those who care for them, families, and friends15.


Other dance-based interventions may have focused aims, such as reinforcing healthy behavior, or easing side effects of specific pathologies. Examples include a randomized control trial dance intervention for adolescent girls to influence self-rated health (SE)16, and a project supporting women affected by cancer, which uses dance to alleviate negative side effects of diagnosis and treatment such as anxiety and fatigue (UK)17. Such projects have the ability to alter participants’ understanding of, and relationship to, their bodies;


“When you have cancer, you lose touch with your body. It becomes unfamiliar - even worse, it starts to feel as if it is an enemy. For me, dancing started to bring me back to my own body and its energy, strength and basic joyfulness.” 18                        

- Move Dance Feel participant




The joyful, social, creative and expressive elements of dance are perhaps the precise reasons for its efficacy within health contexts. It is the ‘not therapy’ status of Dance for Health programs, along with the physically communicative aspects, that might account for their success in terms of participant retention and commitment, allowing for long term improvements to health.


This is an exciting time in the development of Dance for Health, as research and international collaborations are solicited and flourishing. IADMS is in a strong position to draw on the breadth and authority of its international membership to lever strategic, institutional change in dance and health policy at a national and international level. IADMS promotes the validation of dance as a life-long partner for health and proactively contributes to deliver the solutions to the pressing needs of all dancing publics, of our society and of our time.


Clare Guss-West MA,

Director, The European Dance & Creative Wellness Foundation, IADMS DfH Task Force



Emily Jenkins MA,

Founder, Move Dance Feel, IADMS DfH Task Force (



Dance for Health Resources


Centres, Programs and Foundations for Dance for Health/Institutes and Lobby Groups

Australia Dance Health Alliance (AUS):

National Center for Dance Therapy, Les Grandes Ballets, Montreal, (CA):

The European Dance & Creative Wellness Foundation: (NL)

Dance for Health (NL):

Switch2Move (NL):

Danshälsa, Balettakademien Stockholm (SE):

Skanes Dans Teater (SE):

Dans for Halsa (SE):

Dance in Health and Wellbeing (UK):

People Dancing (UK):


Older adults dancing

Merom, D. & Johnson, N. (AUS) Dancing could help the elderly keep their feet. ABC News, Australian Broadcasting Agency. April 1, 2012. Available at:

‘dancing longevity’, Clare Guss-West, Tanz Senorinnen & Senioren, Konzert Theater Bern (CH):

Older people's dance activities - the first UK survey:

Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance – Retired Not Tired, Evaluation Report by Dr Kate Wakeling:

Royal Academy of Dance - Dance for Lifelong wellbeing (UK):

AESOP (UK) - Falls Prevention dance-based Intervention:

Balettakademien Stockholm (SE), dancing 60+:

Celebrating the mature dancer who still are on stage
Kairos Alive, Maria Genee - Choreography of Care (USA)

Dance for Parkinson’s and MS

BrainDance (DE):

IntoDance e.V, Staatsballett Berlin, Soraya Bruno & Annelie Chasemore - (DE): participatory dance class with Parkinson’s and MS dancers. Contact:

English National Ballet (UK), Dance For Parkinsons: An Investigative (3 year) Study by Houston, S & McGill, A. (2015):

People Dancing (UK)

‘Dance for PD’ (USA):


Dance and Dementia

Dans Med Meg/Dance With Me, Pauline Hasse (NO): dance for elders and persons with dementia. Contact details:

Dance and Dementia, Pilot Study Research Findings, Smith, N. & Waller, D. (2012) (UK):

Going by way of the Body in Dementia Care, Dr. Richard Coaten (UK) (2011):

Green Candle (UK):


Dance and Mental Health

Duberg, A. et al. Influencing Self-Rated Health Among Adolescent Girls with Dance Intervention, A Randomized Control Trial (SE) (January 2013):

Restoke (UK) Man Up performance about masculinity and mental health:

Dance United (UK) The Alchemy Project:

Professor Peter Lovatt, Reader and Principal Lecturer in Psychology, University of Hertfordshire (UK), What is Dance Psychology? What types of questions are you trying to answer? (March 2017):


Dance and Cancer

Theatre Freiburg - Die Krone an meiner Wand (DE):

Move Dance Feel - Dance for Women Affected by Cancer (UK):


Dance with Visually Impaired

Royal Opera House (UK):

Rationale - Breakdance and Visual Impairment (UK): 


Dance and Psychology/Neuroscience

Bergland, C. The Powerful Psychological Benefits of Dance (2018):

Brown, S. & Parsons, LM. The neuroscience of dance. Sci Am. 2008; 299(3):78-83. (2008)

Poikonen, H. Movement and Neuroscience:





1. Fong Yan A, Cobley S, Chan C, Pappas E, Nicholson LL, Ward RE, Murdoch RE, Gu Y, Trevor BL, Vassallo AJ, Wewege MA, Hiller CE. The effectiveness of dance intervention on physical health outcomes compared to other forms of physical activity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine 48(4):933-951


2. Poikonen H. Dance on Cortex - ERPs and Phase Synchrony in Dancers and Musicians During a Contemporary Dance Piece, University of Helsinki, 2018. Available online.


3. Lossing A, Moore M, & Zuhl M. Dance as a treatment for neurological disorders, 2016. Available here. Pages 170-184


4. Brown S, & Parsons LM. The neuroscience of dance. Sci Am. 2008; 299(3):78-83. Available online.


5. Robinson A. Social prescribing: coffee mornings, singing groups, and dance lessons on the NHS, BMJ 2018;363:k4857. Available here.


6. All Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing Annual Report 2017-18: Available here.


7. Woei-Ni Hwang P, & Braun K. The Effectiveness of Dance Interventions to Improve Older Adults’ Health: A Systematic Literature Review 2015. Available here.


8. San José B. Moving Towards Mental Wellbeing, Presentation, The European Parliament, Brussels 2018.


9. Bergland, C. The Neuroscience of Dance, Psychology Today, 2018. Available here.


10. Urmston E. Active Families Evaluation Report 2017. Available here. And their web page here.


11. Powers R. Use it or lose it: Dancing makes you smarter. Stanford Dance, 2010. Available here.


12. Liponis, M. Ultra-longevity. New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2007.


13. Aesop. Dance to Health - An Evaluation, 2017. Available here.


14. The Alchemy Project, Dance United in partnership with the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College, 2016. Available here.


15. Time to Dance, Project Scottish Ballet 2019. Available here.


16. Duberg A. et al. Influencing Self-Rated Health Among Adolescent Girls with Dance Intervention, A Randomized Control Trial, 2013. Available here.


17. 18. Jenkins, E. Move Dance Feel: Exploring Dance and Wellbeing with Women Recovering from Cancer, 2016. Project Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

Tags:  Dance for Health  DfH 

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