Elena Portas

Elena Portas, Health Specialist at Portas Consulting, discusses the impact that dancing can have on our health and why it needs more recognition and support.

3.6 million people dance twice a month in England. More adults in England dance than play all team sports combined. 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 fun and engaging, making it a more sustainable form of exercise.

However, dance is mostly overlooked for the benefits it brings as a form of exercise. Is that because it is considered an artistic activity rather than a sport? What role should the Government play?

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 to achieve.

The benefits of dance as a form of physical activity were first researched in the 1950s. Since then many 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.

For the average person a one-hour dance session can burn 200-500 calories depending on the style and intensity of the dance. 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.

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. 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.

Dance clearly has a myriad of health benefits for participants, which the Government cannot ignore. Despite this, dance has experienced little Government focus or investment. In adults, analysis of Sport England’s funding shows that dance receives 90% less funding per participant than the average of the top traditional sports. This is a major factor affecting participation rates –112,000 fewer people took part in dance in 2018 vs 2016.

Three major opportunities need to be explored.

  1. Provide the case for future investment: It is important to convey the benefits of dance on society’s health and wellbeing in order to ensure continued investment into participation in the next Comprehensive Spending Review.
  2. 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. Portas Consulting analysis has shown that dance is currently preventing over 59,000 cases of chronic diseases and generating £107million in healthcare savings across England (6).
  3. Multisectoral collaborations: The unique position of dance between art and sport should be leveraged rather than act as an obstacle to success. We need to explore the opportunity to create collaborations between the arts, physical activity and health sectors.

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 – 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!