Accumulating scientific evidence indicates the extensive physical, mental, and community health benefits of social (partner and group) dancing. Personal physical and psychological benefits – especially for older people – include, but are far from limited to, enhanced balance, flexibility, coordination, cognitive acuity, mood, level of life satisfaction, and civic and social engagement and communication skills. Dance is a powerful prophylactic against a range of chronic diseases and neurological disorders. Social dance can, moreover, have potent positive effects on generational and intergenerational connections and the overall “sense of community.” What is there for Mississippi social workers, practitioners of a profession dedicated to healthy relationships, and overall human well-being, not to like?
With the extraordinary holistic value of social dance in mind, in late 2019 and early 2020 the School of Social Work’s tiny Center on Aging, under my direction, developed a project called “Dance for the Health of It,” with an aim toward building an extensive community partnership network in support of dancing, raising awareness of the capacity of dance to advance a culture of wellness, and lowering the barriers to recreational social dancing – for everyone, but for older adults in particular.
The good news is that the project was very well received by everyone who heard about it, and so showed excellent promise. The bad news is that the initial launch ran smack up against the imposition of COVID pandemic restrictions, and, except for the occasional opportunity for me to discuss it with one or another audience (members of USM’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, for example), the project was effectively shelved for the duration.
Now, in this current moment of “reopening” (pray that it lasts, and does not prove to be merely a short-lived lull between episodes of rampaging viral variants!), Dance for the Health of It is emerging from mothballs and is again on the move. Community partners include the the Mississippi Department of Health, a vital anchor and pivotal player that remains deeply committed (notwithstanding the extraordinary Sisyphusian odds it faces) to the goal of creating a new “culture” of health that can reverse the “last place” health status for which Mississippi is all too well known.
Stay tuned; details of progress to follow.