We are built to groove

The Dance Cure: The surprising secret to being smarter, stronger, happier by Peter Lovatt (Short Books, £9.99); reviewed by Dr Lucie Clements.

As I was reading The Dance Cure, I hoped that dancers would come across this book while unable to move in their studios and theatres this summer. The book will remind professional dancers, who are very likely experiencing frustration or declines in motivation, why we should all be dancing for fun as much as we should be dancing to ‘become a dancer’. It’s also a highly relevant read for those who simply love to move, providing a compelling narrative of the wide reaching cognitive and emotional benefits of dance.

The book starts with Lovatt’s personal inspirational story of struggling in school, and despite being one of very few boys in the dance class, finding himself moving as an outlet. The rest of the book focuses on understanding The Dance Cure: a simple but effective and important manifesto; that dance is good for our mental and physical wellbeing. The book takes the reader through a whistle-stop tour of feel-good ideas, from understanding the science of synchronisation and social cohesion to the efficacy of dance for Parkinson’s and depression.

The work is largely based around Lovatt’s own experiences of dancing and doing dance research in his lab, supplemented by insights from others in the field. I’ve followed the author’s work for some time, and this book embodies all that he is – fun but a rigorous scientist who has a way with words and movement. He discusses how we are built to groove, be creative and feel through moving, drawing broadly on stories and research from dances as wide as the Haka and lap dancing! In some places I was left wanting more research evidence than is presented, as the work favoured extended stories about few research projects, rather than jam packing with citations. With that in mind, the author has clearly simplified some of the more mind-boggling aspects of research methods and neuroscience while retaining the scientific integrity, and has an engaging, often humorous way of doing so. Diagrams and dance steps offer the perfect solution to helping the reader understand the scientific concepts and get up moving mid-read.

One question floated around my mind for much of the book – what about those people who simply hate dancing, because they are crippled by embarrassment or anxiety? Why is it that some people would rather leave a party than be dragged onto the dancefloor? The chapter ‘What stops people dancing?’ does flirt with this idea, introducing the phenomenon known as chorophobia, or the fear of dancing, but I still didn’t get my answers – although I did get a fun story about Simon Cowell! Maybe the depth I was looking for just doesn’t work in this feel-good book, but I craved some advice for chorophobics, or a clearer synthesis of how the evidence presented in the previous chapters applies for those individuals. The research shows that younger women tend to have lower self-confidence in their dancing, but I do still have some remaining questions as to other individual differences that exist in disliking dancing.

Nonetheless, this is a book that is needed and will engage many people, and very few are better placed to write about dance psychology than Lovatt. The book reminds those of us who don’t dance as much as we used to that we need to get up and get moving to prolong our lives, to become more empathetic and to destress. It’s a feel good, upbeat read and will encourage every reader to keep dancing.

- Reviewed by Dr Lucie Clements, Senior Lecturer and dance researcher, University of Chichester

Read an extract, and see also our interview with Peter Lovatt.

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