Dance is considered as one of the art forms. Regardless of whether we do it professionally or as a hobby, it gives us great pleasure, relaxes, and allows us to break away from the prose of life. Thus, dance can be beneficial for our mind, memory, stimulation of the nerve growth factors, or many other activities. So let's take a closer look at what effect dance has on our brain and body.

Image Credit: Magdalena Osial

Origins of the dance

The dance has always accompanied people. It was present even before written languages appeared. At the same time, the dance's origins and history remain a mystery [1].

Archaeology helps us find the first evidence for the existence of dance. And these are the ceramic cave paintings found in India and Egypt. The first ones are probably about 9000 years old, while the second coming from more than 5000 years ago.

Then, dance was mentioned in Ancient Greece and China. Let's go back for a moment to the history lesson, specifically to Ancient Greeks and celebrations of the wine god Dionysus. They lasted several days and were full of wine, singing, folk games, and of course, dancing. In turn, in Asia, the most popular, traditional, and spectacular is the so-called “lion dance”. It has been practiced for ages and performed e.g., during Chinese New Year.

For generations, dance has played an essential role in the social, ceremonial, and ritual parts of life. One thing is sure; it significantly contributed to the development of human civilization.

Dance impact on body shape

Dance can give pleasure. It involves motor, cognitive, social, and emotional engagement. Let's consider how dance affects the human body and health [2]. Taking account of body shape, it improves our physical conditions by enhancing flexibility, burning calories, and strengthening the body muscles.

The rhythmic movement of the music regulates the work of the digestive system. The intestinal passage is improved – what we have eaten, passes more efficiently to the next sections of the digestive system, does not overlap in it, is digested faster. The risk of bloating, gas, and indigestion are reduced.

How does the brain react to dance?

First of all, we have to take a look closer at the brain. The human brain is the most important element for each of us. Why? The brain is a very complex structure that has many regions and subcomponents that work altogether. One of them is a white matter that is not only responsible for the speed of information transmission but also for the ability to concentrate and memory.

When we repeat tasks during learning, the connections between neurons get stronger [3]. Musicians, dancers, and other people that have constant contact with music or performance have a higher amount of white matter in the brain than average. What does it mean in practice? A bit better multitasking.

Dance impact on brain

And what about its invisible influence? Dancing has a great impact on many various levels of human brain functions. Dance improves cognitive brain functions like memory skills by constant learning and repeating of new dancing movements and patterns. Which also contributes to enhancing the neurons’ connections [4].

Moreover, remembering the steps and the right dancing positions and figures, feeling the music rhythm, dancing together with another person, and synchronizing with the music improve our sensorimotor functions. Surprisingly, dance accompanied by choreography is much more effective than a sport where exercises are performed through repetition [3]. Dance and endurance exercises, which are also used in dance, increase the brain area, which sometimes decreases with age [5].

Dance versus mental conditions

Dance is considered to be a recreational exercise that has a very beneficial effect on psychophysical health. It allows you to get rid of bad emotions, releases positive feelings, and is a way to deal with anger. The rhythmic movement awakens in us a feeling of pleasure – a mechanism rooted in us in the course of evolution.

Since ancient times, man has danced to convey some emotions and get rid of others, danced to heal! It's also an excellent form of communication with another human being. The original way of proximity allowed two people to touch each other. And the role of touch in the development of our species is of great importance. Some people are of the opinion that in any form of physical activity, we do not get rid of as much frustration as in dancing.

Dance and neurotransmitters

On the molecular level, during physical activity in the human brain, the concentration of important neurotransmitters (i.e., body's chemical messengers) like dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine. These substances improve well-being but also have a strong impact on human cognitive function, contributing, among others, to increase the level of motivation [6].

Dopamine is a very important hormone, which also has the role of neurotransmitter and regulates many important processes. At the same time, it reduces the level of the stress hormone cortisol. Another hormone, which is emitted during the dance, is endorphins. They are also known as happiness hormones and are responsible for stress reduction, mood improvement, and add the will to live and release our energy. They reduce the feeling of tiredness and pain. Dancing is a great antidepressant!

Dance as a medicine

Dance training improves blood circulation and oxygenates all body cells. It exercises the contraction of the arteries and improves their flexibility. What's important is that it's a moderate effort, which is what cardiologists like to do, not a rush and intense one. Dance is recommended as a physical activity “good for the heart,” as well as fast walking, cycling, or swimming. Dancing slimmed down-regulates carbohydrate metabolism, thus reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, lowering blood cholesterol levels, and regulating blood pressure.

With age and due to various diseases, the respiratory capacity decreases, which makes our body function less well and tire faster. There are pains and dizziness, and even fainting. By breathing properly, we provide the cells with the oxygen they need to burn food and draw energy from it. By practicing this wonderful sport of dance, our performance is increased [7].

Dance and cognitive abilities

Dance synchronizes the work of both cerebral hemispheres, and, as we know, most often one of them prevails [8] When we hear someone's speech, the electromagnetic waves in our brain synchronize with the rhythm of syllables, allowing us to understand what has been said. The same thing happens when we listen to music, especially with a slow rhythm. It helps us to stimulate those areas of the brain that are responsible for speech.

Researchers believe that this can help people with dyslexia to train, but also elderly people who miss out on certain words. Listening to music and dancing to its rhythm can support thought processes and help to preserve better memory. So, we can use dance as a form of therapy.


Dance can be a form of emotional expression. We can include in its happiness, sadness, frustration, anxiety, and even fear. During such activity, our organism produces hormones improving mood and reducing the level of stress. In contrast, it is not only a sport and leisure activity but also therapy for cognitive and neurological disorders. Moreover, dance is one of the most effective physical activities that can slow down the aging of the human brain. So, let’s dance!

This article is a joint work of Emilia Cywińska (Faculty of Chemistry, University of Warsaw), Jakub Hilus Emilia Cywińska (Faculty of Chemistry, University of Warsaw), Magdalena Warczak (Institute of Physical Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences), and Agnieszka Pregowska (Institute of Fundamental Technological Research, Polish Academy of Sciences) as a part of the Science Embassy project. Image Credit – Magdalena Osial.


[1] Adshead-Lansdale, J., Layson, J. (2006). Dance History: An Introduction, Routledge.

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[3] Kshtriya, S., Barnstaple, R., Rabinovich, D. B., DeSouza, J. F. X. (2015). Dance and Aging: A Critical Review of Findings in Neuroscience, American Journal of Dance Therapy 37, 81–112.

[4]  Brown, S., Parsons. L. M. (2008). The neuroscience of dance. Scientific American 299(1), 78–83.

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[7] Bathina, S., Das, U. N. (2015). Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and its clinical implications, Arch Med Sci. 11(6), 1164–1178.

[8] Teixeira-Machado, L., Arida, R. M., de Jesus Mari, J. (2019). Dance for neuroplasticity: A descriptive systematic review. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 96, 232–240. DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.12.010