I don’t need all that stuff to have fun

Green Lizard blogged earlier this week about the waste associated with running events, saying:

Why does something aimed at personal health lead to so much that affects the health of the planet?

I cannot emphasise enough how much this statement resonates with me! There are so many hobbies with the potential for creating a better world through improved health, happiness, self-sufficiency, or environmental footprint. Swing dancing, running, playing ukulele, hiking, knitting and gardening all come to mind.

The trouble is, with every pursuit comes an associated cult[ure] of consumerism: “Buy these eight hundred and seventy-three items and they will make you a better dancer/runner/player/hiker/knitter/gardener!”

More insidious is the undertone that you are not an authentic participant unless you purchase all the associated paraphernalia. This is fuelled in part by the simple desire to fit in and look the part. Each subculture has their uniform and tools of the trade — lycra for the cyclists, vintage attire and suede-soled shoes for the swing dancers, or moisture-wicking clothing for the runners. Of course, most activities do require some minimum amount of gear, and the selective acquisition of extra equipment can enhance the experience. However, I wish we could redirect the conversation away from all-the-things-you-need-to-buy-right-now and back towards the simple joy of doing something that makes your heart sing.

All I really need to cycle is a bike.

All I really need to dance is a partner and a smooth floor.

All I really need to make music is my voice.

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.