The Brain Science of Steppin’ 20

AM-Keep calm and Keep Steppin - 2jpegsRemember the first time you saw a group of people Steppin’? Remember not ever wanting to leave the dance floor when you began dancing? For some people, the euphoria provided by Steppin’ keeps them going from set to set. Others discover that the feelings associated with the dance deepen intensely or gradually lessen over time. Most steppers are aware of the affect that the dance has on their moods, but many of us don’t know WHY Steppin’ makes us feel so good. Many of us “chase the high” we attribute to the dance, but we don’t know exactly what to expect until we experience it, and even then we still we don’t know why.

When it comes to what we’re feeling while we dance, did you know that the moods associated with the dance can be attributed to a combination of neurochemicals firing off in the brain? As you read this blog, my hope is that you’ll have a better understanding of some of our common experiences as we engage “on the wood” and why so many of us equate our need to dance with the need for a “fix”. I also hope to provide a simple solution for achieving and maintaining the rare “highs” we experience in the dance.

Your Steppin’ Experience is Actually Quite Scientific

The Brain While Exercising 2

According to researchers, there are four major neurochemicals working within the brain as we dance – Serotonin, Epinephrine, Endorphins and Dopamine, that we’ll just call the SEEDs.

Serotonin and Dopamine are two closely connected neurochemicals. Serotonin makes you feel good. It gives you that feeling associated with a great workout, a good meal or hanging out with family and friends. It’s the neurotransmitter that allows us to be content and happy. Dopamine is the main focus transmitter and is the chemical responsible for drive and desire to acquire. Dopamine, it seems, is linked to the brain’s reward system.

Epinephrine manages our “fight or flight” response and is triggered during bursts of intense activity. In healthy doses it keeps us going when we don’t think we can. Endorphins are our body’s natural pain killer and they fire off in the brain during regular, moderate activity or exercising such as dancing to reduce our perception of pain – endorphins allow you to forget about pain during heightened periods of physical activity

Rhythm in the MelaninNow, let’s add one more major chemical (although it isn’t considered a neurochemical) of the black body to the mix: Melanin. Melanin can rearrange its chemical structure to absorb all energy across the radiant energy spectrum (i.e. sunlight, X-rays, radar, radio waves, music and sound). The black human can charge up his/her melanin just by being in the sun, being around energy sources or being around the right type of music (“Science Baseline Essay, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, 1975).

It’s Almost Common Sense

Now that we understand the science of what occurs during periods of physical activity, let’s have a little fun by applying the logic and theory of them to some of our more common dance experiences…

Have you ever noticed how different dancing feels when you’re with or around a crowd of people as opposed to being at home practicing alone? Have you ever noticed how your body changes as you walk into a Steppers’ event knowing that you’re going to have a great time because you know so many people in the room (and you’re happy see them again!)? That feeling, my friends, is that Serotonin kicking in telling you that once again, you’re with “family”. Serotonin is making you feel good about being in the presence of others who love the dance just as much as you do.

Have you ever noticed how you feel when you’re dancing at an event and you’re able to keep pace with the person you’re dancing with and you’re able to follow them so well that you actually begin to smile as you do so? Well, say hello to the neurochemical Dopamine which allows you to feel good about the fact that you’re able to enjoy the dance because you put in the time required to be better at it (reward).  Your effort shines through as you dance. Similarly, Dopamine also kicks in when you see a move or style that you’d like to emulate and you’re determined to get it (drive), lol!

The Science Gets Even Better

Ever noticed how your body feels after a long night of dancing, especially after you’ve been running all day to prepare for the night? You think you can’t dance another song, but suddenly the DJ plays “that song”, you know, the one that makes you feel like you have to dance and before you know it you’re out of the chair and on the floor. Epinephrine has you hyped up and ready to go, despite the fatigue in your body.

Additionally, Melanin is allowing you to recharge while dancing – you literally soak up the energy of the music and the like-minded steppers around you! Have you noticed how the floor seems to pack and the energy in the room changes when certain songs are played? Have you noticed how this also changes your own personal energy? This happens not only because the song or selection is great, the musical selection also brings a certain kind of energy with it, and that energy is shared with and between every person in the room. You’re literally experiencing an energy recharge! Who knew?

ladies_shoesLadies, have you ever noticed how your feet can be killing you as you sit or stand still, but they don’t seem to bother you while you’re dancing? You can thank the neurochemical Endorphin for that. Road to Health asserts: “…endorphins are anywhere from 18 to 500 times more powerful than pain killers made in a lab. The body releases endorphins during periods of physical activity, resulting in feelings of well-being and sometimes, euphoria”. Steppin’ is particularly effective in the release of endorphins to the brain. Endorphins are your friend, for a while at least, because they keep you from thinking about foot pain as you dance. Of course this is before you change shoes and finally come out of your walk-in, stylin’ and profilin’, 30-minute to one hour, “cute” shoes (lol!!).

Steppin’ feels like it’s all just fun and games, but as you can see, there’s a bit of science behind why we do what we do. As such, I contend that many of us gravitate to the dance because we have an addiction to the neurochemicals swimming around in our brains as well as the Melanin surging and charging through our bodies. The experience becomes so common for us that when we don’t get it, we feign for it (“it be callin’ me man, it be callin’ me!! (lol!!)). Science suggest that it is practically impossible to be addicted to the neurochemicals produced in the brain, but I contend that as dancers we have such a powerful physiological, neurological and – dare I say – spiritual experience, that it comes pretty close to an addiction.

It Is What it Is…

So now you know. You’re chemically dependent. You’re hooked. You’re an addict. You are officially a Steppaholic . And the only way you can ease the dependency is to stop dancing altogether (I know, this option is a no-go), or you can resort to my simple solution to ease the pain of the addiction –  get back on the dance floor ASAP and get that fix! Are you still searching for that rare high you get when you connect with someone in the dance? You need to get back on the wood NOW!!

Feel free to comment below if you can relate to the subject matter of today’s blog post. I’d love to hear from you. For now, this Steppaholic has to go…my body is shaking and about to convulse. I need to get my fix!! I’ll see you and my other addicted friends on the wood real soon!


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20 thoughts on “The Brain Science of Steppin’

  • Dione

    This article is very, timely. I was just telling another Stepper that if I don’t go to practices 2-3 times a week, I feel “off”. It’s like I need a “fix”. She whole-heartedly agreed. Who knew our need was scientifically based.

  • Freddie Ellis

    HI !, My name is Freddie Ellis and I’m a Steppaholic.
    There was no other way for me to start my comment. Just got around to reading your article, and I must say it was very educational and enlightening. Keep providing us with knowledge, that too is an addiction you can provide the fix for.

    • Victor A. James Sr. Post author

      Hi Freddie! Welcome to the only dependency in life where the addiction is oh, so good! Thanks for the kind words of encouragement and we’ll try to keep them coming. Keep gettin’ your fix in on the wood! 🙂

  • Ruby Moore

    Somehow I missed this article very interesting I have been addicted for 52 years. I am still addicted not looking for a cure. I get my fix as often as I can this senior is hooked. I am legal addicted. Thanks for info Vic.

  • Bradford Lee

    When I first saw your videos it was very nice to watch, one in particular Earth Wind and Fire cruising, your stepping is flawless and smooth, and every chance I get Iook for your videos, it gives me the inspiration to keep doing what I do.
    I started off as a bobber and I put a little bit of that in my dance , I’ am a bit older then you and I really like your style. I saw you this year at the Shades of Blue set and when I recognized you I just sat back and enjoyed watching you. I’am still taking lessons from a very good instructor
    and friend James Bergans( Stepping With Style). I read that one piece you wrote know thy self and it was a very good article. I just wanted to say I like your style, and it helps me, I ‘ am well into my sixties but I still like to step. If I see you again I will introduce myself to you, until then take care.

    • Victor A. James Sr. Post author

      Thanks for the words of encouragement Brother Lee…I appreciate it more than you know. You’re in very capable hands with the instructor that you have. I know this because I know of his commitment and desire to help others learn this dance. Thanks for reaching out. Should you see me out in the future, please make sure that you introduce yourself to me. Take very good care and I’ll see you on the wood! 🙂

  • johnnieabreu

    Thank you Victor James for allowing us in Dallas to see the importance of the dance as well as elegance of it. I appreciate you and Lisa so much – your grace, style and your passion. You know you are great at what you do if people come to Dallas from different parts of the country to attend your intensive. People came from Little Rock, Arkansas; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson Mississippi; Houston,Texas; and of course, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas. After participating in your intensive I think I have everything I need to get on the floor with confidence and I got it in ONE weekend!!! Keep up the good work. We are waiting for your return the weekend of October 27-29. Thanks again!! Johnnie Abreu, Owner of The Elephant Room.

    • Victor A. James Sr. Post author

      Johnnie, thank you for believing in what I do enough to ask me to come to Dallas to do it way back in January of this year! This past weekend you were the consummate host, you took very good care of us and the intensive attendees all weekend long. I appreciate you for making our stay and time together pleasant and enjoyable. It was a great weekend of dancing and sharing information and let me tell you, by the end of Saturday night my feet were on fire, lol! The great news is that some of the intensive participants are now asking me to come to their city because they see how others can benefit from what was shared with them this past weekend. I guess I must be pretty good at what I do :-).

      As I stated before I left Dallas Monday, the THE ELEPHANT ROOM IS THE HOME OF SMOOTH CHICAGO STEPPIN’FOR ME whenever I’m in Dallas and I’ll be on the wood there every chance I get. And I’m going to do everything I can to ensure that this becomes the reality for most of the dance community of Dallas too! Thanks again for believing in me and taking the chance. I hope that to you I was worth the investment. Thank you my friend…know that we’re family now! Peace and abundant blessings! 🙂

  • Shalas Wilks

    I totally agree Victor A. James Sr., I love stepping and especially with a great musical engineer. It is a great exercise and so much fun. I love this article, thanks for sharing. Keep calm and keep stepping.