Dancing for Health

Dancing for Health

Conquering and Preventing Stress

AltaMira Press (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group) August 2006

Anthropologist Judith Lynne Hanna demonstrates the extraordinary role of dance as a healing art for all kinds of stress. Indeed, to dance in order to resist, reduce, and escape stress is human. Using examples from many different cultures and throughout history, she explains how dance is exercise plus aesthetic communication. While science has shown the mind/body integration and benefits of exercise, Western and non-Western cultures have danced to come to terms with life crises, resolve conflict, revitalize the past, and face the future. Hanna reveals how individuals expel spider venom or shake off death, sin or evil by using the power of dance to cope with stress. She shows how dance-stress connections are played out on theater stages, in the professional dance career, and in amateur dance. Her cases, including her own personal experiences in dance, reveal the potential of dance as a key strategy in the arsenal against stress. This broader cultural perspective is an innovative approach to understanding stress and meaning in dance. Hanna’s book will be of great interest to anthropologists, dancers, health researchers, therapists, and others interested in coping with stress and improving their quality of life through dance.


“Hanna, with her unique vision as a dancer and anthropologist, has written a wonderfully comprehensive book illuminating the interplay between dance and stress. By offering a cross-cultural perspective, she deftly describes dance across the world as both a strategy to communicate and relieve stress as well as a potential cause of stress to the performer and observer.” — Ginny Wilmerding, President, International Association for Dance Medicine & Science

“Dance, that double edged sword, ought to come with a warning label. Now it has one at last — Dr. Judith Hanna’s book. It helps you explore dance, whether you see it as high art or sexy entertainment, whether you use it as therapeutic exercise or competitive discipline. Dr. Hanna understands it as only someone can who loves it as a fan, who practices it as a student, and who researches it as a scholar. To share her insights, she keeps the prose perky and the concepts clear.” — George Jackson, biologist, dance critic and historian

“I am deeply impressed with Dancing For Health – a copy finally arrived from AltaMira. Although I had already read the proofs, it was a different experience having it in my hands and seeing it in all its ‘costume and make-up’ — and the pictures are fabulous. I read it once and then went straight back to the beginning and floated through very slowly brooding over each thought. I may never emerge from wherever the notes and references are leading me!” — Terry Sivashinsky, former member of the Royal Ballet, ballettanz 2007

“Healthy Dance, Sick Dance: Sigmund Freud and Joseph Goebbels both became concerned with dance as symptom. The question they asked of dance was whether it conveyed a healthy state of mind or the opposite. There the similarity stops. After reading an essay on inhibited movement by young Edwin Denby (who became America’s great dance critic), Freud began to consider dance from the perspective of a medical diagnostician. Goebbels dealt with dance dictatorially, suppressing any that seemed sickly. Judith Lynne Hanna, in her new book “Dancing for Health” (www.altamirapress.com / PO Box 317, Oxford OX2 9RU, UK), stands on the shoulders of not only Denby and Freud but also of the dancer-theorist Rudolf von Laban and medical anthropologists such as Charles Leslie who used dance to heal the ill. Dr. Hanna’s view is wide. It encompasses extremes: the religious celibate for whom the execution of ritual motions like genuflection and prostration or of hopping and shaking dances helps to sublimate the sex drive, as well as the ambitious show dancer who flaunts his or her sex appeal at an audition for a Broadway musical. Dr. Hanna can also be deep. The three stories she tells of black children using dance to express themselves whereas white children in the same Texas school did not, are full of insight and afterthought. The book gives many examples of how dance can relieve stress but also cause it – sometimes simultaneously in the same individual. Of the text’s 256 pages, 91 are specifically devoted to dance in Western Society, with chapters on professional dance careers, amateur dancing and dance therapy. Historical and non-Western dance get 59 pages. Not neglected are such topics as meaning in dance, aesthetic pleasure, and the roles of catharsis and euphoria. The attack launched at the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001 was the precipitating stress that caused the author to write this book. Her words are aptly illustrated – particularly by Chris Dame’s photos of the tensions and relaxations in the body of ballet virtuoso Rasta Thomas.” — George Jackson


Next Door News, Bethesda, MD, 2(1):7, January 2007

“DANCING: Thornden Terr.’s Judith Lynne Hanna authors Dancing for Health

Anthropologist and dancer Judith Lynne Hanna recently published Dancing for Health, sharing her perspective on dance as a form of expression and a stress reliever. Judith was enrolled in dance as a child, when doctors told her parents she had “flat feet” and this would strengthen them.

Now, she studies dance and human behaviors through her work as senior research scholar in the department of dance at the University of Maryland. “The body is a vehicle of expression. We use it in dance and everyday life,” she says.

Judith has lived in Bethesda for 30 years and currently studies four different types of dance: flamenco, Afro-Cuban, Middle Eastern, and jazzercise for weight training.

The Press Democrat
“Dance is more than exercise

“Dance is exercise plus,” said Judith Hanna, an anthropologist and dance researcher whose latest book is “Dancing for our Health: Conquering and Preventing Stress” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006).

“Dance involves the mind, body and feeling,” she said in a phone interview from the University of Maryland, where she is a senior research scholar.

The nationally known dance critic, author and essayist has been dancing since she was 10. At age 70, she continues to take classes in Jazzercise, flamenco, belly dancing and salsa, which she calls, “an essential expression of joy.”

She only recently gave up hip-hop — “too hard to get up and down on the floor that fast.”

In her book, she traces how dance through history and different cultures combines “exercise plus aesthetic communication.”

People have danced, she said, “to come to terms with life crises, resolve conflict, revitalize the past and face the future.” They’ve used it to shake off death and evil spirits.

And modern society, she said, uses dance in the same way to deal with stress.

“When I had depression, dancing made me feel good,” said Hanna, who also does social dancing with her husband. “He complains when I try to lead.”

Exercise, in general, decreases depression and anxiety, “by releasing brain chemicals that produce calm, satisfaction and euphoria. You get a high.”

It also prepares the body to deal with unexpected stressors.

“Researchers have found that exercise strengthens the body as it adapts to increased heart rate and blood pressure so later it can react more calmly when the same stresses come in, in life.”

Dance does all that and adds in expression and grace.

“You’re moving in space, interacting with the music. Telling stories with your body. The sensory and symbolic are both present in dance.

“You’re communicating through the senses,” she said. “Dance is the body sounding off.”

— Susan Swartz , Santa Rosa Press Democrat (California) March 13, 2007

Invited Article

Hanna, Judith Lynne Hanna, “How Dance Helps Us Cope: Exploring the Relationship between Stress and Dance,” Goldrush Magazine 12(1)80, 83-84 (renamed Dance Studio Life), 2007

Book Presentations

DC Dance Collective’s 7th Annual Collaborative Arts Festival, presentation and book-signing, 2006
New York City’s LIMS [Laban Institute of Movement Analysis] MOSAIC 06, hour presentation and book-signing, 2006

Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists, presentation and book signing, 2007
Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC, 90 minute power point presentation and book-signing, 2007

Cecchetti Council of America’s East Coast Committee (ECC/CCA) Conference, hour power point presentation and book-signing, 2007

CityDance Center at Strathmore, Panel discussion on “Dance Is the Answer,” and book signing, 2007


Part I: Setting the Stage
The Arts & Healing
Anxious Times
More Stress Today?
Healing Through Dance
Itinerary Across Time & Space

Chapter 1: Evolution’s Gifts
You Judge
The Good & the Bad
Mobilizing for Fight or Flight
Too Much of a Good Thing
Humans Dance
Body Motion & Feeling
Body Language

Chapter 2: Dance-Stress Coupling
Intentions & Consequences
Dance–A Stress Vaccine
The Mind Matters (Play & Distancing, Beliefs)    
Physical Immunization (Illness, Fatigue, Premenstrual Discomfort, Aging Effects, Tension, Alzheimer’s) 
Dance–A Stress Buster
Confronting Stressors (Expression and Communication, Gaining Control. Working Through, Catharsis, Insight, Sublimation, Humor)
Diversion from Stress (Escape, Chemical Pain Reduction, Relaxation)
Counterindications for Dance
Dance–A Stressor Itself
Criticism & Sensitivity 
Getting to the Dance
Amateur Dancing (Intimidation, Rejection, Miscommunication in Dance)
Professional Dance Career (Inadequate Dance Training, Competition/Auditions, Physical Injury, Stage Fright, Meeting Thinness Requirement, Individuality Lost to Choreographer, Brief Performing Career, Shortcomings, Economic Survival, Lack of Rehearsal and Performance Space, Art/Business Conflict, Racism)
Cultural Sensitivity
Stress Management Approaches (Life Style, Religious Rituals, Secular Therapy, Rooted in Ritual Practices, Human Potential Model, Holistic Wellness Model, Medical Model)
Styles of Intervention (Self-conducted, Directive, Evocative)
Dance Genres (Ritual, Folk/Ethnic, Social,Theater,Therapeutic, Mixed Genre and Transformations)
Toward Filling in the Sketch

Part II: Historical & Non-Western Dance-Stress Relations
Chapter 3: Meeting the Gods & Demons
Praise and Appeal
Exorcism & Healing

Chapter 4: Shaking Off Poison, Plague, Death & Sin
Black Death & Poison

Chapter 5: Coming to Terms with Life Crises
Marriage, Birth, and Death in Ubakala Igbo Dance-Plays
Samburu Role Transition
Lugbara Dances for Death & Life’s Uncertainty
Death/Disorder to Life/Order

Chapter 6: Resolving Conflict
Igbo Social Drama
Race Relations in Dallas

Chapter 7: Revitalizing the Past and Facing the Future
American Ghost Dance
Coast Salish Spirit Dancing
The Gourd Dance
Danza de la Conquista
Beni Ngoma

Part III: Western Dance-Stress Relations
Chapter 8:  “Playing” Onstage in Western Theatrical Dance
Repressed Sexuality & Unrequited Love
Americana, Sin, Perversity & Alienation
Black Oppression
Women’s Liberation

Chapter 9: Pursuing a Western Dance Career
Society’s Attitudes toward Dancers
Choreographers & Company Managers Challenge Dancers
Improvisation Movement & Contemplative Creativity
Performance Anxiety, Cooperation, & Competition
Food & Weight
Economic Survival
Career Transitions

Chapter 10: Amateur Dancing in the West
Dance Hall Escape
American Marathons & Argentinean Tangos
Rock & Disco
Slam Dancing
Swing Revival
Folk Dancing
The Ballroom Dance Studio
A Ballet Dance Class
Aerobic Dance & Jazzercize
Dancing & Relaxation Exercises

Chapter 11: Dance (Movement) Therapy
Body “Language”
Theoretical Underpinnings
Cultural & Other Sensibilities
Illustrative Cases
–Therapists’ Therapy
–Against Women
–Cardiovascular Patient
–Institutional Living
–Chronic Pain
–Visually Impaired
Allied to DMT
–Community-building with Refugee Children
–Support Groups
–Somatic Practices

Chapter 12: Finale: Dance & Stress Resistance, Reduction & Euphoria
Why Dance?
Physical Guideposts
Cognitive Counsel
Finding Meaning in Movement

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