“Life without line dancing would be too dreadful to imagine,” declared a woman over 60 who participated in a government study about the impact of line dancing on seniors. And then there’s “Mr. Guitar” Chet Atkins, who said that “the [county-western] music has gotten pretty bad. It’s all that damn line dancing.”
Whatever one’s opinion of the dance practice that features a repeated sequence of steps made by people facing the same direction or each other, it’s been a favorite for years. Some even consider it an art form. Popular line dances over the decades include the Madison, the San Francisco Stomp, Walkin’ Wazi, Cowboy Boogie, and many more.
The origins of line dancing vary depending on whom you ask. Some say it’s descended from the 1970s disco era, when dances like the Electric Slide emerged under the glitter of mirror balls all over the world. Others say it goes back to the 1800s, when European immigrants brought native group dances with them…or when cowboys on the western frontier brought the simple footwork of square dances and similar jigs to greater American culture.
Audiences fell in love with Debra Winger and John Travolta as they line danced their way through Urban Cowboy (1980), and Billy Ray Cyrus’ 1992 hit song “Achy Breaky Heart” is also said to have been a boon to the movement. And who will soon forget the Macarena from the mid-1990s? One Maca, two Maca, three Macarena…Hey, Macarena!
One thing just about everyone can agree on is that line dancing, and dancing in general, is a big step toward better overall health and well-being. In the 1940s, Marian Chace helped traumatized WWII veterans through dance therapy. One study even announced this astonishing revelation: frequent dancing lowers the risk of dementia by a whopping 76 percent, more than any other physical activity. “Of all the physical activities, dancing involves the most mental effort,” the study concluded.
Indeed, dancing is significantly beneficial, particularly to seniors. Here’s our dance card of would-be line dances that stress the multiple plusses of being in step together.
The Noggin. As noted above, dancing requires more cognitive effort than other forms of physical activity. Following along and memorizing steps helps create new neural connections and demands a level of concentration that sharpens an aging brain.
The Social Butterfly. While dancing by oneself no longer carries the social stigma it once did, most dancing – particularly line dancing – involves community with others. The combination of music, steps (and sometimes humorous missteps!) and several people engaged in a common effort adds up to fun, fellowship and newfound friendships.
The Balancing Act. Dancing improves motor skills, muscle mass, bone and joint strength as well as balance, flexibility and coordination. All these factors help reduce the risk of falls and other injuries so common among seniors.
The Ticker. Dancing is an aerobic exercise, boosting heart and lung health. Line dancing is often a measured, deliberate process that gives older adults a cardiopulmonary workout that doesn’t overstress the system.
The Elevator. Even the staidest of sorts get a kick out of kicking up their heels. Dancing increases energy and releases happy hormones like endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. It’s also been found to alleviate pain. Done with a group, it’s a tried and true ice breaker that boosts mood and lingers long after the feet leave the floor.
In Naperville and surrounding suburbs, country-western dance clubs and restaurants are increasingly popular destinations. Dance studios in and near our city offer lessons in various genres, including line dancing.
At Monarch Landing, our residents can be found country line dancing every week. Led by a spirited resident herself, they’re loving it every step of the way.