The Brain Science of Steppin’

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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