April 29th was “World Dance Day”. An estimated 3.6 million people dance twice a month in England. More adults in England dance than play all the team sports (such as football, rugby, cricket and netball) combined (1). Young children dance, older people dance. As a dancer myself I know it brings people together, makes you happy and burns more calories than most other forms of physical activity. Far from the monotony of the treadmill, dancing is seen as fun and engaging, making it a more sustainable form of exercise.
Our clients, including national Governments, are looking for new ways to get people physically active and are increasingly looking at offerings that are more than just sport. In order to enhance the overall user experience, the fitness industry is creating active spaces which provide the ultimate cross-over of sports, arts and entertainment.
Despite this, dance has experienced little Government focus, participation funding and investment. Our analysis shows this is a major factor affecting participation rates – according to Sport England, 112,000 fewer people took part in any type of dance in 2018 compared to 2016 (1).
Why is dance so often overlooked for the benefits it can bring as a form of exercise? Is it because it is too often considered an artistic recreational activity rather than a sport? Which category does it even fit into? With its unique position at the nexus of sport and arts (and music), dance brings a host of positive physical, mental and social health benefits that other sports can only hope of achieving.
THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF DANCE
The benefits of dance as a form of physical activity were first researched in the 1950s (2). Since then a multitude of studies have shown its impact on physical and mental health. Unlike most other forms of exercise, it provides a total body workout, not only enhancing cardiovascular conditioning but also increasing flexibility, muscle strength and tone which are often the “forgotten” aspects of physical activity. For the average person a one-hour dance session can burn anywhere from 200-500 calories depending on the style and intensity of the dance (2). The artistic musical aspect of dance has also been linked to increased metabolism, as research shows that upbeat music stimulates the autonomic nervous system to increase heart rate (3). This makes dance an overall effective way of losing weight and getting fit. For women who avoid weight bearing exercise at the gym, dance can be especially important. The side to side dance steps and repetitive movements in most dance classes strengthen the weight bearing bones of our bodies and put the lower back and hip joints through a full range of motion, decreasing the risk of osteoporotic fractures and fragile bones (2).
Studies have also shown that regularly participating in dance-based activities can help us to stay young and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Remembering the steps of a dance routine helps an older brain form new interconnections and work faster. When it comes to improving mental acuity, dance has been shown to have a bigger impact than other forms of leisure activity, by combining multiple different stimulations including music and movement (4). It increases the brain activity in the temporal and prefrontal areas responsible for the improvement of memory and attention as well as the ability to multitask. It has also been seen to stimulate the area of the brain involved in emotional processes and releases endorphins, lowering the risk of mental health conditions including Depression and Anxiety (5). Finally, the socialisation aspect of dance classes has been linked to reduced stress and loneliness particularly in elderly communities (2). Overall, dance clearly has a myriad of health benefits for participants, which can no longer be ignored.
LACK OF FUNDING
Despite the multitude of evidence showing the importance of dance as a form of exercise there is still a systematic lack of funding and investment, which could be due to its lack of categorisation. In children and young people 29.3% took part in a dance session in the last week, higher than every other team sport except football (1). However, only 10% of PE teachers know how to teach it properly (6). Across England this lack of recognition continues at university level where it is not recognised by most universities to be a sport and therefore doesn’t receive the same level of funding as traditional sports. Students are therefore forced to pay £100s a year each in equipment hire, competition fees and travel expenses to be able to take part in national university dance competitions. At a national level, analysis of Sport England’s funding has shown that of the top traditional sports, dance receives 90% less funding per participant than the average(see Figure 1) (1) (7). All of this contributes to a drop off in participation rates in adulthood as individuals’ favour cheaper alternatives, so the health benefits are not realised.
Figure1: Funding per participant in the top 10 most popular sports and dance, England 2017/18 (1) (7)
WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY
Now is the time to prevent the further decline in participation. There are three major opportunities that need to be explored.
- Provide the case for future investment: With the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review it is important to effectively convey the benefits of dance on society’s health and wellbeing in order to ensure continued investment into participation.
- Public Health Funding: With increases in diseases linked to inactivity, such as obesity and diabetes, the health department is focusing more investment on public health. Research has shown that dance is an effective preventative and curative health measure and should be used in health initiatives across the country to support efforts to cut the prevalence of chronic disease. Our analysis has shown that dance is currently preventing over 59,000 cases of chronic diseases and generating £107million in healthcare savings across England (8).
- Multisectoral collaborations: Dance is unique in its positioning between the sport and arts sector. We therefore need to explore the opportunity to create collaborations between the arts, physical activity and health sectors to halt the decline in participation levels.
This unique positioning of dance between art and sport should be leveraged rather than act as an obstacle for success. Together, these actions will go a long way to ensuring continued investment in dance and will ultimately improve society’s health and wellbeing.
The Government should recognise this and start to support dance for these benefits – improving outcomes for at least 10 chronic health conditions and subsequently generating millions in healthcare savings.
So, now’s the time –let’s get on the dance floor and move our way to staying healthy.
- Active Lives Survey. Sport England. [Online] April 2018. https://www.sportengland.org/research/active-lives-survey/.
- The Health Benefits of Dance. Alpert, Patricia T. s.l. : Home Health Care Management & Practice, 2011, Vol. 23.
- Heart rate responses induced by acoustic tempo and its interaction with basal heart rate. Watanabe, Kan, Ooishi, Yuuki and Kashino, Makio. s.l. : Scientific Reports, 2017, Vol. 7.
- Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly . Verghese, Joe, et al. s.l. : New Enlgand Journal of Medicine, 2003, Vol. 348.
- Effects of dance movement therapy and dance on health-related psychological outcomes: A meta-analysis. Koch, Sabine, et al. 1, s.l. : The Arts in Psychotherapy, 2014, Vol. 41.
- Jasper, Linda. People Dancing . Current state of Children and Young People’s dance and what’s next. 2015.
- What have we funded? Sport England. [Online] April 2018. https://www.sportengland.org/funding/what-have-we-funded/.
- Active Citizens Worldwide. 2019.