The most addictive thing I’ve ever done

I spent the past weekend at an amazing blues dance workshop taught by Lucky Skillen and hosted by Swing Out Central. Spending a whole weekend dancing is such an intense way to learn, and it gave me a huge boost to my confidence, skills and understanding of blues.

The workshop also left me craving more. On Sunday evening at the social wind-down, despite my aching calves and exhausted body, I just did not want to stop dancing! I believe partner dancing is incredibly addictive and incredibly good for you because the combination of listening to music, physical exercise and human touch triggers your brain/body to release feel-good hormones like oxytocin, endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. Some of the many benefits of these chemicals include pain relief, better immune function, feeling happy and increased empathy.

If everybody would dance there would be no war

— Dawn Hampton

Lucky finished the weekend with “micro-blues” workshop. The simplest way to describe micro-blues is this: We hugged! Of course, there was a lot more to it than that. We started by adjusting our breathing to follow the music (when we were leading) or our partner’s breath (when we were following), then gradually added in very small/slow movements.

Here’s the interesting thing about micro-blues. One would normally expect spending 5 minutes hugging a near-stranger to feel exceedingly awkward. Instead the experience was soothing and meditative. Because we had our eyes shut and our attention focused on the music and the subtle movements of our partner’s body, we were able to reap the benefits of human touch without feeling our normal apprehension about prolonged touch.

So if you’ve never tried partner dancing before, give it a go! I’m a big fan of blues and lindy hop, but any partner dancing involves music, exercise and touch, and will give you the same sort of benefits I’ve described here.


Time to get fit

Being active is a key part of looking after your well-being (although I hope that isn’t news to anyone).

Not only does exercise improve your physical health, it also makes you happy, improves your memory and cognitive performance, reduces stress, gives you energy, helps you relax, boosts your libido and increases your creativity.*

In the last year my life has been so full to the brim — initially with writing a thesis, then later with work, socialising, moving house, etc. — that I’ve left little time for exercise in my busy schedule. As a result, I’m probably the least fit that I’ve ever been, and I’m very aware I need to change that.

(I’m also the fattest I’ve ever been, which, by any reasonable definition of the word, is still not fat at all. I only mention this because it’s something people seem to relate to. Whenever I comment on my desire to exercise more, people respond with “But you’re already skinny enough!” And I’ll  sigh, because yet another person has equated my statement that “I need the exercise [because my cardiovascular fitness is appalling and my muscle strength is pathetic]” with “I think I’m fat and want to lose weight.” I can understand the confusion. We’re constantly bombarded with messages about body image and weight loss, and even weight loss for the sake of cardiovascular health, but the under-appreciated truth is that cardiovascular exercise is also good for your mental and physical health in its own right.)

But I digress. I’ve finally gotten around to doing something about my lack of exercise: I joined a gym. Now I just have to schedule gym attendance into my calendar and make sure I actually go — that’s the difficult part!