Dance and the Benefits of Oxytocin

 

two women dancing together

The author having a blast! What can be more fun than dancing?

Oxytocin is the hormone our bodies make that makes us feel sociable.  It’s what gives us the desire to collaborate with each other and to help other people out.  It’s what makes mothers feel connected to their babies and what bonds lovers to each other.  It’s one of the all time  great feel good hormones.  Women have the power to make more of it than men, another fabulous perk of the gender, but men make it too and all of us can consciously seek out ways to get more of it.

 

I first heard about Oxytocin at Rise, a conference of an organization called Braveheart Women, whose goal it is to bring women from all over the world together to collaborate and support each other to the end of no less a goal than saving the planet.  Founder Ellie Drake created an exercise designed to raise the level of Oxytocin in a room of 800 women who were mostly strangers to one another.  After this remarkable activity, we felt like an enormous family, emotionally connected to a room full of sisters whom we all wanted to support and trust.

 

One of my heros, the Dalai Lama, said that is the world was going to survive, it was up to western women to save it.  My guess is that it is our combination of access to global connection through technology, access to free time, and yep, oxytocin.  That’s what makes us WANT to understand people of other cultures instead of eradicating them.  I hope we’re up to it.

 

Clearly right now the world is mostly up to seeing other cultures as enemies and trying to eradicate everyone it doesn’t understand, so perhaps we need more oxytocin and less testosterone in the foreign office.

 

Well, how did we get into this mess and how do we get out of it?  In a so called primitive African culture a western visitor held a contest for a group of boys.  These people were impoverished, by our standards, and had very little.  The winner was given a delectable treat  which he divided and shared with the other boys.  The perplexed westerner asked why he didn’t keep it for himself.  The equally perplexed boy said what would be the fun in that?

 

There are a lot of wonderful amazing things about western culture for which I am very grateful, not the least of which is leisure time, Lindy Hop, and indoor plumbing. But we have gotten so far removed from our own basic natures that greed is more natural that our natural intstinct to share pleasure with others.

 

Human beings are social animals and we thrive on human contact.    People need to touch each other in order to be physically and mentally healthy.  That very touch, the source of Oxytocin, is becoming more and more scarce in a society that is becoming more and more technical. People need to touch each other in order to be physically and mentally healthy.

 

Respected family therapist Virginia Satir is famous for saying “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”  She said that in 2012 and it’s been said so many times it’s become trite. You might say, especially if you’re single and don’t have a cat, “I don’t get 12 hugs a day and I grow.  I don’t even get 4 every day and I’m still alive so obviously it’s not only trite, it’s bullshit.”

But here’s the thing.  When you experience real growth, you might look back on your hugless existence and say “I can’t believe I called that surviving.”  It’s all a matter of degree.

Because  I’m a single woman, it’s hard to get enough hugs every day to thrive even though I do have a cat.  Two cats even.  And I’m an introvert.  I envy those people who can stand in a public square with a sign that says “Free Hugs!” but Nooooooo.  That’s way too extroverted for me.  Plus, I like people and I’d like my hugs to be connected at least most of the time to actual relationships.  If not deep friendships, at least people I know or have met and feel some kind of connection to.

Partner dance to the rescue!

Partner dancing is like a musical hug, but that’s not the only reason it’s an Oxytocin raiser. Even dancing by yourself to music you love will raise your oxytocin levels.  Dancing is joyful and joy is big trigger.  Combine the joy of dance with the touch of partner dance and you have a double whammy of Oxytocin.

And of course you have community.  When you go dancing regularly, you get to know the other people who regularly dance in the same places.  You connect over a shared activity. And it’s an activity in which you are constantly touching one another physically, in a natural, organic way.

I know it works, though, because of the way I feel when I do it.  In a word, joyful.  At Frankie Manning’s memorial service, the minister cited this quote in the bible: “The purpose of life is joy”.  I think God said that, but I can’t find it so I’m not sure.  The minister said that Frankie, who never went to church, was a deeply spiritual man because as the “ambassador of Lindy Hop” he spend his life spreading joy.

When I think about world change, I think first about joy.  Joyful people want others to feel joyful.  Sharing joy creates joy.  Dancing with a partner is not fun if your partner is not having fun.  It’s all about connection.     Go out there and be joyful and together we just might make a real change!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Go out there and be joyful and together we just might make a real change.

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