How can I keep myself from dancing?

: Interview with neuroscientist Dong-Seon Chang: Dancing makes you more social - and even protects against dementia

Only ten percent of Germans dance regularly. Far too little, thinks neuroscientist Dong-Seon Chang. He is a passionate swing dancer himself and is a lindy hopper. At the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, he did research on the subject of movement and the brain. Together with the Danish neuroscientist Julia F. Christensen, an expert on brain and dance, he wrote a book that has now been published. It is said that "dancing is the best medicine".

Mr. Chang, many people say they don't dance because they don't have a sense of rhythm. Can that be true?
The human brain is amazingly good at doing what it believes in. For example, if you think, “It'll hurt right away,” then you actually have more pain. It's similar with dancing. If you really believe that you can't, it is very likely that it will.

So originally everyone has a sense of rhythm?
As good as anyone. There is a rare congenital disorder called amusia. People who suffer from it can neither classify rhythms nor adapt their body movements to a rhythm. So you are not color-blind, but music-blind - and therefore also dance-blind. But that only affects 1.5 percent of the population. The chance of being among them is very slim. For most people, it is more uncertainty and shame that keep them from dancing.
How can you change that?
For example, let the thinking be there. Don't focus on every move you make. Just let go. It has been neuroscientifically proven that our reactions are slower when we consciously think about our movements. So nothing works “headed”. I recommend: You better dance about it.

Dances like Macarena, Gangnam Style or club dances on vacation are so easy that you don't have to think about them. Is that why they are so popular?
Amongst other things. It's easier to get into dance, no matter who in the world. Even if these dances are simple: Dancing with several people in a group is always an exciting community experience.

Why is that?
In the moments when we move in harmony with others, our brain loses the boundary between I and we, so to speak: a strong feeling of connectedness arises. Researchers once found out: The more synchronized the dance movements of people who didn't know each other before, the more they like each other afterwards. People who dance together become more social and also more empathic.

What happens in the brain?
Our brain tries to understand other people by simulating them. When we perceive our own and the same movement in another person at the same time, a so-called co-activation takes place in our brain: Areas are activated at the same time that perceive “me” and “you”, which usually work independently of each other. For our brain, you and I then become one.

Children especially like to dance. When can a person dance?
Even an embryo reacts to music with movements in the womb. And newborns already recognize structure in rhythm. When you change a rhythm, your brain waves change too. As babies, we learn to move along with sounds and language. We hear the word “grab it” and connect it with the grabbing movement. If you will, language is music and movement is dance.

Later, many couples get to know each other while dancing. Which dance style do women particularly like in men?
Of course, it depends on the dancer's self-confidence and how he presents himself. Scientists have found out, however: Women find men attractive who make large and varied movements with the neck and upper body. The bigger the body bends and twists, the better. The speed of movement of the right knee also played a role.

Right knee?
Yes, in South America men like to do a salsa step when they lead the lady, which they cushion with a smooth movement of the right knee. This movement probably has a special sex appeal.

When dancing together, it should also harmonize between man and woman.
Yes, and that's what makes us humans so special. In contrast to animals, we can dance together improvising. Isn't that fascinating? How do we do that? By synchronizing our brains. I examined this myself in a study. We can simulate in our brain how the other person is about to move to a certain rhythm. The man raises his hand, the woman turns. These are very different movements. Still, they go together. Apparently the dance partner is represented in the brain at the same time. It works because our brain specializes in the social. So we were born to dance.

And how does dancing affect health?
There are two main factors that make it so healthy. First, the movement that is good for the circulation, muscles, brain and immune system. The other factor is that you literally come into contact with other people. More and more studies show that being close to other people has decisive effects on our health. Those who are lonely and isolated have a harder time staying healthy, especially in old age. Our brain has evolved in such a way that it is easier for us to be happier and healthier among people. Dancing combines all of this. Because who can be happy at the push of a button? Dancers when they turn on the stereo.

Until when can you start dancing?
There are nightclubs in Korea that are only for people over 60. This is really a boom there. 80-year-olds go dancing several times a week. Many discovered dancing very late, but are now addicted to it. Some of the seniors even attend dance classes to learn cool moves that they can then flaunt on the dance floor.

Does dancing help against certain diseases?
Dancing has been shown to have a positive effect on many diseases, for example it protects against heart disease. But also against dementia. And that much better than activities like solving crossword puzzles or making music. Also in Parkinson's patients who dance twice a week, motor skills such as balance and walking distance had improved. Incidentally, more in the Argentine tango than in the waltz.

Why is that?
Possibly because in tango you almost always stand on one leg for a moment and often have to stop and start again. With Parkinson's, starting off is a major problem.

Which dance style would you particularly recommend?
Everyone has to find out for themselves. Often it just works through the music you love. When I personally listen to jazz music and funk, my bottom wobbles all by itself. That's why swing dance and lindy hop are just right for me.