THURSDAY, April 7, 2022 (American Heart Association News) — Anyone who’s twisted, hustled, boot-scooted, or learned to do the Dougie knows that dancing can be more than just a fun way to spend a Saturday night. But when music and movement connect someone with their heritage, it can give a special boost, boost pride, social connections, and even health.
Studies have found health benefits in culturally relevant dance programs that used styles as varied as Spanish flamenco, choreography to black gospel music, and traditional Greek dances.
In Honolulu, Keawe Kaholokula has done extensive research on hula, the traditional Hawaiian dance. “We’ve seen tremendous benefits — clinically, culturally, and socially,” said Kaholokula, head of the Department of Native Hawaiian Health at the University of Hawaii at the John A. Burns School of Medicine in Manoa. .
Hula, which has deep historical and spiritual roots, involves synchronized body movements that illustrate chants or accompanying chants. Kaholokula and her colleagues worked with hula masters to design a program that incorporated dance, cultural instruction and health education.
In a study of Native Hawaiians with uncontrolled high blood pressure, they found that adding six months of hula lessons to heart health education resulted in greater reductions in blood pressure and risk of heart disease. cardiovascular disease over 10 years compared to those who received only health education. The findings appeared last year in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
Almost any exercise can be good for heart health. But Kaholokula said the benefits of hula go beyond just moving people around. “We think the biggest contribution is really the social and cultural impact it has.”
For a native Hawaiian, celebrating culture through the hula can provide a buffer against the pressures of being in a historically repressed group, Kaholokula said. Hula becomes a form of validation, “a place where they – their identity, the things they value – are actually valued and promoted.”
Colonization devastated the native Hawaiian culture and nearly eliminated the language. Such historic repression is a health issue, Kaholokula said, because her research has linked perceived racism to an increased risk of high blood pressure among Native Hawaiians. But people who participated in the hula program reported lower levels of perceived racism afterwards, based on an ongoing analysis of data from its Annals of Behavioral Medicine study.
He thinks the program’s success reflects how it can make people feel better about themselves as Aboriginal people. Plus, he pointed out, “it’s fun.”
That’s key, said David X. Marquez, professor of kinesiology and nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Marquez is co-creator of a program that incorporates Latin dance styles — merengue, cha-cha-cha, salsa and bachata — to encourage physical activity among older Latinos. Studies have shown that the program had a positive effect on physical activity and that dancers performed better on memory and cognition tests than a control group that received only health education.
The traditional concept of exercise as something people do in a gym doesn’t resonate with everyone, Marquez said. And “if people don’t like it or care about it, then they won’t.”
But cultural music and dance can attract people. In focus groups, when older Latinos talked about dancing, it brought up fond memories of family celebrations and childhood experiences, Marquez said. “It was very positive.”
It also brings people together.
Dr. Amlu Natesan, a pediatric emergency medicine fellow at the University of California, San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospitals, saw this when she led a pilot study published in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care on how the Bollywood-style dancing could help with weight loss and blood sugar levels in South Asian women with type 2 diabetes.
Being around people with similar backgrounds and health issues boosted women’s confidence and added motivation to keep participating, Natesan said. Many were exercising for the first time in their lives. By doing this with music, they grew up with “definitely added a layer of connectivity”.
Her interest in dance is not only clinical. She is a dancer and choreographer who, as part of a Bollywood group that has performed across the country, including on the TV show “America’s Got Talent”.
Natesan was born in India and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. As she grew up in a “sort of hybrid culture”, dancing was a way to connect with her South Indian heritage. For immigrants looking to adapt to a new environment without forgetting their roots, she says, music and dance can be sources of psychological comfort and community..
“My closest friends to this day are still people who danced with me growing up — girls I met when I was 5 in those early dance classes,” she said.
Dancing gives her the kind of focus and relaxation that other people might get from meditation. Natesan considers it “restorative”, which is why she found time for it even during the busiest years of her medical training.
For beginners, introductions to almost every type of dance are available online. Natesan recommends finding inspiration by searching “Bollywood dance lessons” on YouTube, but she said professional instruction is widely available. Kaholokula said culturally appropriate hula schools can be found around the world. Marquez suggested aspiring dancers seek out a local studio.
Given the health benefits, it’s important that experts continue to research ways to engage people through dance, Kaholokula said. “The average person doesn’t jog all their life, or use a treadmill all their life, or use a stationary bike all their life. But they can do other things, like maybe dance. “
American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Any opinions expressed in this story do not reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have any questions or comments about this story, please email [email protected]
By Michael Merschel, American Heart Association News