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Modern Dancing by Vernon and Irene Castle Chapter 14
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XIV
DANCING AND HEALTH
By an Eminent New York Physician

A GREAT deal has recently been said and written about dancing, but much of it is given out from a biased viewpoint and with little thought. When one realizes that dancing raises a question that involves practically all the members of the community, regardless of age, sex, and condition, then surely a snap judgment, either of condemnation or approval, should not be given. The conditions ordinarily considered—that is, those of hygienic precautions and proper surroundings or environment—are not debatable. Hygiene and environment must always be paramount considerations, and it must be taken for granted that the accepted rules of health are complied with.

It is likewise self-evident that great advantage is to be derived from the systematic training of muscles by rhythmical movements. The value of music in gymnastic exercises has long been taken advantage of by trainers and teachers of calisthenics because the music carries with it a distracting influence that permits the contraction and relaxation of muscles to blend one into the other smoothly and gracefully. The various movements become sinuous instead of jerky, and glide into one another without effort. The music does more. It marks the time; it gives the rhythm for each individual movement and makes it precise. The more complicated the calisthenic exercises the more one approaches the formation of the dance.

To the physician, however, more serious questions arise, questions which involve more than muscular development, grace, and precision of movement. I refer to the nervous mechanism which lies behind and causes these outward manifestations. Foremost is the power of mutual adjustment, or co-ordination. As in all other matters, this power is most appreciated when it is impaired or lost. Then one realizes its importance and understands the blight caused by an inability to carry out apparently simple acts of motion and locomotion. The individual muscles act in accordance with the will, but the concerted action fails.

In recent years much progress has been made in restoring lost power of control and adjustment by elaborate systems of re-education of the muscles. But little attention has been given to a higher and more careful development where no impairment of function exists. Any such attempt in an educational way would meet with little success on account of the tedious and laborious methods in use, but if presented in an attractive form the value would promptly become apparent.

In dancing we have just such a system for the development of our lost power of control, presented in a form that is not only attractive, but extremely fascinating to many. No actual observation has yet been made to determine whether or not, in certain diseases, dancers retain more power and control over their own bodies than do non-dancers. But it is reasonable to assume that if a dancer were afflicted with a disease that impaired the powers of movement his affliction would inconvenience him decidedly less than if his powers had not been previously so well developed. He would in all probability lose many of the more intricate movements, but the ordinary movements necessary to every-day comfort would probably not be hampered. It all hinges on the old principle that if one must jump three feet it is well to be prepared to jump six feet, so that when the actual test arrives the result is a foregone conclusion.

But I do not wish to dwell on morbid possibilities when there is a cheerful reality so close at hand. I refer particularly to the development of a mental attitude that associates itself with the physical attitude. It is known that it is difficult for the man who carries his head erect and throws his shoulders back to be dejected; likewise it is difficult for the stoop-shouldered, frowning, querulous-looking individual to be joyous and exalted. The result of one of these conditions is not the consequence of the other; but because they have been so long associated it is difficult for the one to be present and the other absent. The practice of joyousness in features and bearing will help to develop a joyous feeling in the mind. The dancer's main object is to present a good appearance; his muscles are cultivated to give a light and buoyant poise to the body; his facial expression becomes one of pleasure and laughter. In such a one it is difficult to conceive any mental dejection. When we see him with all these outward expressions of happiness he makes us also happy. So let us again be thankful for an art which pleases the participant and radiates its charm upon its surroundings.


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Modern Dancing by Vernon and Irene Castle Chapter 14

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