the Dance Smart Project
Publication date: November 2013
Written by Rick
Archer with assistance from
Rick Archer's Note:
When it comes to
defining a Senior Citizen, the four ages generally used are
50, 55, 60, and 65. Having turned 64, I
consider myself close enough to 65 to speak for anyone 50
In my heart I
still think I am a kid. But my body
doesn't always agree
with that assessment. There are at least one or two nights
a week when I hit the couch and don't move again until
nature calls. If you smiled at that, good for you. Without
a sense of humor, growing old is a pitiless process indeed.
There are four
things we all need at this age - Wealth, health, a sharp
mind, and companionship. There isn’t much advice I can give
on “wealth”, but I am more than happy to comment on health
and a sharp mind.
I don’t know
about the rest of you, but I have noticed names don’t come
to me as easily as they once did. For example, last night I
drew a blank on the name of “Channing Tatum”, the handsome
heartthrob star of several recent movies. I knew his name,
but then it slipped my mind. This happens a little more
frequently than I would prefer.
This reminds me
of one of my favorite jokes… except that the Gladys and
Mabel joke isn’t quite as funny as it used to be.
Two elderly ladies named Gladys and
Mabel have been friends for many decades. Over the years
they have shared all kinds of activities and adventures.
They made a point to enter the same retirement home so they
could continue to be together.
Lately, their activities had been
limited to meeting a few times a week to play cards.
One day they were playing gin rummy in
the Solarium when Gladys looked at Mabel. Gladys stared
blankly for a moment, then said, "Now don't get mad at
me.....I know we've been friends for a long time.....but I
just can't think of your name! I've thought and thought,
but I can't remember it. Please tell me what your name is."
Mabel glared back at her. For at
least three minutes she just stared and glared at Gladys.
Finally Mabel said, "How soon do you need to know?"
Everything I read says that the first step to health and a
sharp mind stem from the same thing – exercise, exercise,
As Dr. Oz put it,
“To lower the risk of dementia, keep
your cardiovascular system healthy.
Physical activity (10,000 steps a day)
and stress reduction (meditate 10 minutes two times a day)
build brain size, keep neural connections healthy, and lower
So does eliminating the Five Food
Felons --no trans or saturated fats, no added sugars or
sugar syrups and no grain that isn't 100 percent whole.
Build new neural pathways. Increase
brain strength with a new hobby like dance, reading, playing
intriguing games, staying engaged and interacting with
Now you're thinking.”
I know that you
know where I am heading with this. I am about to recommend
“dancing” again. How did you guess? See, you are already
But you aren’t
that smart… I am well aware that a lot of you are not
dancing nearly enough. It’s time to get moving on that
I say Dancing
keeps us young… for lots of reasons.
You don’t have to take my word for
it. It takes about 10 key strokes to find dozens of
articles that agree with my assertion. Try it yourself.
Type “benefits dancing senior citizen” into Google and watch
as millions of links pop up faster than switched-on
Dancing Makes Us
by Richard Powers,
Stanford University (source):
“For centuries, dance manuals and other writings have lauded
the health benefits of dancing, usually as physical
exercise. More recently we've seen research on further
health benefits of dancing, such as stress reduction and
increased serotonin level, with its sense of well-being.
Most recently we've heard of another benefit: Frequent
dancing apparently makes us smarter.
A major study added to the growing evidence that stimulating
one's mind by dancing can ward off Alzheimer's disease and
other dementia, much as physical exercise can keep the body
fit. Dancing increases cognitive acuity at all ages.
England Journal of Medicine published a report on the
effects of recreational activities on mental acuity in
aging. Here it is in a nutshell:
study of senior citizens, 75 and older, was led by the
Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City,
funded by the National Institute on Aging, and
published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Their method for objectively measuring mental acuity in
aging was to monitor rates of dementia, including
wanted to see if any physical or cognitive recreational
activities influenced mental acuity. They discovered that
some activities had a significant beneficial effect. Other
activities had none.
They studied cognitive activities such as:
writing for pleasure
doing crossword puzzles
playing musical instruments.
And they studied physical activities like
walking for exercise
One of the
surprises of the study was that almost none of the physical
activities appeared to offer any protection against
dementia. There can be cardiovascular benefits of course,
but the focus of this study was the mind.
There was one
important exception: the only physical activity to offer
protection against dementia was frequent dancing.
Bicycling - 0%
Swimming - 0%
Playing golf -
Reading - 35%
reduced risk of dementia
crossword puzzles at least four days a week - 47%
frequently - 76%!!
When I was studying the creative
process as a graduate student at Stanford, I came across the
perfect analogy to this:
The more stepping stones across
the creek, the easier it is to cross in your own style.
The focus of
that aphorism was creative thinking, to find as many
alternative paths as possible to a creative solution. But
as we age, parallel processing becomes more critical. Now
it's no longer a matter of style, it's a matter of survival
— getting across the creek at all. Randomly dying brain
cells are like stepping stones being removed one by one.
Those who had only one well-worn path of stones are
completely blocked when some are removed.
But those who
spent their lives trying different mental routes each time,
creating a myriad of possible paths, still have several
As the study
shows, we need to keep as many of those paths active as we
can, while also generating new paths, to maintain the
complexity of our neuronal connections.
words: Intelligence — don’t leave home without it.
do we mean by "intelligence"?
probably agree that intelligence isn't just a numerical
measurement, with a number of 100 plus or minus assigned to
it. But what is it?
To answer this
question, we go back to the most elemental questions
possible. Why do animals have a brain? To survive? No,
plants don't have a brain and they survive. To live
longer? No, many trees outlive us.
neuroscience educator Robert Sylwester notes, mobility
is central to everything that is cognitive, whether it is
physical motion or the mental movement of information.
Plants have to endure whatever comes along, including
predators eating them. Animals, on the other hand, can
travel to seek food, shelter, mates, and to move away from
unfavorable conditions. Since we can move, we need a
cognitive system that can comprehend sensory input and
intelligently make choices.
differ for each of us, but according to many, if the
stimulus-response relationship of a situation is automatic,
we don't think of the response as requiring our
intelligence. We don't use the word "intelligent" to
describe a banana slug, even though it has a rudimentary
But when the
brain evaluates several viable responses and chooses one (a
real choice, not just following habits), the cognitive
process is considered to be intelligent.
As Jean Piaget
put it, intelligence is what we use when we don't already
know what to do.
ask two questions:
Why is dancing better than other activities for
improving mental capabilities?
Does this mean all kinds of dancing, or is one kind
of dancing better than another?
this particular study falls short. It doesn't answer these
questions as a stand-alone study. Fortunately, it isn't a
stand-alone study. It's one of many studies, over decades,
which have shown that we increase our mental capacity by
exercising our cognitive processes. Intelligence: Use it or
lose it. And it's the other studies which fill in the gaps
in this one. Looking at all of these studies together lets
us understand the bigger picture.
The essence of
intelligence is making decisions.
The best advice, when it comes to improving your mental
acuity, is to involve yourself in activities which require
split-second rapid-fire decision making, as opposed to rote
memory (retracing the same well-worn paths), or just working
on your physical style.
One way to do
that is to learn something new.
Not just dancing, but anything new. Don't worry about the
probability that you'll never use it in the future. Take a
class to challenge your mind. It will stimulate the
connectivity of your brain by generating the need for new
pathways. Difficult classes are better for you, as they
will create a greater need for new neural pathways.
all means include a dance class, which can be even more
effective. Dancing integrates several brain functions at
once — kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional —
further increasing your neural connectivity.
What kind of dancing?
all kinds of dancing lead to increased mental acuity?
No, not all
forms of dancing will produce the same benefit, especially
if they only work on style, or merely retrace the same
memorized paths. Making as many split-second decisions as
possible is the key to maintaining our cognitive abilities.
Remember: intelligence is what we use when we don't
already know what to do.
We wish that
25 years ago the Albert Einstein College of Medicine
thought of doing side-by-side comparisons of different kinds
of dancing, to find out which was better. But we can figure
it out by looking at who they studied: senior citizens 75
and older, beginning in 1980. Those who danced in that
particular population were former Roaring Twenties dancers
(back in 1980) and then former Swing Era dancers (today), so
the kind of dancing most of them continued to do in
retirement was what they began when they were young:
freestyle social dancing -- basic foxtrot, swing, waltz
and maybe some Latin.
watching senior citizens dance all of my life, from my
parents (who met at a Tommy Dorsey dance), to retirement
communities, to the Roseland Ballroom in New York. I almost
never see memorized sequences or patterns on the dance
floor. I mostly see easygoing, fairly simple social dancing
— lead and follow.
dancing isn't that simple! It requires a lot of
split-second decision-making, in both the Lead and Follow
At this point,
I want to clarify that I'm not demonizing memorized sequence
dancing or style-focused pattern-based ballroom dancing. I
sometimes enjoy sequence dances myself, and there are
stress-reduction benefits of any kind of dancing, plus the
cardiovascular benefits of physical exercise, and even
further benefits of feeling connected to a community of
dancers. So all dancing is good.
But when it
comes to preserving (and improving) our mental acuity, then
some forms are significantly better than others. While all
dancing requires some intelligence, I encourage you to use
your full intelligence when dancing, in both the Lead and
Follow roles. The more decision-making we can bring into
our dancing, the better.
Who benefits more, women or men?
dancing, the Follow role automatically gains a benefit. The
woman must make hundreds of split-second decisions as to
what to do next, sometimes unconsciously so.
"follow", but rather “react”. Women interpret the signals
their partners are giving them, and this requires
intelligence and decision-making, which is active, not
is greatly enhanced by dancing with different partners, not
always with the same fellow. With different dance
partners, you have to adjust much more and be aware of more
variables. This is great for staying smarter longer.
But men, you
can also match her degree of decision-making if you choose
to do so
1) Really pay
attention to your partner and what works best for her.
Notice what is comfortable for her, where she is already
going, which signals are successful with her and which
aren't, and constantly adapt your dancing to these
observations. That's rapid-fire split-second decision
2) Don't lead
the same old patterns the same way each time. Challenge
yourself to try new things. Make more decisions more
side-benefit is that your partners will have much more fun
dancing with you when you are attentive to their dancing and
constantly adjusting for their comfort and continuity of
motion. And as a result, you'll have more fun too.
fully utilize their intelligence in dancing, at all levels,
love the way it feels. Spontaneous leading and following
both involve entering a flow state. Both leading and
following benefit from a highly active attention to
most succinct definition I know for intelligent dancing:
a highly active attention to possibilities. And I think
it's wonderful that both the Lead and Follow role share that
The best Leads
appreciate the many options that the Follow must consider
every second, and respect and appreciate the Follow's input
into the collaboration of partner dancing. The Follow is
finely attuned to the here-and-now in relaxed
responsiveness, and so is the Lead.
highly active attention to possibilities, flexibility, and
alert tranquility are perfected in the art of dance
partnering, dancers find it even more beneficial in their
other relationships, and in everyday life.
The study made
another important suggestion: do it often.
did crossword puzzles four days a week had a measurably
lower risk of dementia than those who did the puzzles once a
week. It was the same thing for dancing. If you can't take
classes or go out dancing four times a week, then at least
dance as much as you can. The more, the better.
And do it now,
the sooner the better. It's essential to start building
your cognitive reserve now. Some day you'll need as many of
those stepping stones across the creek as possible.
Don't wait —
start building those neural dance pathways now.
Rick’s Note: Assuming this article is
correct… and I found Mr. Powers to be quite persuasive… it behooves
any person over 50 to use dance as a primary way to stay
sharp. Social Dancing has been shown to significantly delay
the mind’s inevitable aging process.
Dancing is such a valuable skill for Seniors that it boggles
the mind why anyone would fail to heed this message.
to swimming, cycling, jogging, walking, golf, tennis, and so
on. These activities are marvelous for the exercise they
offer and the fun as well. However, in terms of keeping the
mind sharp, these activities do not engage the brain like
more effective because it involves both the mind and the
body. Apparently sharpening the mind works best when
decision-making is combined with movement. The
human mind is wired to think on one’s feet so to speak.
This explains why Lead-Follow situations help to stimulate
held one surprise for me. I was not aware there are mental
benefits from merely taking a dance class. The article
implied that ‘learning’ in itself is invaluable. It doesn’t
matter whether the progress is fast or slow. All that
matters is that a person finds the class CHALLENGING. That
alone starts the brain’s rewiring process.
approaches a dance class as a series of puzzles to be
solved, then any dance activity that forces the brain to
engage in a series of decisions involving MOVEMENT becomes
words, although we certainly wish to improve our skills in a
dance class, the struggle to learn is just as valuable as
the goal itself.
COMPANIONSHIP AND DANCE
pointed out that there are “further benefits from feeling
connected to a community of dancers.”
agree. One of the beauties of SSQQ is that people knew
exactly where to go to see their friends.
A major added
benefit to social dance for the Fifty Plus crowd is that
Social Dance fulfills our need for companionship quite
nicely. This is an important point, because without a sense
of connection, people risk both physical and mental decline.
Robert Putnam, a Harvard political science professor,
published Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of
made a persuasive case for the dangers of loneliness and
isolation. Putnam speculated that social isolation is "a
chronically stressful condition to which the organism
responds by aging faster." In other words, loneliness is a
have documented the strong correlation between connectedness
and health at the community level. Others have zeroed in on
individuals, both in natural setting and in experimental
conditions. Researchers have been able to show that social
isolation PRECEDES illness.
Over the last twenty years more than a
dozen large studies of this sort in the USA, Scandinavia,
and Japan have shown that people who are socially
disconnected are between two and five times more likely to
die from all causes compared with matched individuals who
have close ties with family, friends, and the community.
On the other
hand, countless studies document the link between society
and psyche: people who have close friends and confidants,
friendly neighbors, and supportive co-workers are less
likely to experience sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem,
and problems with eating and sleeping.
If social isolation leads to
unhappiness, then social connectedness leads to health. For
example, study after study show that married people or
people in committed relationships are consistently happier
than people who are unattached, all else being equal.
These findings will hardly surprise
most Americans. It is fairly common knowledge that good
relationships with family members, friends, and romantic
partners - far more than money or fame - are prerequisites
for their happiness.
The Dance Smart Project
We need to get
ourselves out dancing more often. It starts with individuals
agreeing with this idea and making a pledge to add more
dancing into their life. The Dance Smart article
states the more partners we dance with, the better the
results. So we need many people to buy into this idea for
it to work.
individuals come to this same conclusion, then a group
consciousness will kick in.
It all starts
with one or two people, then word of mouth spreads the news
and more people begin join. It is exponential, but some of
you need to take the Lead. As they say, the rest will
Follow if you get my drift.
the Old Guard to get out
there and dance. Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday …
whenever you can. Make a habit out of it!
of you who already know how to dance, but don’t use it
FREQUENTLY, this is a call to arms… uh, make that a call to
feet. It’s the “Dance Smart Thing” to do.
And for those of you who have
concerns and issues about participating in the Dance Smart
Project, send your thoughts and questions to me. I will
show you exactly what steps you need to take to get out
Send questions and comments to