10 Things You (Probably) Never Knew About Dance

Here at Rarely Wears Lipstick we welcome guest posts on a variety of topics that might interest our readers. Lori’s latest request for posts has brought in this fantastic list of ten things you (maybe!) never knew about dancing… with citations! This is also ten reasons that, the less the idea appeals to you, the more you’d probably benefit from giving it a go.

Changing of the Guard, Stockholm. Photo by lipsticklori1) You can dance.
There are paintings in India 1 depicting recognisable dances that are 9,000 years old. Though those are the earliest, there is no known culture that does not have a tradition of moving to music 2. Not a single one. You might think you can’t, but the truth is that you’re really not that special. Humans can dance. You are human. You can dance.

2) If you think you can’t dance, widen your understanding.
Since the 16th Century, militaries all over the globe have used formation marching and equipment drills to increase the psychological and physical cohesion of their troops 3. That is, they make them move together, to a rhythm. The right timing, correct foot, correct arm, in the correct pattern; military personnel perform named steps 4 that are called out and executed in unison… I hate to break it to you, folks, but that right there is dancing and anyone can be taught it.

Irreverent Dance at Pride 2014. Photography by Chris Jepson.3) Dancing is gay…
Engaging in a dance class just once a week is proven to improve mood, creativity, reduce scores on the Beck Depression Inventory 5 and increase an individuals ability to see positive outcomes from tricky situations and the positive effects can last up to eight months after the class has ended 6.

4) …But it isn’t homosexual.
It is only in the last 50-60 years that western society has been preoccupied with the idea that dance is sufficiently gendered that to do it can make you gay, or only be attractive to homosexual men. This correlates a lot closer to modern social factors than it does to dance or sexuality themselves. When studied 7 it proves to be the case that not only do dancers of both 8 genders and orientations overestimate the number of homosexual men in their own dance companies but a professional male dancer was only 12% more likely to be openly gay than your Joe Average on the street and I’m pretty sure some of that figure can be accounted for by uptake bias and the modifier “openly”. And as put so well by Tim Miller:

“If a gay boy can’t be turned straight by an absolute Niagara Falls of heterosexual programming, coercion and physical abuse, then a dance class is not going to make a straight boy gay.”

Dancers at an Irreverent Dance swing class.5) Dancing is therapeutic. It can even be therapy.
It sounds like a riddle: all dance is therapeutic, not all dance is therapy. As this piece shows, even a weekly dance class has a therapeutic effect on the mental and physical health of those participating. However specific dance therapy, like art or music therapy, comes in many forms. The most well researched of which is dance/movement psychotherapy which, due to the combination of benefits achieved through dance and the psychotherapeutic processes that underpin the profession, boast very promising results treating depression, eating disorders, abuse survivors and addicts in recovery programmes, to name but a few.

6) Dancing can improve your social skills…
During a study 9 looking at the mental and physical effects of various solo and partner dance forms it was shown that, as above, dance correlates with improvements in physical and mental health. But there was another reported affect that wasn’t entirely anticipated: those receiving the dance classes also reported greater confidence approaching and speaking with new people. In a follow up study 10, not only were these results replicated, but it was found that the participants came across better in their general social interactions after taking a course of partner dance classes!

Dancers at an Irreverent Dance contemporary class7) …your physical fitness…
As well as improving your mental health, dance can improve your physical health in almost 50 different ways 11. It can [takes a deep breath]: help prevent heart disease; decrease blood pressure; strengthen your bones and joints, preventing osteoporosis; help prevent against diabetes; help you manage your weight; improve flexibility; improve muscle strength and tone; reduce cholesterol levels; improve stamina and cardiovascular respon… it’s just good for you, okay?

8) …make you smarter…
As an ageing population, there was a trend recently to fund studies looking at ways to decrease loneliness and cognitive deterioration in people in later life. Unsurprisingly (we’re on number 8, now, you can’t still be surprised by this!) taking regular dance classes was shown to reduce the risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s 12 and, for those affected, improve day to day functioning.

Image via Ryan Dickey's Flickr photostream9) …and, if you’re a straight guy, your chances with the ladies.
We all knew it anyway, after all males from every other species dance their way into a potential mates bed (nest?) but now there’s science 13. Men who can dance and move well are consistently rated more attractive by women. The methodology involved using motion capture to remove any prejudice from the actual physical features of the men in the study. Judged on movement alone, the men who had taken dance classes were viewed more attractive than those just making it up as they went along 14. Sadly I haven’t found companion studies to show if this is also true across the LGBT* rainbow.

10) And yet, no one knows the origin of the word “dance”.
No, seriously. The QI elves 15 told me! 16

This post was written by a RWL Guest BloggerIf you’re in London and are convinced, Amanda Leon-Joyce is principal teacher at Irreverent Dance, an all-inclusive dance studio offering over 20 courses taught to over 350 happy students to date. They operate a strict safe(r) space policy and exist to provide a non judgemental place for all and any adult beginners to learn movement. Feel free to tell her you don’t want to learn to dance… just don’t tell her that you ‘can’t’! (Images by lipsticklori, Chris Jepson and Irreverent Dance and Ryan Dickey.)


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhimbetka_rock_shelters
  2. http://www.amazon.com/Sorry-Dont-Dance-Refuse-Move/dp/0199845298
  3. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Keeping-Together-Time-Dance-History/dp/1597406740
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_parade#Common_parade_commands
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beck_Depression_Inventory
  6. Original translation: Duberg et al (2012) Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine
  7. J. Michael Bailey and Michael Oberschneider (1997) “Sexual Orientation and Professional Dance
  8. Study in question was both binary in gender and sexual orientation. No trans* or bi dancers involved 🙁
  9. Marie-Sophie Kiepe, Barbara Stckigt (2012) “Effects of dance therapy and ballroom dances on physical and mental illnesses: A systematic review”
  10. Conducted by Dr Jeanne Keay and Dr Jon Spence at Roehampton University
  11. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/
  12. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa022252
  13. Neave N. et al (2011) Male dance moves that catch a woman’s eye. Biol. Lett. 7, 221-224
  14. Also, technically, this could just mean that bad dancing is a turn off and you’d be better not to try, but shh.
  15. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QI#Research
  16. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/qi/8708450/QI-Quite-interesting-facts-about-dancing.html

6 thoughts on “10 Things You (Probably) Never Knew About Dance

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  1. This is so fun to read. Plus I actually went to the Irreverent Dance page to look for classes. I can’t wait until my degree is done and I have evenings free for this.

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