Ever heard of the “cuddle chemical” AKA the “trust hormone?” Nature’s gift to new mothers, particularly when it seems that deep, unbroken sleep will never come again, the hormone oxytocin issues from the pituitary gland and does its part to ensure birth, breastfeeding and the ultimate survival of the species. Warm, positive feelings of connection and happiness accompany an oxytocin hit. It also plays a part in romantic/sexual bonding, delivering feelings of contentment, trust, security and reduced anxiety when with a mate. Not least of all, oxytocin plays a role in social bonding with a group, with interactions and formation of trust. Lacking proper receptors in the body for oxytocin has been linked to serious aggression. And, researchers are finding some promise in using synthetic oxytocin to help patients with autism and severe social phobia.
You don’t have to parent or mate or get a prescription to enjoy oxytocin’s feel-good benefits. Simple touch triggers low level releases of oxytocin. A handshake, a hug, a pat on Spot’s head– they all do it. And, quite logically, so does partner dancing! Since a lesson usually lasts about an hour and social dancing could go on even longer at a studio party, private event or nightclub, you can get a steady stream of the good stuff. Just by putting on your dancing shoes and being patient with yourself and friendly with others.
Most adults spend a huge amount of time working in litigious No-Touchy zones. Older adults and empty nesters may spend even more hours of the day and night touch deprived. In these odd Digital Days, even the young, who once spent happy hours in rough-n-tumble play early on and then continued to cement bonds with organized dances each weekend, now spend countless minutes hunched over phones and keyboards. Is it any wonder that their few dance-related events, such as prom, resemble clothed orgies more than safe places to enjoy social touch, warm friendships and the gentle budding of romance? High tech is killing high touch. But it doesn’t have to be that way!
The ballroom awaits! There truly is a dance to suit every personality. The torrid tango, the romantic rumba, the elegant waltz, the playful swing dances and many more. That said, you don’t have to feel romantic to rumba or torrid to tango. Simply enjoy the element of “pretend” missing from work and domestic responsibilities. The rudiments of the most common dances (waltz, foxtrot, tango, rumba, swing and cha cha) can be learned with just a bit of patience and persistence. Group lessons are usually a steal, compared to other venues for entertainment and exercise. My metro area, a mid-sized city, offers group classes and socials that range from $8 to $14. Try getting popcorn and a movie for that amount!
The relaxing, happy hormone will float you along, without undue effort on your part. Perhaps because men aren’t as aware of the automatic release of calm and happiness to be found on the dance floor, there are usually more women than men in classes and at socials. The beauty of the studio scene, however, is that Wallflowers Are Not Allowed. Everyone dances. Most classes work on a rotation basis, so you don’t have to bring a partner. A few times, you may be repeating your steps alone, but not for long, as you change places down the line of partners. Even at socials, there is a charming, unspoken etiquette that you don’t dance only with the one who brought ya. Rarely will you encounter a pair who refuse to dance with others. Perhaps they fear the joys of friendly touch and believe it’s reserved only for special partnerships. They are missing out! Equally rare is the predatory social dancer who comes in with ulterior motives, risqué remarks and wandering hands. The tribe — and especially its leaders, the studio staff– will not tolerate that. Off the island!
Now, if you want to increase your skill, hone your technique or get into competing, yes, you can feel some stress in the studio. Oxytocin mitigates that, too. Pity the poor soloist or corps member in other dance forms who performs under pressure without the reassurance of touch from another dancer.
So many people tell me they wish they could dance or had danced or wish they had time to dance. The joys of social dances have not left the collective consciousness yet!
If you’re a firm believe in stellar ROI (return on investment), going dancing makes even more sense. What you could get from partner dancing: Fun, physical exercise, stress relief, anxiety relief, conversation, brain exercise, emotional expression, entertainment, weight control or loss. What partner dancing mitigates or outright cures: Loneliness, boredom, sadness, excessive solitude, disconnection, anxiety, lack of fitness, lack of confidence. Among private lessons, group lessons, dance socials and competitive dance, there is a dance prescription for every person. It’s just what the doctor ordered!