There are many forms of physical activity and many forms of stress relief. Some people turn to yoga, others to journaling, and some to binge-watching a new favourite TV show - our poet-athletes at America SCORES New York use soccer and poetry to stay moving and self-express. While I have engaged in all those activities, dance has always been my safe space. I started dancing recreationally in grade six at the Oakville Academy for the Arts, where I learned jazz for six years. Every year we would host a show for our friends and family. We learned core skills for the first half of the year, which taught us technique and discipline. For the second half of the year, we trained and rehearsed for our annual/finale showcase, which taught us teamwork and dedication.
Dance was never something I wanted to engage in. When I was younger, I was placed in a hip hop class and refused to go. However, after starting dance in grade six, dance became an important part of my life. Even though I was never a part of a competitive dance team, dance became part of my weekly routine. When I started my first year of university, I decided to not get involved in extracurriculars because I wanted to adjust to university life in the first semester. However, very quickly, I realized something did not feel right. Something was missing in my life. That something was dance. Despite it not being something I did everyday, not dancing while in school felt so wrong. Thus, in my second semester, I started taking dance lessons. In my last two years of undergrad, I was on the school dance team. I pushed myself to get involved in jazz, lyrical, and hip hop. Surprisingly, I enjoyed hip hop the most!
When the pandemic hit, I could not engage in a dance group anymore. I had to start finding other hobbies and other forms of stress relief, but spending over a year without dance has been quite difficult. Not only have I lost some of the physical ability and technique I had, but I have also lost the social aspect of being in a group and rehearsing. I no longer feel like I am a part of a group or have a routine.
Dance has many benefits - both physical and mental ones. It acts as an emotional outlet for people to express and evoke infinite emotions through dance. It is a form of creative expression that allows individuals to connect and bond with others. Further, using physical activity as a way to relieve stress is very effective. Dancing releases endorphins, which are natural hormones released by the body to cope with pain and stress. They act as a happiness booster. In addition to the mental benefits, dance improves your physical health. It can improve your posture, flexibility, and heart and lung conditions. Dance also improves your muscular strength, tone, and motor fitness. Other health benefits also include reduced stiffness, weight management, and improved agility.
Even though my outlet for self expression and being active is through dance, it is very similar to the program at ASNY. Our poet-athletes are able to express themselves through poetry - a form that I also frequently use - and they stay active through soccer. In fact, in the summer program that has just started, I have had the opportunity to see how being active and using self-expression can relieve stress. I have made sure to add a wellness component in the middle of the day for our poet-athletes to wind down. We have already done some yoga, stretching, and mindful breathing! Dance will also be a part of the wellness component. I want to expose the poet-athletes to numerous forms of wellness and stress relieving activities so that they can find what works for them. Some have already expressed how much they appreciated the yoga and mindful breathing. I hope some of them will enjoy the dance piece and find it useful in helping them relieve stress and to have fun.
While I have always used dance and our poet-athletes use soccer, options for relaxing physical activity are endless. During the pandemic, I turned to swimming, playing basketball, playing board games with my family, and painting as a way to cope with stress and to maintain physical activity. However, as the city starts to create a new, safe normal, it is my hope to join a dance group or take lessons in a nearby studio. I have been dancing while in school since grade six, so I look forward to bringing back a piece of my life that has been missing.