Have you ever discovered something so life-altering that you wished you had encountered it much earlier in life? For me, Contra dance tops that list.
I just returned from a dance weekend (Sugar Hill) in a neighboring state where for nearly 4 decades hundreds of traditional dance enthusiasts of every age have been joining musicians galore to do what they love to do—dance to live music, play, laugh, and smile!
I first attended a Contra dance two years ago at the suggestion of a friend. What a great tip! And timely!! I was approaching age 55 and starting to think about aging and retirement. As it turns out, dancing is good for body, soul, and brain!
This blog is my friendly tip to those readers who have forgotten the childlike joy of dancing and playing. I would love to share it with my clients who are ill or impaired and those who seek my help with estate planning in their retirement years.
Dancing with friends is good for you in many ways, especially your cardiovascular health, mood, and cognitive function.
You don’t have to be a scientist to figure out that dancing is good for you: It makes you work up a sweat, move your entire body, smile until your face hurts, meet new people, and remember patterns.
But if you need to hear it from scientists, you can browse the articles on the AARP Staying Sharp TM website.
Here are other articles about movement and aging:
- Exercise Slows Brain Aging By 10 Years
- Successful Aging and the Brain, by the Dana Foundation
- The Importance of Movement, a TED talk by John Ratey
Traditional dance is affordable, welcoming, and available in nearly every community.
Many communities have dance groups that get together regularly. The cost for each dance is minimal. You don’t need to buy any special gear as long as you have a pair of comfortable shoes that have low heels and smooth soles that turn easily without dragging. Every dance community I have encountered has been friendly and welcoming to guests. Fancy flowing skirts are a fun accessory, but not necessary.
Traditional dance is a great option for single people.
Single? Widowed? Divorced? Spouse doesn’t like to dance? Shy? You can still take part. You don’t have to bring a partner to enjoy traditional dance. Most dancers change partners every dance. If there are more men than women or more women than men, dancers adapt and take turns leading or following. You’ll see men with skirts and women with ties, men dancing with men, and women with women. It doesn’t really matter as the lines progress and blend, merge and morph. You’ll end up dancing with almost everyone as the weekend unfolds.
Traditional dance weekends are family friendly and build a lifelong network of friends.
My biggest smile of the past weekend happened when a tiny dancer, about age 5, tugged at my skirt, looked up at me, and asked me to dance during the open waltz session on Sunday morning (a standard ending to a dance weekend). Her smile grew bigger as we twirled and promenaded to the music; I relished her biggest smiles that showed me she really enjoyed a new move.
My second biggest smile came when I was invited to dance by a teenager who could have stepped right out of a novel about gypsies, with a rolled bandana sweat band around his curly dark locks. What a creative, skilled dancer he was!
I met a family with 7 children (one set of quadruplets) who explained that dance weekends were economical, family-friendly mini-vacations that showed their children how to have a lot of fun without spending a lot of money or drinking alcohol.
I met dancers who had been dancing since they had learned to walk and a young expecting couple whose baby was likely enjoying the music and movement already.
I met several women who looked like they were in their late 40’s who were actually in their 70’s.
I met polite men and women and children in the unisex bunkhouse and bathrooms, which made me seriously wonder what all the uproar is about transgender students and school bathrooms.
I met a biophysicist volunteering a shift in the steam running the commercial dishwasher and a homemaker organizing breakfast for hundreds with a kitchen crew of sleep-deprived volunteers.
I met musicians and callers willing to stand thigh deep at the beach to call a water contra dance for dozens of us. I think they made it up as they went: Swimonade?
I saw people slowly walking and talking, quietly reading in their tents, siesta napping in hammocks, and playing games in the grass. The magic of summer camp for all ages.
And when I got home, I encountered a happier, healthier me after a weekend without computer screens, disturbing news, or work.
Recreation is worth your time.
Re-Creation—a fitting word because we end up defining and redefining ourselves through the activities we choose.
Choosing to dance and play will likely extend your life, improve your health, broaden your circle of friends, brighten your outlook, and sharpen your mind.
Interested in finding a traditional dance group near you?
Look in your local paper or check out this site which can be sorted by date, location, or name:
- Contra Dance / Contradance Links for Festivals, Camps, and Weekends.
- Cape Girardeau Contra Dance Calendar
The next time you are taking a trip, consider looking up a dance community in your destination town. You’ll meet some great local people and have a wonderful time!