As babies, toddlers and young children, we naturally shake our body to music. Sadly, as we get older, we become inhibited and lose touch with the instinctive joy of dancing. It’s so sad that dance is viewed as something only for “dancers” – people who “look the part” and who are trained in dance.
That perception of dance means we’re missing out on something that is life-changing. It’s beyond question that dancing is medicine. And it’s medicine that we all have a right to benefit from.
I’ve been fortunate enough to experience that medicine for myself when, in my mid-40s, I joined a dance class for adults, run by my dear friend Debbie Hilton. As I’m not a natural dancer, struggle to pick up steps (and even struggle with my left/right), I’d feel really intimidated going to most classes. Debbie, however, is really passionate about making dance accessible to EVERYBODY – no matter what our age, size, shape or physical restrictions.
I’ve seen for myself what a simple one/two step to music can do for people’s wellbeing on every level – including transforming their self-esteem. It’s no overstatement to describe it as magic.
I was delighted to chat with Debbie for the latest episode of Wellness Unwrapped. Here are three key take-aways from our conversation.
- Following dance steps (even very simple ones) naturally puts us in a meditative state where our brain can let go of anxious thinking. It’s a wonderful way for us to be “in the moment”, rather than our usual worrying about the past or the future. Moving our body to music not only lifts our mood but allows us to gain perspective on the challenges we’re facing in our life and builds our emotional resilience.
- Research has shown that dancing is remarkably good for our brain health – far more than regular exercise. Studies have proven that something as simple (and enjoyable) as line dancing can help older people to not only stave off dementia – but actually reverse early onset dementia.
- Dancing can be really helpful for reconnecting with our body and feeling good in our own skin, rather than obsessing about what we perceive to be our “flaws”. It allows us to be playful and to experiment with different states which we don’t normally access – eg. feeling powerful or feeling confident. In an effortless way, it reconnects us with our inner creativity and soul.
Debbie is an actress and performing arts teacher. She trained in ballet and modern dance at The Northern Ballet school and then studied musical theatre at Guildford School of Acting. As well as working as a performer, it has been her privilege to coach many people (aged 5 to 80) in performing arts. She is deeply passionate about performing arts as a tool for improving health and wellbeing. She believes that, by tapping into and using our innate creative spark, we can gain more vitality and joy in life – and stay young!
Follow Debbie at: https://www.instagram.com/danceforjoy20/
Find out more about Body Groove here: https://www.bodygroove.com/
You’ll find the full transcript of our conversation below and can listen to our conversation here.
[Please note: this is a computer generated transcription of this conversation]
SG: Debbie, this is such a joy for me because obviously we’ve talked so often haven’t we,, one to one but we’ve never ever recorded a conversation. So this is a bit of a first. And you and I have been on a bit of a journey these past few years because I’m not a dancer and never went to dance as a child. And I think that has always kind of hung over me a bit that I never did ballet. And you’ve got women, and men, who are not dancers…dancing.
DH: Yeah well it upsets me when people say “I’m not a dancer” because I actually believe everyone has the capacity to feel that joy of movement. Like you used to when you were a kid. As you watch children running and skipping and twirling, they all do it. To me, that’s dancing. And music, especially with music comes a huge kind of connection. But then that’s the thing is in the class that we have. It’s just joyful movement to music, isn’t it?
SG: And I think sometimes the term dance can be a bit intimidating, because people think, Oh, is it ballet or jazz or whatever? Especially if you haven’t done it as a child. Yeah. And you think well, I’m going to start now? In my 50s? I’m way too old for that. That has passed. I didn’t have classes as a kid. But I think what you’ve done is kind of reinvent that whole idea around dance that it is for everybody. You make it so accessible. So firstly, I’d love to ask you how did you get into this whole performance dance thing?
DH: So my mum used to say as soon as I could walk, I wasn’t walking, I was dancing around the house. So for me it was always very strong, that feeling of dancing and singing and performing. I mean, I remember being in the garden, about five, performing to the trees and I don’t know where it came from, but the feeling was strong in me. And thankfully, you know, my parents recognised it and they sent me to dance lessons and drama classes and I absolutely loved. It. And then I went to drama school. I had a really good teacher at secondary school, who recognised as well that I could sing and she encouraged me, she gave me lessons and I used to sing in school and I used to actually get taken out of study to go and practise. So it was very much like the path I was gonna take from an early age, thanks to people around me who supported me.
And then I went to drama school, at Guildford School of Acting, did a three year musical theatre course because I enjoyed the three disciplines of the singing, the dancing and the acting. And it was a joy and a privilege to spend all day, ballet in the morning, singing next then accent class, then Shakespeare. It was an absolute joy to spend your whole time doing that. And then I went on to be in musicals, and that was in the West End and touring. And actually, that didn’t last as long as it could have done. I found it very difficult to sustain a career as a performer. Just a hard game. And so I came back to Manchester and a friend of mine was giving workshops in schools, theatre workshops in schools, and I just needed a job, I needed some money and I went to do it. And I had goosebumps and tears in my eyes from that experience of using my skills to help children develop. Because it was a thing called “play in a day”, and we’d work with a whole class, and you’d get really shy kids and kids who struggled with learning and speech and it was inclusive, the whole class had to do it. and you’d see these children start speaking these lines and the teacher would say: He’s never spoken like that ever, ever before. And all of a sudden, I thought I want to go and use my skills for this. Being an actor felt a bit narcissistic sometimes because you have to be so focused on yourself, you know, you have to get lots of sleep and you have to sometimes rest your voice, you can’t even speak to anyone you know, and it just felt like I was so hyper focused on myself. And it was a bit depressing. And also, so much of your identity is wrapped up in being an actor that when you’re not working as an actor, it’s a bit like: Who am I? An identity crisis and a lot of actors I know say the same thing. However, the thing that keeps you going is the buzz of performing. So you get a job, have that incredible buzz and then will be out of work for six months.
And anyway, I got into the teaching, that was probably about 25 years ago, and I’ve been teaching children ever since. But then also alongside that, my brother roped me into being involved with the Jewish Theatre Company, as choreographer, so that was like my first taste. He was the director. This was when I was probably about 18, before drama school, I was doing it with him and then went away for a while and then I came back. And doing that choreography for a big group of people who are not professionals, who are all ages, that was really my training. How do I get everyone moving, you know, when they’ve not had dance training? I found it easy because I’m not actually the best dancer. You know, I loved it. But technically, I was always, you know, not the right body. I probably didn’t have the discipline that’s required to be a professional dancer, per se. But in musical theatre, you know, as long as you can pick up steps and carry it, that’s good enough. So, yeah, I would work with the theatre group and refine that skill of making dance routines accessible to all.
I feel quite lucky that I had that experience as a child of dancing around the house because, you know, if everybody was really honest with themselves, that’s what they were doing when they were five as well or in some way, they were moving their body in a joyful way as a child and that kind of got chipped away.
SG: So what happens as we grow up? What happens to us, Debbie, how do w just lose that connection with simply moving our body to music and it becomes such a thing?
DH: Yeah, well, I think I’ve seen it with teaching the children. So when I’m teaching from five to nine, they are completely uninhibited and totally up for doing anything physically. From 10, they start to become self-conscious, inhibited, looking around at what their peers are doing. And it just must be something that society does, especially now children are forced to kind of sit still, you know, sit still focus, grow up, learn so quickly, aren’t they? And there’s a lot of pressure on them. I don’t know what it is.
SG: And it’s body issues, isn’t it? You mentioned that about yourself that you felt that you weren’t a dancer shape, whatever that is.
SH: Yeah. I think that also society has this idea of beauty and in the dancing world or the performing world, tt’s even heightened. A ballet dancer has to have a certain shape, to have lines, I was always told. You know, ballet is form. So there’s a shape that’s conventional, isn’t there? So I don’t really know about that world because I was definitely not going to go down that road. But yeah, generally, even just to be beautiful, you have to be thin and you know, people don’t want to wobble their bits around.
SG: Yeah. And I think it’s so funny actually, Debbie, because this morning when you arrived we both said how knackered we were. Because we know each other, well, we’re very good friends and we said, I just feel exhausted today. And we hadn’t had the dance class today because it was normally on a Tuesday, but you’ve moved it. And it’s funny because once you started talking about dance, you just lit up and it’s like you went to this place where you were just connected with your whole soul’s purpose. That’s what it looks like when you talk about getting people to be able to dance.
DH: Yes. And another thing that I’m really passionate about is let’s change that idea of beauty. Let’s feel happy and comfortable and energised. And let that be beautiful. I feel like we definitely have to be healthy, but once you start moving your body, something balances out and you don’t want to kind of overeat. It’s about balance, isn’t it? And I think if you disconnect from your body, you’re more likely to abuse it. You know what I mean?
SG: Yeah, and so many women in particular are disconnected from their own body.
SH: Yeah. I mean, this is a deep one, isn’t it? It’s hard to know where to start because I feel like, you know, what people go through, it’s different for everybody. And you probably genetically have got a different disposition inherited. I know that the women in my family were always overweight. And I was really curious as to where that came from. And I feel like that can be passed down to you unconsciously, because you watch your mother, don’t you? And also there are energies that are kind of passed down, even sort of subconsciously, or habits. And I realised that my Mum had wanted to be an artist, but she grew up in the 50s and it wasn’t done, going to art school, not in her family. Anyway, she had to go and work for my grandpa. And she was really unhappy and unfulfilled creatively. She was obviously creative. And my grandma also, she was a singer, she used to sing to us all the time and she was never allowed to do that, either. So again, my sister is an artist, and she also didn’t. She did paint for a while and then she stopped. And I thought maybe it’s unexpressed creativity, that has turned into overeating. You know, it’s so interesting.
SG: I coach a lot of women who have a problem with binge eating. And very often I’ve found that when I’ve encouraged them to do something creative, and not necessarily dance, sometimes it was even getting felt tips out and creating something that they really liked, they lost the need to eat a whole packet of biscuits. Because there were, as you say, expressing their creativity. And everyone has this creativity and yet we keep it suppressed. We don’t value it because we’re too busy. And there’s no price attached to it, you know, it’s not constructive. And I found this again and again and again, when I get people to… whether it’s getting pens and pencils out, or dancing, whatever, they find an inner joy and wholeness that they don’t have a hole to fill with chocolate.
DH: 100% I think there’s definitely something in that, isn’t there? And isn’t it a shame that we don’t value it and you know, even now, an artist or a creative often struggles to find work or to kind of make that their life’s work.
SG: And especially with lockdown. So many actors performers were just at home doing nothing and it was just painful. That was one of the industries that was hit most of course.
DH: Yeah. And how we need it. We need art as a way of reflecting ourselves back. But the dance class that I want to continue with is the one where people come and move about and don’t feel inhibited and don’t feel like their size is an issue or their age is an issue or the fact that they think they can’t pick up steps. That’s I think that’s another thing that puts people way off.
SG: Like me. Because I have problems with my left and right. I had problems learning to drive I had to put stickers on the car for left and right. And I’ve never been able to like touch my toes or turn round or even click my fingers. And you know all this about me, so I feel like I’m coming with all of these impediments to be able to do anything in a dance class because I literally can’t do one turn without wanting to vomit, and all of these kinds of issues that I have. And yet your approach is that none of that matters. Who cares if you can’t click your fingers or who cares if you can’t do a high kick. I can’t even do a low kick. I’m not built that way. I’m not kind of flexible. I don’t remember steps easily and I get confused. And I think in any other class I would have been so intimidated and thought, well, everyone else is a dancer. I’m clearly crap. I don’t belong here. But you have got the opposite approach where you go, I think you go over really overboard, which is brilliant in making it totally, totally non- judgmental, accessible to everyone. Everyone can just do their own thing and it doesn’t matter. You often say: I don’t care if you don’t like the way I dance or she doesn’t like the way she dances. It’s not about that. It’s about finding the way that you dance and just enjoying that.
DH: Yeah, I’m about to do a course actually in May. Something called Body Groove that I found on Facebook actually, it’s this woman who is an ex-dancer, who struggled with her feelings of you know, insecurity about her body, and many insecurities. And she’s created this Body Groove programme, which is very, very simple steps and very free, using the space in a very free way. So you’re not even standing facing one way, you can actually move around the space. And it’s about just getting people up and moving and you can do it big or you can do it small and it’s a bit more meditative. So it’s basically like going inside and finding your own soul, your own spirit and letting that out.
SG: Yeah. I love that, because we think of meditation as very sedentary, and stationary and solitary, sitting on a meditation cushion. But it doesn’t have to be like that. It can be in a room of other women doing a very simple one-two step that anyone could do. Because it’s so simple. You don’t need any experience or talent or coordination. But you get into a rhythm and that repetitiveness is meditative and takes you to a different state and takes you out of your head.
And that’s what we’ve found so often in this group of women who go to your class we’re very blessed to have. One of the ladies is in her 70s She’s there every time she loves it. And we often turn up and will say like, oh, you know, I’m tired or I feel low. Or I’ve got these problems at home. And then within half an hour everyone’s totally forgotten whatever was bothering them, whatever is going on the outside world. And we’ve just gone to kind of like an elevated state. And it’s amazing, t’s quite magical, isn’t it? There are very few things that could do that.
DH: Yeah, as you were saying that I was thinking it’s actually magical because I have felt it so many times and I’ve thought gosh, if I wasn’t the teacher I definitely would not have not turned up today. Because of problems at home with my kids or you know, just feeling low and tired. And without fail, as soon as we start 10 minutes in, you’ve got the endorphins pumping, it’s meditative and you can’t think of anything. Yeah, you know, you’re thinking left, right, forward, back, forward, back. And that just that process of being in the moment, it takes you to a different place.
SG: And it’s so hard for us to be in the moment, we’re all super stressed. And, you know, we read about mindfulness and being present, but none of us are because we’ve got so much going around our heads. And yet, with this, you have to be in the moment to actually do it.
DH: Yes. And sometimes I push you to do slightly more complicated routines. My theory is it’s the same as driving. So I remember learning to drive and freaking out thinking how does anyone coordinate the pedals, clutch etc? And I remember I had a friend and I thought well if she can do it, I can do it but I was so scared of it. And lo and behold, you know, a few months into it, something goes click. And you do it, don’t you? And that is your brain that has those connectors forming, isn’t it? That’s why I don’t let anyone off the hook. That’s why I say when people say to me, I can’t remember steps. I say can you drive? And they say yes. And I’m like well, you will remember, because your brain will just do that if you persevere. You can’t just come once, you have to come six times. But when we’ve done a challenging bit of choreography, you can’t let your mind wander for one second. Sometimes I remember I’ve been like distracted by something and then the choreography just goes. So it’s that being forced to stay in the moment, that meditation.
SG: Yeah. And you know, the feeling kind of stays with you for the rest of the day. You get the endorphins, and we just leave different people, we leave that room and we feel uplifted and positive. And I think more emotionally resilient as well to deal with whatever the rest of the day brings.
DH: It’s amazing yeah. Often I’ve had problem and I’ve come to dance and I’ve almost been crying. You know, and I’ve done an hour and it must be the combination of the physical exertion but also the meditation and also the music.
SG: Because music in itself… If you were to listen to music, just sitting down, it would be so uplifting, mood changing.
DH: Yeah, for sure. And I’ve gone out back to the problem and had more clarity, maybe more resilience, probably just more perspective. So I’m not like in it. I have more sort of like a distance: Okay, so that’s happened, how do I deal with it?
SG: But if you had told me to go to, say, a bootcamp, I would run a mile. It’s not for me. I don’t like being given instructions to do jumping jacks and all the rest. It’s not for me. And yet, I can come to your class and do loads of exertion and sometimes we’re really sweating by the end of it. But I don’t notice it. But if you’d ask me to do the same thing running up and down a hill, there’s no way. I’m sorry, I wouldn’t want to do it. And I’m not going to do it. But it always astonishes me how I’m happy to do the same amount of exertion when there’s music and when I’m dancing.
DH: Yeah, well, I’m with you, I never really liked going to the gym. But then there is a part of me that likes to challenge but I sort of have to gear myself up for it. Whereas with this, it just happens. It’s almost like there’s no effort involved. So it’s strange, isn’t it?
SG: It’s a shame that more people are not doing it, isn’t it?
DH: Well, I think there’s more research, I got this book recently called Dancing is the Best Medicine by Dong-Seon Chang and Julia Christensen. And it’s actually fascinating because it’s talking about this research into the health benefits of dance and dance on the brain. And what struck me the most was studies have shown that dance can actually hold, or in some cases, reverse the dementia affecting the brain.
SG: Which is just remarkable, isn’t it?
DH: I mean, unbelievable. They’re saying that maybe it was what we were talking, the driving and the dancing, that new neural connectors are formed. They’ve done these control tests with elderly people, with early onset dementia, and I think some of the group did a brisk walk and changed their diet. Some of the group were to do interval and strength training. And some of the group went to dance, it was line dancing in partners with sequences, and they all had to do it for six months. And the two groups that did the walk and the interval training, they still had white matter deterioration. But the group that did the dance, not only did they not have white matter deterioration, but the actual white matter had been boosted and was growing and connections were being formed connections. So I feel like perhaps more research will show and more people will see the benefit.
SG: We need to be shouting about this because one and two of us are actually forecast to develop dementia over the age of 85. I mean, Alzheimer’s is one of the biggest killers and there is obviously a big focus on dietary prevention and exercise and so on but you don’t really hear much about dance per se. And the thing is, it’s so incredibly accessible to people. When you talk about line dancing, it doesn’t require any background in dance. You know, I could do that, if you gave me simple instructions to stand in line. It’s low cost or free. And it’s safe. There’s no reaction to a drug. There are only good side effects. There’s no negative side effects from line dancing and having a great time and feeling alive and having fun.
DH: Or maybe that’s why we don’t hear about it. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I do sort of look at society and think, wow, we just get drugs pushed on us, don’t we? And the doctors are doing their jobs. But there’s this whole culture of: we don’t have the power to heal ourselves. We need to look outside of ourselves at medication or somebody else. You know, we’ve lost that belief I think we used to have it, long, long ago, the idea that plants in the earth and we were part of that, you know. so I have always instinctively just believed that I could heal myself. I think, now that I’m 50 I can feel I’m already getting targeted with like menopause things and over 50 plans and I’m thinking: No, I’m not ready to buy into that. I don’t want to because that will make me old.
SG: And when I see you dance, you literally look like a 20-year-old.
DH: Yeah, well in my mind, I’m about eight. I’m still dancing to the trees in the garden, because I feel like that never leaves us, that little soul that we’ve all go inside should never leave us, because it’s part of who we are. But we build walls around it. And I think that’s the key to healing, to not ageing, the key to being happy. In the community groups that I’ve been involved with, all ages, men, women, children, everybody can move. You know, I’ve worked with a boy with SMA, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and he moves in his wheelchair. He moves his hands. There doesn’t have to be any limitation really.
SG: And we have such fixed ideas of what a dancer should look like or should be doing. And if you’re not Beyonce, then that’s it. She’s a dancer, I’m not a dancer. Don’t get involved. Don’t make a fool of yourself.
DH: It’s being brave enough to just be expressive, because when you were five you were doing. We’re just not encouraged to continue because people are embarrassed or they’re self-conscious. When I see the 10-year-olds and beyond, there is this like, total fear of what will people think of me? That creeps in. And then I guess that stays with you. And actually I often see older women post 50, women kind of saying, Oh, I’m tired of just caring about what people think. But it’s a shame that we have to wait those 40 years.
SG: And, actually, I saw an article in the newspaper yesterday, some new research and I think it was saying that secondary school girls just ditch sports and everything like that. And a major factor was that they didn’t want to be looked at by other people because they were very conscious of their body shape. So again, it comes back to this: I don’t look right in my shorts or moving. I don’t want people to judge me and look at me. And they lose out and these were kids that were very good at sports, enjoyed sports, got a load out of it. But then it’s just stops. Because of the self-consciousness and the fear.
DH: I don’t know how you get over that because now we’re even more in a perfect culture aren’t we? Where you have put a filter on yourself, you know?
SG: Yeah. And the Tic Toc dancers, you know, they’re amazing, aren’t they? There are phenomenal dancers who are doing this amazing, hip hop type stuff. And that’s kind of beyond the reach of a normal person like me, who has no innate talent. That’s for them. But I’ll just stick to my going for a walk or my yoga or pilates. But I think what you’re doing, and which we need much more of this, is breaking down the barriers and saying: No, this belongs to everybody.
DH: Yeah, totally. And we’ve got some men who come as well haven’t we? Like, that’s the other thing that’s always surprised me is this idea that dancing is not for men. I mean, professional dancing. You know, obviously you get male ballerinas but then there’s this idea that you have to be gay. Poor men, not expressing yourself. I mean, it’s funny because I was at a party at the weekend and everyone had had a few drinks and there was a DJ, and the men were on the dance floor as much as the women and people were going for it. And everyone was happy.
SG: That’s the thing because you put on Stevie Wonder, and how can you not smile?
DH: Yeah, there’s this ancient connection with music.
SG: And if you look at, I guess, indigenous communities around the world, music and rhythm and beat is so much a part of the culture, isn’t it coming together for celebrations or whatever? But we in the West, you know, we don’t have that anymore. We don’t have these big feasts where we come together and we doing spinning or whatever it is, depending on where they are in different parts of the world. But they get so much connection and joy and transcendence from that. And we have just cut ourselves off from it.
DH: It’s true, isn’t it unless there’s alcohol.
SG: But we shouldn’t need alcohol.
DH: It’s such a shame that we have to use it in order to kind of shed that bit of inhibition and also have in the context of a party. I used to do a lot of clubbing in my youth and I loved that, being on a huge dance floor and people jumping together. Yeah, music was so uplifting and so transcendent. And then you know, you kind of grow up, get married, get a job. Don’t do that anymore. So yeah, you kind of are more cut off from it.
DH: And I think that so many people, especially if they are struggling with their weight are so turned off by the prospect of exercise, and I actually don’t even like the word exercise. I think it’s incredibly off-putting and you know, the thought of them joining a gym or even going for a walk is just like, oh, you know, what are people going to think? I’m jiggling about in my leggings and my knees hurt and I’ve got joint pain and I get out of breath. And it just looks only for people who are skinny. And there’s such a divide, I think. And yet we know that everybody benefits from moving their body and the health benefits are so immense, whether it’s mental health, you know, your cardiac health, it just goes on and on and on, as you say preventing dementia. And I think dance is such a lovely way in, you know, because it doesn’t matter how you move your body. You’re just moving it. And it doesn’t matter where you are. I mean they could be in the kitchen just privately just putting their favourite track on and just jigging around their kitchen.
DH: Definitely. I mean I would recommend this Body Groove that I’ve discovered, you become a member and it’s really not expensive. And it’s having such success because it’s people who might not have moved who maybe want to lose weight. But like you say, get out of breath, don’t do heavy exercise, don’t want to be seen I want to be seen. So you join this group and then you are given access to all these routines that are led by this amazing woman, Misty Tripoli she’s called, and she kind of says: “Come on, get up, get up. Come on. Nobody’s gonna dance for you.” It’s literally just slowly moving around, step together, step together. It’s fine if you’re not in time with the others, you just literally move around your living room. And you know, she talks about you just have a little party in your body. So she’s encouraging people to feel nice in their body. I mean, how many times have we thought: I hate my thighs, hate my tummy. With hatred. Poor body. Now I’m getting used to the idea of no, I’m actually going to love that wobbly bit. And she’s brilliant. She goes booty, more booty, whatever size your booty is, it’s beautiful. And she’s got a group of people behind her doing these movements, all shapes and sizes, men, you know, bigger ladies, just different shapes and everybody is doing these movements which I love. All really simple. And so I’ve been totally inspired by that. And this is what I try and do in our class, isn’t it? It’s not heavy, heavy, heavy movement so you get the chance to totally enjoy it.
SG: Yeah, and you’ll see me, I will just be going around with the biggest smile.
DH: You totally do. Suzy honestly, yeah. And the thing is, I feel like without realising it, we’ve exercised a lot. But yes, that idea of no pain, no gain, I just think it’s really dangerous. I think actually, that feeds into the kind of hate myself…I need to feel pain. And why would you want to inflict pain on your precious body? Whereas the idea of feeling nice. And these women have been doing this Body Groove, and men, the weight has just dropped off them and you can see that they have more become connected, they’ve just blossomed because they’ve got an inner confidence. And you learn to swagger.
SG: Because when do we have a swagger as women? I mean, when are we encouraged to to stick your boobs out and stick your bum out? Like, you know, if you’re a “nice girl”, you’re never going want to do that. So we end up in this kind of concrete straitjacket, we never move our shoulders or our head or our hips. If you’re doing kind of conventional exercise, you wouldn’t do a shimmy would you? Or you wouldn’t move your head necessarily.
DH: Yeah. So there’s a lot of loosening, which is a huge part of the health benefit, isn’t it? Also another element of the class is that pretending, you know that kind of play. Yeah, playfulness because life is so serious when you’re an adult. You have to be so serious and you have to have it together and you have to not make any mistakes and you have to be respectable. And I love you know, putting a Beyonce song on and saying, right, you know, let’s pretend we’re Beyonce on stage. I mean, some people might think oh, no, I couldn’t do that.
SG: But it’s actually safe in our class. Is so entirely non-judgmental. And as you always say: No one’s watching you.
DH: Because everybody’s just thinking about themselves really. It’s just I think we give each other permission to let go. And I always make the most fool of myself. learned to do that teaching kids. If I make myself look silly, you know, it gives them permission to do the same. It’s like this is a space where we actually can just be ourselves and you know, you don’t have to pretend, you can just be silly, because we all are and we all make mistakes and we’re all a bit awkward and we’re all a bit clumsy sometimes, you know, so that’s okay because we spend so much of our time and effort trying to mask that and pretend that we’ve got it all together. And of course, none of us have. I mean, sometimes I feel like I’m just pretending to be an adult. You know, I feel like I’m still a child just pretending and not doing a very good job. That’s that soul part that I was talking about that I’m always going to hopefully be in touch with. Yeah, which will mean that I hopefully won’t succumb to this old age.
SG: Well, let’s hope because I know that personally speaking, as I say, having been someone who, and I think everyone in my family is like this, very uncoordinated and you know, just not a natural mover or naturally good at remembering steps or doing them or anything like that. And yeah, I will often find myself in your class and you’ll put on something really fun, like from a musical like Hairspray and do this really fun routine where we all run together in a group. And then you’re looking at a partner and I’ve literally been grinning from ear to ear and it allows you to unlock a whole different part of yourself, doesn’t it? That is so normally buried away because you’re at your desk doing work or doing your shopping and doing all these responsible things. And once my husband actually walked past where we were, and didn’t realise I was in there, and I said: “Oh, I think you must have passed us at the centre. And he said yeah, I saw some people running around and they looked ridiculous. And I said yes. Well, that was us looking absolutely ridiculous. And we were having a bloody good time as well!”
DH: Yeah, exactly. I mean, you know, it’s just shaking off the, I don’t know, the stress, the shackles. It just really feels good. And I’m excited to do this course because I feel like I want to be more of an expert so that I’ve got more to bring to it. Because really, I’ve just been a performer who is sharing the skills that I’ve learned, I guess with others, but I feel like there’s such a benefit. You know, especially as I’m getting older, you know, it’d be great to reach more people.
SG: And as you say, of all ages, because you’ll often say to me, “Suzy you don’t need to turn or you don’t need to do this” because you know that I have my limitations. And that’s fine and it doesn’t matter. So you could get people who’ve got you know, creaky knees or who can’t move on arm and all different things.
DH: Yeah, and it wouldn’t matter. By the way, I feel like if you have got cricky knees because I’ve got cricky knees, but doing the dance does nothing but strengthen you. Because I think some people might feel like it might injure them. I’ve also learned that we do stretching in the beginning but there are levels of stretch. So now I will say to people, if you just feel comfortable doing it up to that point, that’s fine. If you want to go a bit deeper, that’s fine. I would never want anyone to push themselves beyond and it’s the same with steps. You know, instead of a turn you do walking across.
SG: And I never once felt like I was less than for doing that. A good few years ago, I went to an adult ballet class. My daughter was doing ballet when she was little, and I noticed they had an adult ballet class, and I thought, you know what, I’ve never done ballet as a child. and I always had this regret that I hadn’t. I started taking my daughter when she was four and she didn’t really like it, to be honest. But I said: “No, no, it’ll be good. You know, you’ll love it.” My eldest son Max said, you’re like Marge Simpson mum. You’re trying to put all your unfulfilled aspirations on this poor child. And actually, she quit the whole thing when she was about four and a half. She wasn’t really enjoying it. But anyway, I went to this adult class, because I thought, right, I didn’t do as a child, but let me do it now. And it was the most ridiculous thing because at one point, the teacher said right everyone who’s doing the splits come over here. And I thought, the splits???? I can’t even touch my toes. Are you insane? And, I’m not joking Debbie, I had to like stand in the corner, like the naughty child because I was not able to do the splits. And I thought this is not for me. I’m not coming back here ever again. And it was just a beginner’s class. So I just think all of that is incredibly humiliating, isn’t it to try and put people in sort of different grades like that as an adult.
DH: Gosh, I would never. I mean, I think that I’ve had that experience, this idea and I suppose in any competitive performance arena, you get lost in evaluating. And you know, I’ve been for auditions and castings when I was a performer, and, you know, sometimes they would just look me up and down and say, No, thank you. Oh, my God without even seeing me because I just didn’t look right. So that’s what you’re dealing with. And then I think dance teachers are often ex-dancers who have been in that terrible world, competitive world and I think you can get lost in standards and this is how you need to be as a dancer, but I think that’s you’re just missing a trick if you’re doing it.
SG: It’s so constraining. Yeah, who cares? Which where your foot’s pointing? I mean, it’s one thing if I was doing it professionally, but I’m just doing for a bit of fun then.
DH: Yeah, I mean, obviously, you know, if you want to be a professional dancer, yeah. Training the technique. And that’s like in anything if you want to do something really, really well. You learn a technique of it, and that’s different. That’s a choice you’ve made but this is using dancing as medicine, this is dancing for wellbeing. This is what I see in myself when I dance. Linda, who you know, she’s part of the core group and she wouldn’t mind me saying she’s in her 70s feels and she’s been doing it consistently and loving it.
SG: We just are so thankful for it. So thankful. And you actually ran it all the way through lockdown, didn’t you? Because we were having a live class, and then you decided to experiment with Zoom. I remember that week. Everyone was very down, you’re locked down. And then you came like this beacon of light and it became this thing that people did and that they clung to. I heard from other women that it buoyed them up. And it was very comforting for them to be able to meet with these other women even though they’re all isolated in their own homes, but they would share in the group. And they felt a solidarity.
DH: Yeah, it was amazing. It just happened really organically. It was because it was just so unprecedented what happened, wasn’t it? So I think just being able to log in every morning and say hi to however many faces when you’re on your own. And then together with that the moving of the body to joyful music was just a total boost.
SG: And you can find so many things online now. I remember doing a group of women’s coaching during lockdown again. We were all on Zoom. And one of the ladies had recently lost her partner and she was in the depths of grief and despair and she just felt awful and she was so isolated. And she said that one of the things she really missed was dancing with her partner and at the moment she wasn’t doing anything and she was eating terribly because she had no motivation to cook for herself. And we chatted about dance and she went away and found an online line dancing because she used to really like line dancing and she did it from home and felt brilliant. And it was something that was so accessible that you could do even isolated.
DH: I still do zoom classes three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I know somebody who came to the Zoom classes was actually going through a breakup, a divorce. And she said that it completely gave her so much inner strength and confidence for so many reasons, but I think it’s quite empowering as well to dance to Beyonce for example. You channel a little bit of Beyond. You feel a little bit sexy, you know, or powerful. Yeah, I’m strong. I don’t have to be a victim. There’s all sorts because it’s that combination of music, movement, feeling strong, meditation, you know, so many benefits, physical side effects, the mood, elevation. And yeah, I hear myself kind of saying the same things, but it’s just so magical.
SG: It really is and the brain loves new things. The brain really thrives on new things. Yeah. And you’ve got that in dance because it’s different step every time, pushing the brain to form new pathways. As you say, it’s this extraordinary combination of all these different practices. coming together in something that is pure joy. You know, we don’t have enough joy in our lives, you know, especially as women in their 50s. Full on, you know, a lot of people looking after kids, maybe elderly parents, sandwiched between lots of different responsibilities and to have a time where you just lose yourself in music, I think is an incredible gift.
DH: So yes, somebody wrote the other day on a post and it really resonated for me. It was was fill your own cup, so that it can spill over into the lives of all those around you. And I thought that’s it because, you know, especially with what’s going on with Russia and Ukraine at the moment, it can almost feel a bit frivolous to be dancing around. But actually it’s the opposite. It’s revitalising, it’s energising and we need to be strong, in order to support people and especially with women. Women who are mums, with multiple children. You know, we gave so much don’t we? We give, give, give and this does definitely feel like filling yourself up.
SG: Yeah, I love the words you’ve used there: revitalising and energising. And that’s what I’ve definitely felt, and that’s why I will make sure that I go because I know that it’s transformational. I don’t think that is overstating it to use the word transformational.
DH: I’m always very heartened when you come every time because I think you’re a wellness coach, you know, you’re very knowledgeable. And I know that you’re making yourself come and I know that you’ve kind of put it in your daily life as a thing that’s beneficial. So I’m thinking, Suzy thinks it is and she knows a lot.
SG: Well there’s no doubt. It’s just beyond anything that we could describe here and I think that’s where I want everyone to experience it for themselves. And I think if people weren’t aware and just thought, actually, I quite like music (well, I guess everyone likes music, of-course, it’s just finding the music that you particularly like) and everyone innately wants to move their body.
SG: And it’s amazing that we’re always capable of changing, you know, even for someone who thinks, well, you know, I’m 65 now it’s way too late for me. It’s never too late is it? Till the day that we die, our brain is plastic, isn’t it? So if people are listening, and dance is not a part of their life, and maybe they don’t do any movement, or maybe they do I don’t know, running, for example, whatever it is movement that they do, where would be a good place to kind of start to embrace the concept of moving your body to dance outside, like a wedding or something that you would conventionally think of you would have a boogy.
DH: Well, I would say firstly, look at this Body Groove. Secondly, even just putting on music in the house, and moving your body perhaps in a way that you know, but remembering all of your body, like your head and your shoulders. See it as important. It’s like, according to all this research, it’s more important than anything. And then looking in your local community for classes, adult dance classes, or line dancing.
SG: Yeah. And you could try something that you’ve never tried before.
DH: You could I mean, there’s no harm in trying. You tried the adult ballet classes.
SG: That’s it. I tried it. And it wasn’t for me. And that’s fine.
DH: Yeah, I would just look online at Body Groove, look in your community and just put your favourite song on.
SG: I was doing that a lot actually during lockdown as part of the morning routine. It’s just putting one track on like something from the 70s like something like Bony M, from when I was a kid. And just having a boogie around to one song before I got in my shower. And it literally would transform my mood. It would wake you up and revitalises you, it energises you and makes you happy and you’ve got some movement. So before you sit down to work, you’ve got that in the bag.
DH: Exactly. It is such a simple thing. Just one song, yeah, jumping up and down. It doesn’t matter, wobbling, shaking. I love kind of doing little runs and wobbling everything because yeah, apparently there’s benefits in wobbling. Who would have thought it you know we spend so much time trying to stop ourselves from wobbling and holding in and stopping
SG: Yeah, it moves the energy, doesn’t it? All those trapped emotions.
DH: It just moves everything, allows everything to just shake out. Yeah, so that’s moving wobbling, shaking, feeling good inside your body. So when you put that track on, you have that feeling of like, I’m going to actually feel good inside my big fat bottom. You know, or my dodgy knee. I’m actually going to give that dodgy knee a bit of love. I don’t know, that’s really helped me. And actually, I was reading in this book, talking about women who have babies later and sort of suffer from a bit of incontinence because that puts off a lot of people Yeah, so we’re always talking about pelvic floor. But there was a study in Korea, actually, that belly dancing does exactly the same thing as strengthening it. But you’re not actually just sitting there going: Squeeze, squeeze. You know, it’s just so boring. Beautifully. And it can help with incontinence. And I’ve actually found that as well. I think it’s just the whole thing of disconnection from your body. So dance somehow makes you aware of everything. Even your toes and you know, the bits of you that are just so stultified. Especially the hips where I sit down so much.
SG: And the body is meant to move, isn’t it? It’s built to move in all sorts of ways
DH: And I actually think the reason that people have lots of problems is not from over exercise from under exercise. So from under movement. And I know that lots of people have been put off coming to dance because they’ve got an injury. And what I would say there is, I believe that you should move through it. And obviously there are some injuries that need rest. I’m not talking about severe injuries. I’m talking about twinges. And you know, the idea that you just keep moving, keep oiled.
SG: Keep oiled – I love that idea. Keeping oiled, yeah. And please God Debbie, as we move through our 50s together, you and me will be dancing until…
DH: The end, why not?
SG: What a great aspiration. I hope I will be dancing with you, even if we’re in our wheelchairs.
DH: But I honestly believe that we won’t be, because I feel like if we use your body it will support you.
SG: Yeah, yeah, I hope so. Oh, it’s been so gorgeous to chat to you on record. It’s such a gorgeous subject. And I hope that people will take away that dance belongs to them. It belongs to everybody.