Dance Reflection Essay

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Benefits of Movement Across the Lifespan

Movement is vital to every aspect of health and well-being. Our bodies are designed to move and should continue to move as we age (Mayo Clinic, 2015). Movement provides many physical benefits for the body such as increasing physical strength, and cardiovascular function, and can be a positive treatment option to help combat chronic disease (Hulteen, Morgan, Barnett, Stodden, & Lubans, 2018). However, the body cannot function without the use of the mind. The brain acquires many benefits from one’s movement. As the body physically moves, endorphins are released resulting in a natural feeling of well-being. Movement can help to improve mood, eliminate stress, decrease anxiety, and promote positive self-esteem. Movement impacts how we learn, and view ourselves, and determines how we form social connections (Bolton, Fix, VanDeusen Lukas, Elwy & Bokhour, 2018; Hulteen et al., 2018).

The structure of the brain is closely connected and grown by movement that happens from within the body (Hannaford, 2005). Movement assists with brain growth and development across the lifetime (Smart Moves, 2005). The cerebellum is the most active part of the brain when the body is moving. Its main responsibility is to guide the learning of movement. This can include how to move when to move, coordination of movements, and how the muscles engage during that process (Hannaford, 2005). With movement patterns, the hippocampus also activates. The hippocampus is a structure that takes in information from the thalamus, basal ganglion, and hypothalamus to form short-term memories. With proper nerve net activation in the hippocampus, short-term memories can enter permanent storage and eventually become long-term memories (Hannaford, 2005; Rendeiro & Rhodes, 2018). Therefore, the connection of the cerebellum to the hippocampus allows for memory retention of motor-learned tasks. Examples of motor learned tasks include learning how to roll, sit up, run, skip, ride a bike, or complete a complex dance sequence (Hannaford, 2005). Overall, movement improves the neurobiological processes and functions in the brain resulting in higher cognitive performance over time for all individuals (Lojovich & McCulloch, 2010).

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The human qualities that correlate with the mind can never be disassociated from the body and therefore, movement is essential and beneficial for all individuals of all abilities (Hannaford, 2005). For children, learning is anchored by movement (Hannaford, 2005). Every movement that is created by a child is a sensory-motor event that allows for a greater understanding of the physical world. Every time we move, the brain activates, sensory information is integrated, and learning naturally occurs (Hannaford, 2005). Children with Down Syndrome, who have participated in movement interventions, have benefited both physically and have felt more supported in their emotional, social, and cognitive development. Additionally, current research indicates that children with Down Syndrome have felt a stronger sense of inclusion with their peers because of participating in movement interventions (Albin, 2016).

Regardless of age or personal limitations, movement continues to stimulate the sensorimotor connection for the body (Albin, 2016) A study completed by Lojovich and McCulloch (2010) states that for an individual with a traumatic brain injury, aerobic exercise can produce vascular changes in the brain. As the individual participates in movement activities, oxygen saturation to the brain increases. With an increase in oxygen, the promotion of angiogenesis can occur and ultimately increase the cerebral blood flow to areas of the brain that are related to cognitive function (Lojovich & McCulloch, 2010).

Similar to the effects seen with individuals who have traumatic brain injury, movement increases the blood flow to the frontal cortex of the brain. The frontal cortex of the brain is responsible for decision-making and aids in ambulation, which are two areas of concern for an individual with Alzheimer’s disease (Faulk et al., 2014). As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, there is an increased likelihood of individuals developing a sedentary lifestyle. Movement programs help improve cognitive function and decrease depression in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (Faulk et al. 2014).

Additionally, aerobic exercise can also offer many benefits for individuals with Parkinson’s disease. 80% of individuals with Parkinson’s disease experience mild cognitive impairment (Prewitt, Charpentier, Brosky, & Urbscheit, 2017). Aerobic exercise can expand the hippocampal volume of the brain resulting in improvements in spatial memory performance and overall cognition (Weintraub & Morgan, 2011). Currently, there are new emerging movement programs that have allowed individuals with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, or children with disabilities to move more freely, decrease depression, and improve self-efficacy (Prewitt et al., 2017).

Benefits of Dance

Dance is a new emerging area that is showing significant outcomes for individuals across the lifespan. Dance is a powerful occupation that can be utilized for physical, social, emotional, and cognitive benefits (Hannaford, 2005). It incorporates repetitive motions that involve environmental and social interactions to enhance brain function (Albin, 2016). Dance is a stimulating mental activity that promotes the mind and body to experience a sense of connection through sensory stimulation, physical activity, and cognitive challenges (Dance for PD, 2017; Heiberger et al., 2011).

Music is a vital component of dance and can also influence motor function. Music acts as an auditory cue that increases brain activity and helps to initiate movement (Earhart, 2009; Heiberger et al, 2011). In the Dance for PD programs, research suggests that the auditory cues may have the ability to bypass the dysfunctional basal ganglia and utilize alternative pathways to reach the supplementary motor areas (Heiberger et al., 2011). Dance also can endorse brain plasticity by increasing nervous tissue, which would be incredibly beneficial for an individual with a traumatic brain injury (Heiberger et al., 2011). The music allows individuals to express emotion and focus their attention on their eyes, ears, and personal touch to increase their awareness of where their body is in space (Dance for PD, 2017; Hannaford, 2005).

After receiving a life-altering diagnosis, dance provides an opportunity for individuals to overcome movement and balance challenges. Not only are their physical benefits, but the individuals who actively participate in dance, experience a sense of community and social inclusion. The sense of community allows for all individuals to feel safe and respected. This type of community aids in decreasing anxiety in social settings and instills a sense of confidence in the dancer (Albin, 2016; Dance for PD, 2017; Hannaford, 2005).

Dance is an incredibly engaging and meaningful occupation, therefore increasing the motivation and desire to actively participate. Dance classes are known to have a high compliance rate paired with a low percentage of drop-outs (Earhart, 2009; Westheimer, 2008). Ultimately, dance can help to increase an individual’s quality of life by breaking social isolation, sparking creativity, and establishing a sense of joy (Albin, 2016; Dance for PD, 2017; Earhart, 2009).

Role of Occupational Therapy in Dance

The occupational therapy profession is centered on the notion that as allied health professions, we will enable individuals to actively participate in meaningful occupations by establishing creative alternatives to overcoming barriers. Townsend and Polatajko (2007) state that individuals can personally foster their health and well-being by engaging in meaningful occupations. Not only do occupational therapists strive to incorporate meaningful occupations into an individual’s everyday life but do so in a way that encourages active participation and social inclusion. All individuals, regardless of their disability, deserve to feel supported while engaging in daily occupations (Townsend & Polatajko, 2007).

Dance is a meaningful and leisure occupation that can provide therapeutic benefits in a non-traditional way to individuals across the lifespan. Dance encourages occupational therapists to think outside the box and be creative in our overall approach to supporting dancers. The Canadian Model of Client-Centered Enablement describes how enablement skills can be incorporated into practice to optimize success and overall participation in the self-identified task (Boudreau & Donnelly, 2013). Integrating enablement skills encourages the therapist and individual to work together to find solutions that enhance participation and inclusion in meaningful activities, such as dance.

Enablement skills are embedded into the dance classes by the occupational therapist from the initial encounter to the final discharge. For example, the occupational therapist advocates for individuals of all ages and abilities to participate in dance. The OT consults with parents, caregivers, volunteers, and dance instructors on how to best structure the class to increase participation. The dance classes are then designed to adhere to all ages and abilities with the clients’ individualized goals at the forefront. The OT can then coordinate the best volunteer who will help support the individualized dancer. The OT’s knowledge of mental health and lifespan development can optimize engagement for all individuals participating in the dance class. The collaboration with the parents, caregivers, and volunteers will help to make the classes strength-based. The OT will then coach/consult with the dance instructors and volunteers, incorporatthe ing support necessary for the dancers to optimize participation. Dance classes offered for individuals across the lifespan can be adapted to provide the “just right challenge” for all individuals of all abilities. Finally, the OT can educate everyone on the impact of movement on all individuals and the significant role that OT has in this non-traditional practice of dance (Ryan & Ryan, 2018).

With an occupational therapist’s unique knowledge in kinesiology, neuroscience, mental health, and overall development across the lifespan, we are equipped to understand how music and movement impact the body in such beneficial ways. Additionally, our clinical mindset knows and understands that happiness, health, success, and meaning all stem from the ability to participate. As occupational therapists, we know the importance of feeling included and experiencing social connections. As human beings, we all possess the desire to want to participate. Occupational therapy can provide the additional support to make that a possibility for all.

As dance is a non-traditional therapeutic practice, it signifies the broad scope that occupational therapists have that allows for our profession to reach individuals of all populations. As occupational therapists continue to expand to various non-traditional ways of practice, dance supports the notion that occupational therapists can think outside the box and be creative in our approach to providing services that continue to keep meaningful occupations at the center of our practice.   

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Dance Reflection Essay. (2024, April 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 24, 2024, from
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