I’m working on a new stress management strategy.
Gritting my teeth and just getting ‘er done has backfired. Compulsive clenching has begun to undermine the fillings in my molars. So much for the grin and bear it approach.
So, impromptu dance parties it is.
I mean, how good does it feel to crank the tunes, dim the lights and get silly, rocking out in the living room with your roomies?
Science backs that up. A new study from the University of Oxford shows that dancing together with others (“exertive movements in synchrony”) boosts health and wellbeing. Even rocking or walking in step with someone creates a feeling of emotional closeness. The endorphin kick from dancing in sync increases pain tolerance and boosts the sense of connectedness with those you’re dancing with.
Even babies feel it. As the study’s lead researcher, Bronwyn Tarr, told Mic magazine, “They pick up the beat and get a lot of pleasure out of moving along to it.
When we grow up, we seem to start limiting our expression of that inherent musical ability. I think adults need to look for opportunities to unlock the creativity that was originally there.”
Wanting to release my latent groover, I reached out to the founder of Pemberton’s Dance Studio, dance teacher Anna Kroupina. Alas, Kroupina, a bona fide Russian-trained ballerina, couldn’t offer me a fast-track to funky moves and a chill head space. When you grow up behind the Iron Curtain, in a country that breeds the best dancers in the world, dance is firstly about discipline.
Mesmerized by ballet performances she’d watched on TV as a three year old on the party-controlled stations, Kroupina had to audition for a place at a dance school. “It was a huge selection process. There were two or three schools in the big city and they’d pluck 20 per cent out and give those kids a chance to try ballet,” she said.
Kroupina attended two schools in Yekatarinburg, overlapping classes and dancing with single-minded obsession, six days a week for up to four hours a day, from the age of five until she was 20. At 12, she was the best dancer in her region. At 15, a teacher offered her an assistant teaching role. Dance was a sanctuary in a place where even food was a luxury. “Being a dancer is a very special place for your mind to go to because when you’re in training, you get so focused it feels as though you’re flying away to some other world.”
When Kroupina moved to Pemberton four years ago after falling for a Canadian guy on her post-retirement travels, she started her international career, teaching dance full-time at the Pemberton Community Centre, and providing an outlet for many a girl’s tutu fetish. This year, Kroupina has partnered with Trish Belsham to open the Pemberton Dance Studio as an avenue for local students who want to take things a bit more seriously.
“I do think dance is a discipline, because you need to know how your body operates and what your body is capable of,” explained Kroupina.
We all start with an instinct for moving. Technique and training get added on, and then, a dancer has to learn how to release that spirit again, with their newly acquired moves. “It’s a beautiful progression, but one has to happen before the other one occurs. To be a professional dancer, you have to have that spirit, and the emotional stamina to show what’s inside you and to dance it all out. Being a dancer is having your dreams come true through your feet, through your arms, through your body. Dance is bigger than we can imagine, but you have to work hard before the dream can be realized.”
One of the less formal classes Kroupina will teach this winter is the Mommy and Me/Daddy and Me class — a dance party for parents with two and three-year-olds, inspired by Anna’s own almost-two year old, Maya.
Strikes me, an unlikely ballet school student if there ever was one, as a cool way to get into sync with a bunch of other parents and kidlets, in the hopes that the resulting compassion, connectedness with each other, and increased pain tolerance, will help us navigate the years to come.
Photos courtesy Anna Kroupina of the Pemberton Dance Studio.