How Shaking Your Booty Can Heal Your Soul
The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing.
So says “I Feel Good” singer and the one and only Godfather of Soul, James Brown. And he’s right. When you’re dancing, and your soul jibes with the music, you’re at your most carefree, your most peaceful, grooving to the music without a distraction in the world. It is the ultimate high — you on the dancefloor, footloose and fancy free.
I have bipolar disorder – an affliction that causes people to drift between extreme happiness (mania) and crushing sadness (depression). When I’m manic – which is pretty rare these days – I often find myself dancing with myself, blasting music in my apartment. Whether I’m dancing to Madonna’s “Into the Groove” (a song about the power of dancing), LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yrself Clean” or “D.A.N.C.E.” by French electro duo Justice, I feel at one with the universe and that everything’s going to be OK.
Historical figures such as the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates and 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche were known to dance alone.
Billy Idol wrote a song about cutting a rug solo — “Dancing With Myself.” But Nietzsche and Socrates were the OG original practitioners of the art of dancing alone.
Although more often associated with nihilism than optimism, Nietzsche stated he “would only believe in a god who could dance.” He also declared, “Without music, life would be a mistake.”
And Socrates said, “Music and dance are two arts that complement each other and form the beauty and power that are the basis of happiness.”
I took ballroom dancing as a kid. I learned to waltz, cha-cha, tango, and swing dance, among others. I still remember all the steps and the twirls, and whenever I’m at a wedding and the appropriate music comes on, I get right back into the swing of ballroom, or even one of the cool dances of my youth, such as The Running Man, The Roger Rabbit, and The Kid ‘N’ Play. I also took salsa and Merengue classes while I was studying abroad in Spain sophomore year of college.
Dancing, coupled with my love of music, lifts my spirits like few other activities can. Every now and then I go to a party called Planet Earth in Chicago, an ‘80s new-wave dance night at a club called Late Bar that, to me, is pure happiness. The amazing shapeshifting David Bowie is on heavy rotation there, as is Duran Duran, and Depeche Mode.
Dancing – like any physical activity – produces serotonin, the chemical in the body that regulates mood and is often responsible for happiness. Dancing also produces endorphins, which are the body’s natural way of filling opioid receptors and causing euphoria.
Personally I don’t need proof to know that dancing = happiness. But for those who do, a 2016 study at the University of Örebro in Sweden looked at teenage girls who suffered from depression, anxiety, and stress, in addition to headaches and stomach aches. Half of the group was asked to attend two dance classes per week, and the control group did not go dancing. The girls who stuck with the dance classes showed improvement in their mental health and also reported feeling happier.
Another study by the University of Derby in England involved people who had unipolar depression, or depression alone without other symptoms, such as those found in bipolar. The subjects were given salsa lessons for a period of nine weeks, and each participant saw improvement in mood after only four weeks. After finishing the lessons, subjects said they had fewer anxieties and a greater feeling of peace and serenity.
At Australia’s Deakin University, psychologists interviewed 1,000 people. Those who said they were dancers were much happier than those who did not. The dancers felt joyful and gratified by their lives.
So if you want to level up your happiness, just boogie down. Bust a Move. Do the Twist. Shake it like a Polaroid picture. Vogue. Dance in the dark. Dance in the streets. Embrace your inner dancing queen. And don’t stop ‘til you get enough. Because we are all one nation under a groove. And nothing can stop us now.
Conor Bezane is a music-meister who has written for MTV News, AOL, and VICE. As a recovering bipolar addict, he can be found digging through the crates at a local record store when he’s not attacking his keyboard, writing nonfiction. You can preorder his book The Bipolar Addict: Drinks, Drugs, Delirium & Why Sober Is the New Cool, due out June 21, on Amazon.