The Science of Why Dancing Makes Us Happy

Three women dancing on platform with water and cityscape behind them

Photo by Tim Gouw from Pexels

Feeling the blues? Try dancing! There is power in moving to the beat of music or to the rhythm of your own body. Regardless of how graceful you are on the floor, everyone can — and should — dance. Not only is it a sweat-inducing workout, but dancing is also an activity that uplifts your mood and opens up opportunities to connect with other people.

Dance as a form of exercise

For a lot of people, working out feels like a chore or even a form of punishment. Having this kind of mindset is not an effective way to making physical activity a habit, which is why finding activities that don’t feel like exercise is key. Dancing is one of those. Just an hour of moderate dancing can burn around 330 to 488 calories, depending on your body weight. A heavier person will naturally burn more calories for the same amount of intensity.

In comparison, an average person burns an estimated 636 to 816 calories for 60 minutes spent running at six miles per hour. Though this means that going for a run will burn more calories, the repetitiveness makes it much more difficult to sustain. And in contrast, boredom is not something you’ll normally experience while dancing.

As with any form of exercise, dancing stimulates the release of important chemicals, particularly dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. The Greater Good Science Center‘s article on these chemicals released through dance explains that they are responsible for inducing positive emotions, like happiness, pleasure, and even love. They’re collectively termed the happy hormones for a reason — they minimize feelings of pain and unpleasantness, and create an overall positive outlook in an individual.

Dance as a cathartic experience

Letting your body flow can also be a therapeutic experience. It can help you release pent up aggression, stress, and even body image issues. What makes dancing even more cathartic is the musical accompaniment, which the American Music Therapy Association states can very well relieve stress on its own. In fact, research shows that surgical patients who listened to music reported lower levels of perceived pain than people who did not. Music can be an effective tool for distraction, something that patients undergoing a medical procedure can use.

And across the pond, Gala Bingo’s survey on happiness found that Brits rate listening to music as the third most powerful mood booster — just behind a good joke and speaking with loved ones. These findings show just how dramatic the effect of music can be. And when you pair it with movement, it can be one of the most effective tools for releasing negative emotions and replacing them with positive ones.

Dance as a social activity

Zumba, ballet, hip hop, pole — all of these dance classes and more create unique opportunities to connect with other people. It can encourage you to step out of your comfort zone in terms of socializing, especially since you’re already surrounded by like-minded individuals. You can even come together to create positive social change, just like how Zumbathon events have raised millions in funds for health research. And just like dancing, giving to a worthy cause can be very satisfying, too.

All in all, dancing has the power to make you happy, and now you know why you feel pleasure after attending a movement-based class. So, continue dancing like nobody’s watching — it’s one of the best forms of self-expression!


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