Saturday, May 25, 2013


Fred and Ginger!

My mom is upset about the study of activities that prevent dementia. She wants the research to show that tennis is just as effective as dancing. Instead, the results contain a line that reads “tennis and golf…0%” meaning zero percent of the elderly people tracked received benefits from those activities.

But the fine print says there weren’t enough participants doing these activities to be able to measure what their effects were. This was a real-world study of elderly people in Queens, starting in the 1980s. Apparently, tennis and golf just weren’t that popular, but dancing was.
So who’s to say that tennis, with its split-second decision making, its improvisational aspects, isn’t also good for the brain? I sincerely hope so, since both my parents are devoted to the sport.


This morning my father came home after tennis in a bad mood. “I couldn’t get my f**ing first serve in!” he said.

I, on the other hand, had gone tango dancing last night, and could feel the happiness from dancing still in my body.

“Thank god,” I thought to myself, “I get my exercise in a way that isn’t a zero-sum game.”

This isn’t to say dancing can’t get competitive. We’re human beings, after all.
“Yoga isn’t competitive!” someone in one of my yoga classes once said. My teacher laughed really hard at that. “You want to make a bet?” she asked.

Yoga gets competitive.

Writing gets competitive.

Cooking, that most nurturing of arts, is now very competitive (at least on TV).

Fixing the economy has turned into us vs. them.

Probably, somewhere out there, meditation gets competitive.

And dancing can be competitive (“Dancing with the Stars,” anyone?)

Recently I read, from one of the those happiness researchers who got written up in the New York Times, that people who don’t compare themselves to others are much happier.

By comparison, they are happier. I am now instantly comparing myself to these people who are happier than me. Who are these magical people, with a magical knack for not comparing?

As humans, we compare. I've even at times caught myself thinking something along the lines of, "Oh, I wish I had that other person's illness. She's got it better than me!" And how ridiculous is that?
And dancing, too, gets shoved into a competitive box. We create official competitions, and even when there’s no competition for miles around, dancers are constantly, unofficially, measuring ourselves against each other. We just can’t help it.

The movement of dance, however—what you’re doing moment to moment, whether there are judges watching or not—those movements are inherently cooperative. This is particularly true for partner dances. In tennis and other games, each and every movement is about winning or losing. What is good for one player is always bad for the other. (The words partner and opponent say it all.)

 In dancing, all your intentions are about coordinating with the music and with your partner. You have to react quickly, you have to improvise, and this is what makes it difficult. Each movement, however, is about building on what the other does to make something harmonious and beautiful. My theory is that, dementia or not, this is why dancing makes you so very happy. How can you not feel that spirit in your body and mind?


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