Folk Dancing and Health
By John Gratiot, M.D.
From Let's Dance, September, 1951
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Folk Dancing is primarily a form of entertainment and enjoyment, designed for normal, healthy individuals. Contrary to the general impression, which is given by its enthusiasts, folk dancing is not a curative solution to all ills, real or imaginary. I am not proposing this form of dancing as a healing cult, nor can miracles be promised to those who participate. There seems to be considerable evidence, however, that absorbing hobbies in general, and folk dancing in particular, can greatly benefit many people, both physically and mentally.
Folk dancing differs from most creative hobbies in that it is one in which both husband and wife can participate, one in which they are beneficially interdependent, and one which promotes congeniality with many people outside of the imediate family. This brings up its obvious benefit to introverts, to self-centered individuals, and to shy people. Only those who have been in one of these groups can appreciate the tremendous pleasure at escaping from it.
Self-conscious individuals do not enjoy being so. I can think of nothing which can so consistently and quickly aid these people. The spontaneous and contagious friendliness and helpfulness of those in a dancing group overcomes the novice's reluctance. He soon forgets his self-consciousness, becomes too absorbed to notice whether anyone is observing him, and, after a few sessions, has not only overcome his shyness but has become almost aggressive in his friendliness to others. This transformation is carried over into all his activities, at home, at work, and in his social life.
The sense of accomplishment further enhances his feeling of well-being. That this is not an exaggeration can be attested to by practically any experienced folk dancer.
While folk dancing cannot be held out as a quick cure for alcoholism, there is no question but that an absorbing interest is great help in diverting one's mind into other channels. Alcoholism is generally believed to be an illness. Its cure, of course, requires a much deeper treatment than a mere diversionary interest. But such an interest, if actively absorbing, can be a powerful adjunct to the principal course of therapy.
As in the case of alcoholism, prevention of divorce must be based on a very deep understanding and a cooperative effort of both individuals, perhaps with a sympathetic and intelligent counsellor to steer the proceedings. It is a recognized fact that divorce is fostered by lack of mutual interest; therefore, folk dancing can be one project of absorbing interest to both husband and wife.
Many phobias, complexes, and anxieties, some of which we all possess, can be greatly lessened or abolished by folk dancing. These mental disturbances seemed to have multiplied with our increasingly complex civilized existence. While they do exist to some extent in all of us, they are usually kept at a subconscious level by our normal mental processes, and by our interests and intellectual outlets. They are nourished by introversion, self-pity, boredom, and illness. Obviously folk dancing is a potent neutralizing force to any of these. One plagued by these would do well to investigate the local folk dancing facilities.
Not of less importance than the benefits to the psychological are those to the physical life. No one can deny the advantage of exercise. Many of us "tired business men" have almost no muscular exertion from one week to another. A program of regular exercise should be, but seldom is, carried out. Optimum quantity of exercise varies with individuals. Generally speaking, this should not be carried to the point of unpleasant fatigue. One's physical limitations should be taken into account. It is only common sense that, should there be any doubt as to the physical ability, a physician should be consulted before exercise is undertaken.
I have heard many remark at how refreshed they are after an evening of folk dancing. Fatigue and worry are shed. Tension is gone. Pleasant weariness and easily-gained sleep follow.