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Benefits of Ethnic Dance for Stress

By: Janie Franz - Updated: 16 Nov 2010 | comments*Discuss
African Dance archaeology  Bellydance

Participation in rhythmic movement, especially dance, triggers a mind/body response that helps people become more relaxed, more focused, and, in turn, more creative. Dance stimulates the brain in different ways than other forms of creative activities, and ethnic dance seems to reach deeper into the creative part of the body.

Roots of Ethnic Dance

Every culture has a form of ethnic dance. Westerners, however, have masked much of their ethnic cultural dance roots with modern forms such as ballet and other types of structured dance. Though these dance forms are beautiful and we can benefit from them, they usually require years of training before a dancer feels that he or she can move gracefully through the steps.

Ethnic dancing that began in small villages was not something for special people. Though there may have been some select few who danced for religious rites or who entertained leaders or visitors, most village dancing was done by everyone who wanted to dance. Everyone was encouraged to dance because something happened within the community when everyone joined in the dance and something happened deep within each dancer. Mostly, it was a great sense of fun and liberation as well as a connection with others in the village.


In order to dance, we have to be able to respond to music. Early dancing often occurred spontaneously around hearth fires or in village squares. These dancers didn't just get up and bounce around. They were moved by the rhythms they heard and felt. Archaeologists have found rudimentary flutes that were used as long as 10,000 years ago, and drums may be even older. These two instruments conveyed rhythm and melody. Both, however, may have different tempos so the dancer could move on the steadier beat of the drum or use more steps following the melody.

Many ethnic dance forms, particularly Middle Eastern dance, hula, salsa, and African dance movements, are drum driven. Our bodies feel these rhythms, and we respond with movement. Though there are some basic steps or movements in these ethnic dances, they also allow us to move within the music in our own ways. These particular dance forms are perfect vehicles for exploring body sense and finding our own grace.

Body, Mind, Spirit

Rosina-Fawzia Al-Rawi says in her book, Grandmother's Secrets, "Body knowledge starts by removing attention from the mind and focusing entirely on movement......The movements of belly dancing enable a woman to understand and experience a natural rhythm. In this dance form, she swings her limbs around the center of her body, around the navel of the world, through waves and swinging, rhythmical movements of the pelvis, through movements older than any single woman, indeed older than human civilisation. We dance to become one with a rhythm that was here before us and will remain after we are gone."

That's a powerful endorsement for participating in the dances of earlier times. These dances of the village allow us to work off tension in our muscles. They also stimulate the brain; releasing endorphins that help us relax. In addition, they help us open to the creative flow so that we can be more creative in other areas of our lives. We can also use these freeing movements as a warm up for a more extended dance session or as a prelude to meditation. And, ethnic dancing is fun and we don’t have to be master dancers to do it.

Ethnic dancing not only helps us relax, but also can increase our self esteem and foster a sense of grace. Equally, we also can begin to trust our bodies and find joy in moving them. More importantly, ethnic dancing is a great source of enjoyment.

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