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My Medicine of Dance

This blog post originally appeared on BrittanyFichterWrites.com.

I don’t watch Dancing with the Stars often, but when I heard that there was going to be a  Disney night, I couldn’t resist. And I was not disappointed.

I grew up dancing. It was always one of the biggest parts of my life, but I didn’t realize how much it did to improve my Tourette Syndrome, OCD tendencies and anxiety until I graduated from high school and my tics began to get worse. I’ve given it quite a lot of thought, trying to put into words what my body and soul feel when I’m dancing, attempting to make sense of why dance so helps calm my mind and loosen my tics that cling so tightly to me.

This is what I’ve come up with.

How Dancing Improves My Tourette

If you’re not familiar with Tourette, having it makes you feel like you’ve got a million little bursts of energy all over your body. These bursts of energy make you feel like you need to constantly move, your tics (involuntary vocal sounds or physical movements), itching to escape. Suppression is possible, briefly, but what you’re left with is a body with a ton of energy that has nowhere else to go.

Unless you dance.

For years, my dance studio attended competitions. Dance competitions, if you’ve never attended one, are chock full of detail. Scores are about much more than simply remembering the dance. Here are a few of the places that judges look to add or take points:

  • Strongly pointed or flexed toes
  • Good posture
  • Every part of the body full of energy
  • Smiles (throughout the entire dance)
  • Perfectly matched costumes
  • Perfectly timed leaps and steps.

I won’t go into gory detail, but in short, every look, every angle, every muscle must be in place to get full points. The dancer’s countenance must be full of energy and enjoyment, or whatever expression is appropriate for the mood of the dance.

Now, this might seem like torture for someone like me, who has obsessive-compulsive tendencies, someone whose stress shoots through the roof when I can’t hit every mark on my checklist. But in reality, it’s heaven. All those little bursts of energy that randomly pulse through my body, constantly distracting me and distracting others, suddenly have a purpose. All the energy that’s demanded for a perfect score in dance is already inside of me, only when I dance, it’s being used for good instead of evil.

Not only is my body relieved, but my mind as well. The problems that distract my mind in general can’t be attended to. The anxiety that almost constantly floats through my mind must be pushed to the side if I’m going to focus all my attention on dancing. Normally, the anxiety refuses to leave, but thanks to the perfectionism brought about by my OCD tendencies, my disorders work against each other. In order perform well, I can harness my OCD and use it for something I love.

Actually, I experienced something I’ve heard of in at least one other individual with tics, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. When I was little, dance steps became my tics. While this might sound aggravating at first, it’s really quite enjoyable. Most tics are intruders, movements that take control of your body, shaking you, making you squeak (or yell, bark, or say odd things), using you as a puppet.

But when I dance, I have control of my tics. My tics are constant, but their presence means constant practice. And practice makes perfect. A little girl dancing around a store is much more socially acceptable than a girl running around the store shrugging her shoulders and squeaking. And while I’m the last one to say tics are something to be embarassed of, dancing is a lot easier to explain than most other tics.

In a way, I can say my tics are partially responsible for making me a confident dancer. My OCD tendencies made me a student of the art. I thought about it constantly, ran the routines through my head before going to sleep, chewed over my mistakes after practices, and hyperfocused on it throughout the actual practices. Dancing helped me feel whole, complete. Instead of being split by the parts of my being trying to run in all different directions like they usually are, I could be simply in one place at one time.

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Dance is a Fantastic Form of Exercise

I’ve previously discussed the benefits of exercise in reducing anxiety. Beyond even basic exercise, however, dance has a leg up on the competition (Pun intended. Ba-dum-paaah.) In the article, “Stress and Stress Reduction,” by Indiana University, Bloomington, it states:

A person who is completely involved in an activity, whether it be chess, rock climbing, the arts, dance, or anything else, often experiences certain subjective feelings called the “flow state.” The flow state is a feeling of unified flowing from one moment to the next in which the person is in control of his/her actions and in which there is little distinction between self and environment, past, present, and future, stimulus or response. While in the flow state, the person usually does not think of him/herself as being separate from what he/she is doing.

An article on Livestrong.com titled “Exercises for Anxiety Relief” notes that “exercises that are continuous and rhythmic tend to be especially beneficial for anxiety relief.”

Different Kinds of Dance

Fast-paced dances like clogging, tap dancing, Irish step dancing, hip hop or jazz might not be your thing, and that’s okay. There are lots of different kinds of dance that can help you focus and kick some of that anxiety to the curb.

Group classes given at gyms or community centres are often lots of fun. My mother loves a class at her gym called Barre Booty, a mix between ballet moves and other moves to strengthen and tone; I have a lot of fun, personally, with Zumba. Group classes are great because everyone’s focusing too much on her own workout to notice you. (If you still don’t feel comfortable, there are some great dance DVDs you can do at home, such as Dancing with the Stars. I have four of these DVDs, and they’re great workouts!)

There are all types of partner dances, such as in ballroom dancing (If you want more types of dance, here’s a great link to a list of ballroom dances.), which, if done with a special someone, can help lower stress even more through physical contact!

Whether you love to dance in a group or by yourself, dance can be a great way to work off anxiety, focus OCD tendencies, and give those ticcy bursts of energy somewhere to go.

Brittany Fichter is and Air Force wife, educator and writer. You can follow her on Twitter and subscribe to her blog on BrittanyFichterWrites.com. She is currently working on her memoir, “chronicling a year of life with Tourettes, OCD tendencies, anxiety, the Air Force, the grace of God, and all the shenanigans that come along the way.”

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