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Whether we’re jamming to Wiz Khalifa, rocking out to Walk the Moon, 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

“Dancing not only helps me get my body moving and stretched out, but improves my mood and confidence.”
—Ryane L., third-year graduate student, University of California, Davis

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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.

“I dance to keep my mind at ease and have fun! I get a confidence boost. I feel like I’m performing a concert in front of millions of people, almost [like] a back-up dancer for top artists.”
—Name withheld, first-year student, Pasadena City College, California

“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 student, 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 body

“Dancing gives you the satisfaction of being okay in your own skin.”
—Name withheld, third-year student, Nova Scotia Community College

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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 student, Bates College, Maine

“Dance makes me feel more in touch with my body.”
—Vicki M., second-year student, Humber College, Ontario

3. Get fit and energized

“Dancing is my way of staying fit. It makes me feel free and in control.”
—Nancy J., second-year student, Harper College, Illinois

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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

“I love the freedom to express myself and the cardio workout (without it seeming like you’re actually exercising).”
—Meghann S., third-year graduate student, University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Veterinary Medicine

“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 student, Utah State University

“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 student, Tulane University, Louisiana

4. Give back or lead

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

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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)

“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 dance to help kids learn about preparing for and putting on a performance.”
—Name withheld, doctoral student, Johns Hopkins University, Maryland

5. Connect culturally

“I enjoy salsa dancing as a way to connect with another culture and to practice my Spanish skills.”
—Rachel H., first-year graduate student, Clemson University, South Carolina

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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 student, 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 student, 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 student, University of Delaware

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

6. Express yourself

“I can express through movement feelings that I cannot express with words.”
—Morgan A., first-year graduate student, University of Wyoming

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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 B., a second-year student at Memorial University of Newfoundland. In a recent survey by Student Health 101, 36 percent of respondents said they had danced for self-expression. Fifty-two 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 student, University of Southern Maine

“It’s a way of expressing myself when words would just ruin or improperly demonstrate my feelings.”
—Casey H., first-year graduate student, Rochester Institute of Technology, New York

“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 student, 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 student, Concordia College, Minnesota

7. Bond with others

“Intimate human interaction is a pleasure that is not easy to come by.”
—William S., fifth-year student, 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 27 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 student, Roger Williams University, Rhode Island

“I dance with my kids for fun. They are ages 1 through 10. It is something we like to do together...dance, sing, be goofy. It teaches them expression and rhythm.”
—Elisha P., fourth-year graduate student, University of North Dakota

“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.