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A look into the brain of a dancer

By Megan Francis and Parker Gratton



Depression is a common and serious medical illness that varies from mild to severe symptoms and can cause sufferers to feel many different things. It is a mood disorder that “manifests itself as a state of emotional exhaustion and unhappiness that may be transient or permanent” (Polanco-Zuleta et al., 2021). Depression is an illness that is taking over people’s lives, young and old: 800,000 people a year who suffer from depression commit suicide (Polanco-Zuleta et al., 2021). Depression is medically different for each person and does not only affect those who suffer from it but their caregivers as well (Polanco-Zuleta et al., 2021). Those who have depressive disorders “generally have low levels of perception of self-efficacy which can impact their functional skills in their daily lives (Polanco-Zuleta et al., 2021).


Studies have shown that dance movement therapy (DMT) has significantly impacted the reduction of depression symptoms. The movement to music empowers the expression of unconscious inner feelings and encourages the desire for aesthetic sensibility; such creative self-discovery arouses a person's liveliness and makes a notable impact on depression. Body-focused therapies naturally form a connection to the awareness of bodily states (Merrit Millman L.S. et al. 2020) and trigger the development of introspection, a skill that brings sensation, action, and observation into the conscious mind. (Merrit Millman L.S. et al. 2020) As individuals learn to apply newfound self-awareness to their emotions, the root of their pain becomes discoverable, and coping strategies can be brought to light, thus promoting self-efficiency and healing. Not only does dance teach people to look inward and uncover the subconscious symptoms of depression, it also increases serotonin levels and releases endorphins. Serotonin releases mood-stabilizing chemicals and positively reinforces movement to reduce sadness, demonstrating dance's short-term benefits. In comparison, endorphins are naturally occurring opiates often associated with euphoria, happiness, and well-being (Ogden et al., 2020, pg. 275). Both hormones serve as a natural pain reliever and a healthy escape way to escape depression symptoms.


When studying solutions for depression in hospitalized patients with major depressive disorder, researchers discovered that pharmacological treatment and a dance program are shown to work hand in hand. When pharmacological treatment and a dance program were combined to treat patients with depression, it helped to decrease the individuals' symptoms. Also, it increases the perception of self-efficacy, which leads to a greater recovery rate (Polanco-Zuleta et al., 2022). Movement generates physiological and emotional well-being (Polanco-Zuleta et al., 2022) since it challenges the emotional exhaustion manifested by depression; dance strengthens the heart, and organs achieve heightened stamina which trains the body to use energy more efficiently. (Golen, T. & Ricciotti, H. 2021) The heart gets better at circulating oxygen and makes it easier for the mitochondria to produce energy, plus the body gets a “boost from an exercise-induced increase in hormones” (Golen, T. & Ricciotti, H. 2021 para 2) that makes people feel more energized and provides quick relief to depression symptoms.


Approximately 322 million people suffer from depression and 800, 000 people commit suicide a year, according to the World Health Organization. (Polanco-Zuleta et al., 2022) These statistics show that depression affects not only those who suffer from the disorder but also their primary caregivers. When attending to a depressed individual, the role of a caregiver extends from bestowing basic needs to providing continuous emotional support. This is why the benefits of the dance program, in addition to pharmacological treatment, become crucial to the well-being of caregivers as well. stress levels and other symptoms that impede the individual's socialization start to decrease, and self-efficiency begins to emerge as a result. People's belief regarding their capability to face different situations and overcome them independently eventually occurs through dance movement therapy, which then influences self-expression. (Polanco-Zuleta et al., 2022) Music plays a role in this process as it provides an effective way to build emotional awareness; calming music reduces symptoms of depression, thereby activating a relaxed response. (Heshmat, S. 2019) Whereas other genres can challenge feelings of frustration and purge negative emotions. This is why many of us have different playlists for different moods. (Heshmat, S. 2019) With newfound emotional awareness through music and dance, individuals suffering from depression strengthen their self-expression, and problem-solving becomes second nature, therefore relieving dependence on their primary caregivers. And solidifying the dance program as a plausible option of treatment for depressed individuals.

Since depression exists in age groups outside of young adults, Mala et al. (2012) focused their study on the specific benefits of dance movement therapy concerning a person's stage of life. For example, the research of adolescent teens in the DMT program discovered modulation in serotonin and dopamine through the involvement of dance movement therapy (DMT). (Mala et al., 2012), whereas balanced cognition and mood stability improvement was the main focus in the group of older adults. Since physical problems and isolation are the main reasons for depression development in people of ages 60-74 years old, the beneficial effect of movement on balance becomes a topic of life preservation (Mala et al., 2012). Falls are a major cause of mortality in older adults; therefore, refining balance is a significant advantage of DMT. Remarkable improvement in balance, higher behavioral morals, and higher self-esteem of older people in nursing homes have also been observed through dance movement therapy (Mala et al., 2012). These research results are inspiring since it exemplifies the lengths of dance therapy on the reduction of depression from adolescent teens to people of age 74; dance has made a notable demonstration of how mental health improves through art and creativity.


Our research on dance has shown remarkable results regarding the well-being of

people suffering from depression while also touching on the benefits of dance at different severity levels and age groups. This mindful-based intervention reduces psychological symptoms and decreases emotional reactivity. (Marich, J., 2022), thus empowering individuals suffering from depression to express themselves and strengthen their position on patience, trust, and acceptance (Marich, J., 2022). The changes in depression through dancevmindfulness teach individuals how to heal themselves and become less dependent on their caregivers, thus reinforcing a healthier relationship with themselves and their relatives. Different genres of music play different roles in self-expression; for

example, calming music promotes relaxation, whereas rock music paired with a passionate and energetic dance routine could purge feelings of frustration. Emotional awareness and self-efficiency are exercised through this process of decision-making. Dance also providesquick relief of depression symptoms through the exercise-induced hormone increase. (Golen,T. & Ricciotti, H. 2021) As serotonin and endorphins rush into the body, positive emotions such as euphoria and well-being emerge. Dance has many supporting factors for teaching mindfulness awareness and its healing processes (Marich, J., 2022).


LOUD aims to demonstrate the connection between art and mindfulness since creativity is a part of the human foundation. By being immersed in creative projects, people revisit their imaginative roots and practice empathy as they work through the errors that come with creating. LOUD uses modern psychology, mindfulness, and art to spark happiness through the rediscovery of creative self-expression; we offer classes such as creative journaling and painting as resources in aspiration to help others connect to their inner feelings.


References and further reading:

Amercian Psychiatric Association . (n.d.). What is depression? Psychiatry.org - What Is Depression? Retrieved from

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression

Golen, T. & Ricciotti, H. (2021, July 1) Does exercise really boost energy levels? Harvard womens health watch retrieved from Does exercise really boost energy levels? - Harvard Health

Heshmat, S. (2019, September 2) 7 Different ways to regulate emotion with music Psychology today retrieved from 7 Effective Ways to Regulate Emotion With Music | Psychology Today

Mala A., Karkou V., Meekums B., (2012, April 22) Dance/Movement Therapy (D/MT) for depression: A scoping review, The arts in psychotherapy, 287-295 retrieved from Dance/Movement Therapy (D/MT) for depression: A scoping review - ScienceDirect

Marich, J. (2022, November 3). The dancing mindfulness approach to expressive arts therapy: Trauma‑focused solutions for group and individual settings. In Handbook of expressive arts therapy. (pp. 269–286). Retrivef from The dancing mindfulness approach to expressive arts therapy: Trauma‑focused...: EBSCOhost (mtroyal.ca)

Millman, Terhune, D. B., Hunter, E. C. M., & Orgs, G. (2021, Feburary 1). Towards a neurocognitive approach to dance movement therapy for mental health: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy., 28(1), 24–38. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1002/cpp.2490

Polanco-Zuleta, K. M., Medina-Corrales, M., Mendoza-Farías, F. J., Lozano, C. C. S., Tristán, J., Pappous, A. S., & López-Walle, J. M. (2021, September 30). Effects of a dance program on psychophysiological variables in hospitalized patients with depression: A mixed model approach. The Arts in Psychotherapy. Retrieved from

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0197455621001027


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