Quarantine day number not-sure-anymore and there is no longer room for a coffee table in our family room. Our accent chair has been scooted to the corner and our couch is pushed up against the wall. We needed space. Space to move our bodies, and burn off some energy that has been building up.
Rewind to earlier this week when it seemed like I had things coming at me from all angles. My six-year-old was demanding that she needed a break from her four-year-old sister, while my four-year-old was equally committed to not giving her that break. And then there was our one-year-old son, newly walking and into everything, last seen unrolling a roll of toilet paper like a cat (I know, not the toilet paper…) and dropping toys in the toilet. My husband, who had been let go from his job due to COVID, was here … there … everywhere. While I loved him being home, it was an adjustment.
Needless to say, my whole tribe was feeling overwhelmed, and burned out. I was convinced the walls were closing in and I wasn’t sure whether to dig my head in the sand or let the tears flow (or both). I needed a release. At my wits end, I connected my phone to our Bluetooth speaker, pressed play and cranked up the music. I needed to drown out all of the noise and chaos - to check-out for a mama minute.
Before I knew it, my whole body was swaying to the beat right there in our living room. Slow at first, then faster. With every move, I was shedding a bit of the stress and worry. I opened my eyes to see my children peering at me with curious looks. I smiled wide, reached out my hand, and pulled them into my dance party. With our giggles escalating, my husband came into the room and began to rock out some of his “dad moves.”
I became DJ Mommy, as the kids called it, taking requests for songs. We danced to everything from Michael Jackson’s Thriller to Whitney Houston’s Dance With Somebody to Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop The Feeling and everything in between.
Feet moving, arms flailing, bodies swaying, we left our dance session feeling lighter and more connected - like we had released and shared our emotions without actually saying a word. It felt so good (and fun), that it became a ritual. By the end of the week, we were scooting over the living room table to make room for our nightly dance parties, featuring DJ Mommy. It seemed to shift our energy, giving light to days that sometimes feel heavy.
Emotions are energy in motion. Dancing is motion. I felt like I was onto something here.
Dancing has many physical health benefits - improving strength, coordination, balance, enhancing muscle tone and flexibility, and especially important during this respiratory virus, conditions your heart and lungs.
Research has also shown that dance has social-emotional benefits, too. Dance can be used as a tool of therapeutic expression and is known to lower stress, anxiety, and depression while improving mood states and promoting interconnectedness. When we dance, the pleasure centers in our brains light up. Simply put, when we move our bodies, endorphins are released and our bodies feel good.
The art of dancing dates back centuries to ceremonial religious and tribal rituals. I was bringing this effective tool of emotive release and expression to the 21st century. Not only is it free, but it is freeing, and quite possibly the thing keeping my family centered during these trying times.
As parents, one of our many roles is to help our children recognize what emotions feel like in their bodies and help name them. In doing so, it helps to regulate those emotions. We can choose to exercise this with nonverbal methods, like dance. Using nonverbal methods to express emotions can be helpful when children are having trouble communicating their feelings or do not want to talk about their stress/fears. This may be especially true in a time of unprecedented reality when even we adults are at a loss of words.
When we communicate with our bodies, we are not expected to make sense of things. We just move, and this movement taps into deeper, more primal feelings. "Kids learn to move before they learn to read or sing. When kids dance freely, they're not on the receiving end of learning experiences. They are the givers, the makers, they are doing it themselves," said Aili Bresnahan, a former dancer who teaches philosophy at the University of Dayton in Ohio.
Here are some tips to get your family dancing:
- Choose music with an infectious beat. Take turns choosing songs, or take turns being the “daily DJ.”
- Change the tempo. Play fast music to elevate your mood, or play slow music to help you relax… just keep moving your body to the beat in ways that feel good.
- Insert silly. Invite everyone to dance like a particular animal (dance like a chicken or elephant), or even a particular feeling, i.e., dance mad/sad/happy, and so forth. Another playful tool to incorporate into your dance parties is to have one person be the leader and the rest of the group mimic their moves.
- Change the lighting. Dance in the daylight, or add fun disco lights. For those who may feel hesitant to dance, turn off the lights and groove in the dark.
- Bring in the props. Feel free to use remotes as microphones, spoons as guitars, or dress up like your favorite music artist.
- Go virtual. Have a virtual dance party with loved ones who would enjoy the experience - the more the merrier!
- Create a ritual. Pick a time and place for your dance party and go there daily.
- Have fun. That’s it. Just have fun and move while it feels good in ways that feel good. Be it one or two songs or 20 minutes of a dance party - the goal is just to move your body to move your emotions.
For my family, dance parties have been a way of social merging during a time of social distancing. My children (and I must admit, me too) feel a sense of security in our new ritual because, unlike so many things that have been canceled, music and the opportunity to express ourselves isn't going anywhere. This practice is bringing the love, connection, and play back into our walls. So dance, dance, dance … like nobody's watching. and like everyone is watching, not only for the movement of your body but for the movement of your emotions, too.