Many people tell me they have two left feet. I don’t believe them.
They may not have rhythm and may not be able to follow a beat, but that doesn’t mean they cannot dance.
It just takes them a little longer to get in tune with their bodies.
Research shows that two-day-old babies can perceive rhythm, five-month-old babies will shake their bodies in response to it, and by the age of four, they can move their bodies in time with music.
While the majority of humans can clap, dance and march in unison, some find coordinating movements with music unnatural.
Sensing that they look different from the rest, they shy away from grooving. You’ve seen these types craning their necks from the dark corners of the club to catch a slice of the action, or peering in from outside the dance studios.
But really, does it matter how you dance?
One of the oldest forms of the arts is the art of movement.
The human body instinctively responds to situations through movement before the mind and tongue can verbalise a response.
From time immemorial, people have moved in response to an instinctual need for emotional expression. We clench our fists, hug someone we love, cringe with fear or throw our hands up in exasperation.
Way before dance became a complex, codified art, people delighted in swaying, circling or stamping out rhythms.
There were dances to bring rain, dances of celebration, dances to banish evil spirits and dances for fun.
Sadly, much of it has been replaced with finger-dancing on the keyboards and electronic gadgets.
Assuming you have legs, almost anyone can dance, regardless of age or ability. Maybe it’s the Argentinean tango, the American square dance, the Viennese waltz, the Gangnam style, an improvised riff at a club, or a step or two at a family wedding.
Whatever the style or situation, dancing can be fun and is a great way to socialise.
If you didn’t already know, busting a move can trigger the release of feel good hormones like serotonin and endorphin.
And it’s free!
Like most physical activities, dancing helps improve mental health by boosting overall happiness.
It’s a low-impact, cardiopulmonary form of exercise that increases stamina, strengthens bones, tones muscles and staves off illness.
I’m not talking about dance-based fitness classes such as Zumba or Sh’bam, but moving your body the way you want to move it – in your own style – graceful, awkward or otherwise.
Think William Hung’s unforgettable moves doing Ricky Martin’s She Bangs in Season 3 of American Idol. We all need to have a bit of his guts to break free.
Moving your body in your own style can enhance brain functions on a variety of levels, according to a number of psychological and neurological studies.
A long-term 21-year study of senior citizens published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that regular freestyle dancing (as opposed to choreographed dance sequences) reduced the risk of dementia by 76%, and that doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week reduced that same risk by only 47%.
Surprisingly, other physical activities, such as bicycling, walking and doing housework, weren’t associated with any decreased risk.
An activity like running on the treadmill may improve cardiovascular endurance and body composition, but an activity like dancing can actually target those two, as well as muscular endurance and flexibility.
And that’s on top of improved balance, agility, coordination, power, reactivity and speed.
There’s nothing to stop you from getting footloose – you don’t need any fancy equipment or partner, just some music that you like, space, and perhaps a pair of shoes if you’re strutting your stuff in your backyard or balcony.
When you start, don’t dance like there’s no tomorrow. Exert yourself slowly and spontaneously, instead of trying the John Travolta or Jamie King stuff.
Try the talk test: You shouldn’t be so out of breath that you can’t speak, but your words should be a little choppy and your breath heavy.
You definitely shouldn’t be able to sing a lullaby while dancing.
If you have an injury, tread cautiously or let it heal before you start dancing.
And if you have a medical condition, check how you feel before, during and after dancing. Seek medical advice if you think something is not right.
I recently went to a gym to take a Zumba class. The studio was filled to its maximum capacity with happy, smiley faces all around.
The instructor walked in, switched off all the lights, except at the elevated stage area where he was standing.
I was taken aback and looked around wondering if this was the gym’s way of conserving electricity.
Sensing my puzzlement, a young man standing behind me whispered, “This class is held in darkness. That way, we can do what we want and not be self-conscious because no one is watching.
“I can take a wrong step, and baby, I can shake my booty without giving two hoots whether I’m doing it right.
“You’ll love it!”
It was a new experience for me as I wasn’t used to dancing in darkness for fear of falling and crashing into someone, which would mean injuring yet another body part!
Dance away your inhibitions
Nevertheless, it was great fun to see so many people discard their inhibitions, laugh and move however they wanted, while trying to follow some of the instructor’s sequence.
These people… you can bet their minds will remain sharp for a long, long time!
Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance, but longs for some bulk and flesh in the right places. She’s bidding adieu to the stage with a final performance at the Experimental Theatre, Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, on May 18 & 19. For more details, check out https://www.facebook.com/events/253018558504347/