Dance and Addiction

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Dance and Addiction

A KjzzFuzion perspective article on Dance and Addiction

“Only when I am dancing can I feel this free.” – Madonna

Dancing is a discipline that has positive influences on an individual’s happiness, development, health, and overall well-being.  It is also an effective mode of therapy for mental disorders.  In this article, we will explore dancing both as a source of treating addiction and being the source of addiction.

As writer, Helaina Hovitz, describes she suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and experimented with many different types of therapy.  While most of them were effective in guiding her through her recovery, few succeeded in also targeting how her body experienced and processed the trauma. It is this observation that led her to try Dance Movement Therapy, a new and innovative way of helping the body communicate and release its innermost thoughts and emotions. Dance Movement Therapist are Mental Health Specialist that are effective in helping patients refuel and reconnect with their bodies. This is especially true when this treatment is combined with other traditional approaches – including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and medication. (Helaina Hovitz, “The Healing Power of Dance Movement Therapy.” Recovery.org, 22 February 2017.)

Emma Barton is a Dance Movement Therapist that uses movement-based approaches in treating patients suffering from addiction.  Mark is a 60 year old patient of Emma’s.  He has suffered from addiction since age 13 because of years of abuse.  Mark states that  “I found that 12 steps, SMART recovery, and group therapy didn’t resonate with me. When I met Emma, she brought meditation and body-center movement to treatment. […] staying centered in my body brings me out of my head and forces me to work through unpleasant feelings from my past.” Used properly dance can help patients to focus on their recovery. (Cathy Cassata, “Dance the Pain Away.” The Fix, 10 April 2015.)

Yes dance can serve as an effective form of treatment.  However, it can also be a source of a harmful problem.  We often speak of “dance addiction” in positive terms. If we are addicted to dancing, we usually intend it to mean that we love it greatly, and would feel unhappy without it in our lives. In certain cases, however, dance addiction can become an actual, serious affliction.

In the words of Laura Riva, avid dancer since 2008, “this wonderful addiction has a dark side.” Social dancing makes us meet new people on a regular basis, and some dancers, when already isolated and lonely, may unconsciously start substituting dance for actual social interaction. As Riva explains, “social dancing is somewhat like living in a city. You may be surrounded by people – but that doesn’t mean you know them. You can touch, interact with, and talk to people around you without actually engaging in a relationship.” Some dancers may become addicted to the closeness, without ever developing genuine and solid connections with others. This can insidiously lead to further isolation in the long term, as the symptoms of the addiction make it increasingly difficult to stop this vicious cycle. (Laura Riva, “The Dark Side of Dance Addiction.” The Dancing Grapevine, 25 October 2016.)

Another risk factor for developing a dance addiction is escapism. In cases where people dance to avoid and forget their problems, dance veers more towards toxicity, instead of health and personal development benefits.  According to a 2015 study conducted by Aniko Maraz, Róbert Urbán, Mark Damian Griffiths and Zsolt Demetrovics, dance addiction is a maladaptive mechanism that affects about 11% of the dance community, primarily dancers who are motivated by escapism. In other words, people who dance to “avoid feeling empty” or as a “mechanism to deal with everyday problems” may not experience the positive effects of dancing, and may instead develop negative symptoms of addiction. (Aniko Maraz et al. “An Empirical Investigation of Dance Addiction.” PLoS ONE, Vol. 10, No. 5, 2015.)

We briefly explored this topic to bring it into discussion.  As always, here are a few tips to help with your self assessment and to continue to harness the positive benefits of dance.

  • Build solid friendships.

Obviously, you do not need to be friends with everyone (And you probably shouldn’t!).   It is however important that you build and maintain 2 to 3 serious friendships within your network with people you feel comfortable opening up and being completely, unapologetically yourself; people that you see maybe not every day, but regularly nonetheless.  These good friends can come from within or from outside the dance community, as long as you do not strictly see them within the context of dance classes or performances, and you can talk to them about things other than dance.  Nobody is really friends with everyone they meet and know in the community, so make sure you do not substitute actual friendships with a larger pool of friendly acquaintances. Everyone needs a support network, so start cultivating yours.

  • Do not substitute your regular therapy sessions with dance classes when you need professional help.

There is absolutely no shame in needing help.  Sometimes, good friends and engaging work are simply not enough for some stressors.  When this occurs, seeking proper treatment is essential.  Do not take your mental health lightly: seek the professional help you need, and use dance as an additional catalyst of well-being.  When in doubt, consult with a health professional.

 

  • Don’t forget to eat and sleep!

 

A healthy lifestyle is not only about exercise.  A balanced diet and sufficient sleep are also important pieces of the puzzle to an overall sense of well-being.  Your body weakens when these elements are not in balance and more prone to the harmful symptoms of addiction.  Eat healthy, sleep sufficient hours, and enjoy an active lifestyle through dancing!

As the saying goes, everything is good in moderation.  Dancing can help us  heal, but that is only true as long as we do not make it the problem.  Dancing should be a part of a healthy lifestyle, and not a tool towards self-destructive mechanisms.  Do not let dancing become your blindfold.  Instead, let it constructively enlighten the darker parts of your everyday life, and remember that needing help does not make you weak.  After all, self-awareness and honesty are key elements of what makes us better dancers.

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