Rockin’ and rollin’ with the punches

November 21, 2008

In October, a dear friend sent a request to help celebrate her 51st birthday. “No presents, no cake, just go dancing with me,” she wrote. Because she is adored by many more than me, 25 Bozemanites overwhelmed a bar on the town’s outskirts one Friday night. 40- and 50-something mamas and papas spent the next couple hours dancing like no one was watching, which was not the case as surprised regulars took in our hostile take over. We jumped around and shook what we had left to our favorite songs of high school and college. Everyone had a wonderful time and kept remarking, “I can’t remember the last time we went dancing.”

 It doesn’t take a degree in cultural anthropology to realize that the world likes to dance. Dancing is a common theme across the earth’s traditions. We dance at weddings, before and after battle, and at initiations of all kinds. In the Nyakyusa tribe of South Africa, the burial ceremonies include a war dance. An old tribesman explains, “We dance because there is war in our hearts. A passion of grief and fear exasperates us…Death is a fearful and grievous event that exasperates those men nearly concerned and makes them want to fight.” (from Death, Mourning, and Burial: A Cross-Cultural Reader ) We dance to celebrate, to grieve and to creatively adjust. 

Not only fun, moving our bodies is also good for us. Reports abound on the cardiac, weight management and the endorphin support jogging, yoga, basketball and other sports with coordinated movements can provide. Last post I had promised to write about stress mitigation techniques and cross-culturally dance appears to be one of them. Antidotally, our birthday girl, even though she was pre-election and officially over 50 reported feeling better for days after the event.

 Why might dance have been prescribed for centuries to support us through tough times? I’m suspicious it creates bilateral brain stimulation. When we have suffered great stress or even trauma, research has found that engaging both brain hemispheres through eye movement can reduce adverse affects and promote stability. Be it the coordinated movements, or that our eyes follow those dancing across from us moving back and forth, I wonder if this might be why dance calms and integrates.

 As a stress reduction tip for work and beyond, I am not suggesting conga lines between the cubicles or a disco ball in the conference room. Instead, if you are feeling stressed, consider finding some time to move your body. Be it a yoga class, dancing in the kitchen while whipping up dinner, or skipping as you walk the dog in the dark – give yourself a chance, like those before us, to adjust, to grieve or even to celebrate. 

 Or, come dancing! After her raucous celebration, my birthday buddy committed to creating a monthly community dance experience. Once a month, in Bozeman, Montana…maybe you’ll join us?

Deidre Combs

Deidre Combs is the author of three books on cross-cultural approaches to resolving conflict and overcoming challenges:  The Way of ConflictWorst Enemy, Best Teacher  and Thriving Through Tough Times. The books integrate perennial wisdom from the world’s lasting cultural traditions with systems theory and brain research.

Dr. Combs is a management consultant, executive coach, mediator and core instructor in Montana State University’s Leadership Fellows Certificate Program and Columbia University’s Teacher’s College Global Competence Certificate Program. Since 2007, she has also taught intensive leadership training to State Department-selected students, teachers and professional leaders from throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America and Pakistan’s FATA region.

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