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Whether we’re jamming to Wiz Khalifa, rocking out to 1D, or foxtrotting with our beloved, dance makes us feel physically and emotionally revitalized. And any time we could use a workout, dance is available in unlimited styles and intensities. “It’s like exercise, but cheerful,” says Matthew M., a second-year student at the Community College of Denver, Colorado.

1. Boost your mood, brain, and confidence

“I can’t live without it. It makes me feel good about myself when nothing else does.”
—Alycia S., first-year undergraduate, Northern Michigan University

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Dance is therapeutic, emotionally and mentally as well as physically. Dancing involves a complex combination of systems in our bodies and brains—motor skills, coordination, rhythm, synchronization, and so on—according to a 2006 study of dancers’ neural activity (Cerebral Cortex). This may help explain its multiple benefits.

  • Dance improves our mood and sense of well-being, and is an effective treatment for depression and anxiety, according to a meta-analysis of 27 studies in Arts in Psychotherapy (2014).
  • Doing the tango with a partner lowered participants’ levels of the stress hormone cortisol, reported the journal Music & Medicine in 2009. In a recent survey by Student Health 101, more than one in three respondents said they had danced to relieve their stress.
  • Dancing boosts cognitive activity in the brain, preserves motor skills, and is an effective way to stave off dementia, according to a 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“As a college student, I face challenging obstacles every day and there are times I just want to dance it off! Dancing is life, and it is such a confidence booster for me.”
—Gara G., fourth-year undergraduate, Towson University, Pennsylvania

“Dancing relieves my stress. After dancing, when I hear those songs anywhere else I relive those special moments, increasing my energy and confidence or giving me something positive to look forward to again.”
—Juan M., second-year student, Elgin Community College, Illinois

“I don’t really know how to express it. It’s just a feeling I get when I hear some music (especially salsa); it gives me the goose bumps and renders me a dancing machine for a while :).”
—Claudio M., first-year undergraduate, University of New Mexico

“Dancing makes me feel free but also located within a particular flow of music. It’s fun and it’s completely different than the kind of focus and composure required in my academic life. Phenomenal.”
—Brandi W., second-year graduate student, Yale University, Connecticut

2. Love your bod

“I feel powerful and connected to myself.”
—Alyson K., fourth-year undergraduate, University of California, Riverside

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Dance can help improve our body image and self-esteem, research shows.

  • Dance makes us feel better about our bodies, according to a meta-analysis
    of 27 studies in Arts in Psychotherapy (2014).
  • In a 2006 study involving 50 British teens, a six-week aerobic dance program improved participants’ body image and sense of self-worth, according to the journal Body Image.
  • Dance students benefit from seeing slideshows about dance history featuring different-sized performers, says Anna Sapozhnikov, a performing arts dance instructor in Illinois. “It really helps [students] see that any body can move.”

“I dance to get over the fear of being too self-conscious about the way I look or feel. It makes me feel less worried once others I’m with are participating.”
—Jimmy T., third-year graduate student, University of California, Los Angeles

“Dance makes me aware of my body and how I use it throughout the day. It helps my posture and helps me communicate [through] body language.”
—Maya H., second-year undergraduate, Bates College, Maine

“Dance gives me a chance to put my life on hold and live in the moment. It lets my body be as free as it wants whilst still conditioning and controlling the movements.”
—Alyson K., fourth-year undergraduate, University of California, Riverside

3. Get fit and energized

“I dance because I am not athletic.”
—Kelsey C., third-year undergraduate, The College of New Jersey

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Looking for a new workout? Dance offers a vast range of options. “It works on flexibility, strength, and other aspects of physical fitness,” says Anna Sapozhnikov, a performing arts dance teacher in Illinois.

  • Three months of low-impact aerobic dance training was as effective as cycling and jogging for weight management and aerobic fitness in overweight women according to a study in Applied Human Science.
  • Dancing for 20 minutes three times a week was more effective than traditional cardio workouts for improving heart conditions, in a 2008 study in Circulation: Heart Failure.

“Dancing has so many wonderful health benefits. It helps the cardiovascular system, strengthens bones, and releases endorphins that give you a wonderful high throughout your day.”
—Adriana O., third-year student, Tarrant County College, Texas

“Ballroom dancing is a great, fun exercise. It’s truly the fountain of youth; look at elderly people who have ballroom danced for decades.”
—Brian T., first-year undergraduate, Tulane University, Louisiana

“I have always loved dancing. It makes me feel good, and being in a wheelchair it helps keep my arm strength up and makes me feel happy. When I’m having a bad morning I always feel better after my dance class.”
—Brittany C., second-year undergraduate, Utah State University

“I’ve tap danced since I was three. Tap dancing tickles the math part of my brain and I’ll be able to do it when I’m in my 70s, 80s, etc. to stay in shape.”
—Dielle A., fourth-year undergraduate, Portland State University, Oregon

4. Give back or lead

“People who came in with no dance experience have really been empowered.”
—Nick, volunteer dance instructor, graduate of Indiana University

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Looking to make the world a better place?

  • Dance does this too! So says Anna Pasternak, founder of Movement Exchange, a dance outreach program connecting university chapters and communities domestically and internationally. “Movement Exchange is truly the result of my desire as a dancer to make a positive difference in our world. As a student, you have a voice and can make a difference in your local or international community [by] promoting peace-building and violence prevention,” she says.
  • To get involved locally, volunteer at an after-school dance class for kids, or become a younger student’s “Big Brother” or “Big Sister.”

“We’ve had people come in with no dance experience and now they’re leading dance workshops. They’ve really been empowered and found a home in it.”
—Nick, a volunteer at Movement Exchange (teaching capoeira, a Brazilian dance incorporating martial arts); graduate of Indiana University

“If I had a chance to dance to make someone smile I would do it and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
—Elijah R., online student, Indian Hills Community College, Iowa

“I am blessed to say I dance for my university’s dance team. It is such hard work, but I love it. It makes me feel so good to be a part of such an awesome team, and performing is just an amazing rush.”
—Brittany R., third-year undergraduate, Western Carolina University, North Carolina

5. Connect culturally

“Dancing and the music help me culturally relate to the rest of the world.”
—Erika K., second-year undergraduate, University of Delaware

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  • Volunteer at Movement Exchange, a dance outreach program connecting university chapters and communities; its workshops incorporate Indian dance, West African dance, samba, Chinese ribbon dance, ballet, and Mexican folkloric dance, and take place locally and internationally.
  • Take flamenco lessons to complement your Spanish classes.
  • Search online for unique dance events in your area, such as historical balls inspired by Regency England and Civil War America.

“I am part of a classical Indian dance team. It makes me feel like a moving piece of art with fluid lines and constant movement.”
—Shivani P., fourth-year undergraduate, The College of New Jersey

“When I first saw people dance [hip hop], I thought, ‘I need to learn how to be like them.’”
—Tyler A., fourth-year undergraduate, Concordia College Moorhead, Minnesota

“Dancing and the music help me culturally relate to the rest of the world. I was born to dance, there’s really nothing more to it. I feel like a whole new person.”
—Erika K., second-year undergraduate, University of Delaware

“Hula is a part of the Hawaii culture and it is important to perpetuate that.”
—Kira F., third-year undergraduate, University of Hawaii at Manoa

6. Express yourself

“Dancing is a language. I believe it to be a part of being a human being.”
—Ronann C., fourth-year undergraduate, Johns Hopkins University, Maryland

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Dance is socially liberating. “We are providing a safe space to express feelings and emotions through dance,” says Anna Pasternak, founder of Movement Exchange. The social effects may be particularly powerful for anxious people. “I have taught dance for years and have built my bonds with my students. The shy ones take time; however, once they get comfortable it is amazing to see what they can achieve,” says Laura Barr, a second-year undergraduate at Memorial University of Newfoundland. In a recent survey by Student Health 101, 33 percent of respondents said they had danced for self-expression. Forty-six percent said they had danced because they couldn’t resist the music and movement.

“Dancing is an expression of exuberance. Or of joy, or happiness, or sometimes even grief. It lets you feel what words can’t say.”
—Leah D., third-year undergraduate, University of Southern Maine

“I enjoy the aesthetic of technical forms of dance. I see beauty in the art of dance more than some other forms because it uses the body to tell a story.”
—Angelle W., fourth-year undergraduate, University of North Texas

“Dancing is a language. You get to communicate with your dance partner without the need of speaking. I believe it to be a part of being a human being.”
—Ronann C., fourth-year undergraduate, Johns Hopkins University, Maryland

“Most people would say that my awkward flailing is not even considered dancing, but I feel so alive when I’m movin’ and groovin’ that I don’t even care. Dancing, in any form, is one of the most beautiful and vital forms of self-expression.”
—Rachael M., fourth-year undergraduate, Concordia College, Minnesota

7. Bond with others

“Intimate human interaction is a pleasure that is not easy to come by.”
—William S., fifth-year undergraduate, Georgia Gwinnett College

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In a recent survey by Student Health 101, 68 percent of respondents said they have danced for social bonding—the leading reason, out of 12 options—and 37 percent said they had danced for romantic or sexual bonding. If you’re looking to dance informally with others, join a dance club or meet-up in the park, or find a flash mob.

+ Find a flash mob

“When you’re dancing with other people and they can share the enjoyment with you, that’s what I love most.”
—Samantha J., third-year undergraduate, Roger Williams University, Rhode Island

“[I dance for] the physical/romantic connection with someone you’ve never met. It’s exciting. Intimate human interaction is a pleasure that is not easy to come by all the time.”
—William S., fifth-year undergraduate, Georgia Gwinnett College

“It’s a great way to get some exercise while having a bit of fun. Sometimes my friends join in and it becomes a group effort.
It makes us feel alive.”
—Christopher H., graduate student, California State University, Chico

“A dance floor is the best place to see sides of people you haven’t seen before, like grandma killin’ it with the elbows flyin’... or momma rockin’ out to a song you’ve never heard before. I’ve really enjoyed dancing at weddings or school dances throughout the years. But especially weddings.”
—Ryan M., graduate student, Old Dominion University, Virginia

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Chelsea Dill, MA, has degrees in creative writing, and English, writing, and mass communications. She has written for digital and print publications in the US and UK. She enjoys wellness lifestyle research and devising healthy alternative cooking.