As we enter the next millennium, many of us will engage in introspection in the hopes of bringing new insight for leading more fulfilling lives. I am not only reviewing my personal life, but also examining my professional experiences. As a health care provider for 21 years I have seen some incredible patterns, some are obvious and some are not so obvious. For example, while as a Director on Nursing in Skilled Nursing Facility I noticed that those people who had over indulged in food, alcohol, tobacco and did not take the time to be close to family and friends ended up living the last days of their lives in misery. I have learned that people engage in self-destructive activities because they are either emotionally overwhelmed, consciously or unconsciously, bored, lonely and or feeling pain (in other words STRESSED).
There are so many ways to relieve stress, just about any activity that will work up a sweat or captivate your attention in a positive way. If there is a choice between doing something and nothing, something is better than nothing, be it basketball, jogging, golf, swimming etc. However, there is no activity for me that is as deeply engaging at a subatomic level as dance. Dancing engages my mind, body and spirit in a rhythmic. Many other activities involve an inanimate object which we do not enter into the world with, so they are not as natural.
I believe dance as to be the ultimate way to promote health. During 1994 while working as a Director of Nursing in a Skilled Nursing Facility, I had undergone several personal and professional changes. I caught a flu during November, but could not get rid of a recurrent Bronchitis. I was on antibiotics about 13 times and was finally diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I had to go on disability for one year.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as with many other illnesses has an etiology that is multifactorial. The healing process is also dependent on many activities.
I had been involved with dance for 14 years, but had neglected to dance the year that I became ill. I decided to try SALSA dancing in an effort to heal as well as possibly teach. Over the next few years I began to solidify some of my ideas about the healing affects of dance that I had begun contemplating back in graduate school at UCSF. I began to see the relationship of dancing to health and our natural states of being.
Dancing involves rhythm, not only within one’s body but, coordinating it with the music and possibly with another person. We are all rhythmic beings our hearts beat at 60-100 beats/minute, breathing at 16/minute, even the cleansing of one’s blood occurs on a rhythm of 5cc/minute. In fact we consist of multiple rhythms, much like the music we hear, whether it be classical, jazz, rap or country.
Dance involves movement of all muscles in varying qualities. Quick sharp movements as well as fluid graceful motions. Of course to be a well rounded dancer one must learn several dance forms (Jazz, Ballet, African, Salsa, and or Hip Hop, to name but a few) that may be very different. Learning only one dance form can predispose one to physical trauma and injury. Dance develops the body in a balanced manner, unlike some activities that develop one side of the body more than the other (ie. Tennis). Dancing involves many physical qualities, such as strength, endurance, balance, coordination and flexibility.
The ability of a muscle to stretch, turn, twist, expand and /or take new shape under pressure or movement is known as flexibility. The quality of flexibility can also be applied to a state of mind, in which daily demands and stresses are handled with greater ease. Flexibility also allows one’s mind to modify or change daily thinking and movements in a coordinated and smooth fashion. Individual coordination is a challenge, yet coordinating with another human being, such as in the social dance-SALSA poses a whole new dimension of challenge.
Salsa dancing incorporates the social aspects of our being as well as the other benefits of dancing. Salsa dancing is very sensual which at times is confused with being sexual. Sensuality is simply being more sensory responsive which means our neurological system is functioning at optimal levels. There is a spiritual aspect of sensuality which connects one to oneself and to others.
One can be sensual without being sexual. In our society we are bombarded with "sex" through television, billboards, movies and other mass media. Yet, we do not treat sex in a healthy manner. We polarize our views of women and men, do not promote being whole.
In our society we tend to see women as "good girls" or "bad girls". A typical example is in the ballet Swan Lake in which the white swan is pure, angelic and virgin type and the Black Swan is seductive, sensual and dark. As long as women are separated into these extreme opposites it is difficult for them to be whole for themselves and for others. One rarely hears of a women being described as sexy and scholarly, when both can and should exist in a whole woman.
In terms of wholeness and balance for men, it is common to hear men as being described as being a"geek" or a "nerd" when one over engages in the mental dimension. The other dimensions in the human system- the physical and spiritual have been neglected. Engaging in SALSA dancing is not only extremely intellectually challenging with the multitudes of patterns but to look and feel good one has to incorporate all the dimensions of the human
I have noticed over the last couple of years in the SALSA scene in night clubs that many "silicon valley types" are enjoying the challenges of dancing as well as the drastic changes in learning that they have to endure to get the rhythm and feel for this dance form.
Becoming whole on a personal as well as on a global level, involves bringing people together to share and communicate. Dance is such a universal language and one sees a multitude of cultures on the SALSA dance floor, it is truly a representation of how different people can come together and focus on similarities rather than differences.
One of the greatest challenges of this millennium will be to find a balance between the high Tech world and our natural rhythmic selves. We are bombarded with a multitude of forms of communications, internet, cell phones, E-mail, message centers etc., yet we still have difficulty
"connecting". We still have high numbers of divorces, broken families and unmeasured numbers of frustrated people in relationships. Understanding another persons’ perspective and truly acknowledging their point of view is difficult. Body language which comprises a large percentage of communication is a universal way of relating to each other. Sensual Latin SALSA dancing forces us in a gentle manner to stay in touch with our natural states, as well as relate to others in this wonderful form of communication.
SALSA dancing has helped me to heal, promote and maintain health, stay fit, and meet new people, as well as benefit from the antidepressant affects of the music. I have been able to balance a fulfilling family life, home for my 14 year old son, lead a productive professional life with many awards in excellence, and manage a very debilitating illness.