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How Dancing Enhances Your Brain Power and Health

Did you know there are profound health and anti-aging benefits to Social Dancing in general, and Tango in particular, that you can start accruing at any age?

Studies show that dancing Tango provides multiple cognitive and physical health benefits.

Is it the kale of exercise? Well not exactly. It’s better! Tango is great for you and exciting, without the acquired taste for kale.

It’s not a surprise, that as we grow older we suffer a decline in mental and physical fitness. But people of all ages including octogenarians and those in their nineties who regularly exercise can actually reverse the signs of aging in the brain. Studies show that beyond exercise, dancing Argentine Tango has the most profound effects.

“Dancing integrates several brain functions at once — kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional — further increasing your neural connectivity,” said Richard Powers, a social and historic dance instructor at Stanford University.

Thinking On Your Feet

Neurologists and other brain researchers have found that dancing Tango requires constant split-second, rapid-fire decision making. This is the key to maintaining intelligence because it forces your brain to regularly rewire its neural pathways. It’s like knowing many trails to climb a mountain, not just one. If one trail gets blocked, you can find your way up with other approaches. Having numerous paths gives you greater cognitive flexibility and increased options through the enhanced complexity of neuronal synapses. What that means, for example, is that when you forget someone’s name or what to call some object, which happens at all ages, you have another route, another neural pathway to employ to retrieve it.

The results of these brain studies encourage us to use our full intelligence when dancing, in both the Lead and Follow roles. The more decision-making we can bring into our dancing, the better for our cognitive resources. And this flexibility of mind generalizes to enhanced cognitive abilities across categories, not just dance. But who gets the most benefits? The leader or the follower?

You may be surprised to discover that it’s the follower role that actually gets the more serious mind workout, even though the leader is navigating and devising the moves. The follower has to make hundreds of split-second decisions as to what to do next, sometimes unconsciously so. We have to rethink what we mean by “follow.” It’s not just following mindlessly, it’s having to constantly interpret the signals and intention from their partners. And the more the lead free-styles, the greater the mental challenge. This demands brain power for quick decision-making, which is active, not passive and which supports youthful neurons and synapses. The more synapses you have the smarter you are. Albert Einstein supposedly had the most synapses on record. Leaders also benefit from this thinking on their feet process when they:

Really pay attention to their partners and what works best for them.

Notice which signals are successful and which aren't, and constantly adapt their dancing to partner with the follower.

Lead new patterns and add to their routines frequently, constantly creating and fine tuning.

Those are also aspects of rapid-fire split-second decision making that supports healthy cognition. To get the most benefits dance often. At least four times a week is recommended to get the best results. Being fully engaged in spontaneous Leading and Following both protects and grows our brain power. More importantly, it’s fun, engaging, beautiful and elegant.

I’m game.

Be creative and have fun.

Doc Sharon

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