Monday Over Coffee: "The Tonic of Movement"

Published March 11, 2024 by Greg Funderburk

I was recently at a wedding reception, and there…I danced. I have a good friend who says whenever he’s at such an event and steps out onto the dance floor, inevitably, an inner dialogue starts up in his mind, reminding him, “You know you’re dancing right now. People are watching. What’s that thing you’re doing with your arms? What exactly is it you keep on doing with your legs?” He begins to weigh whether he should roll out a new and innovative move, then decides he can’t pull it off—that it will look awkward—and he discards the idea. But the voice continues, constant and irritating, reminding him in an almost unabated fashion that others are not only probably watching but likely giving him poor scores like the judges on those celebrity dancing shows on television.

This invasive voice, this overthinking, is a handicap on the dance floor but one I can relate to. The notion of dancing as if no one is looking, is difficult for a lot of us unless, in fact, no one else is looking, and even then, we’re probably looking over our shoulders. This is all to say, sometimes we find it difficult to release our reservations, our inhibitions and not worry, just have a good time dancing. However, if you’re like this, like me, here’s something else to consider.

No matter your skill level, no matter your talent or lack thereof, dancing is good for you—physically, mentally, emotionally, maybe even spiritually. The toe-tapping, the movement of the feet and legs, the swaying of the body, the head-bobbing—they’re all ways in which, in an ongoing way, we’re anticipating the next beat in the musical sequence we’re hearing. Our pattern-seeking minds are locating then synchronizing our bodies to the rhythms, leading our brains, research tells us, to release endorphins, serotonin, dopamine—what science writers call the “happy chemical cocktail” that makes us feel more alive, more aware, more joyful, and more connected to those with whom we’re dancing and moving.

A recent study from Australia went so far as to say that among all forms of exercise, the one associated with the largest consistent reductions in depression and depressive symptoms was dancing.1 In the study, for some, dancing is rated as more effective even than some pharmaceutical interventions. I know that depression is terribly serious and can be a very debilitating condition. I’m not suggesting we’ve cracked the code on it especially through simply dancing about, but I am pointing to this study as another contribution to the mounting body of scientific literature which suggests motion, movement, and dancing is something that contributes to our overall well-being.2

Having said all this, if you’re like me, my friend, and many others, and find dancing difficult, perhaps just take a lively walk instead. There’s a lot of research on the mental health benefits and value in terms of productivity of this activity, as well. Walking, especially when we do it outside, has a way of creating a repetitive rhythm in our bodies that somehow energizes and re-energizes our minds. “Above all,” philosopher Soren Kierkegaard suggested, “do not lose your desire to walk.” Walking has a way of synching up body, mind, and soul. Friedrich Nietschze said the only worthy ideas he’d ever had emerged while he was walking. Beethoven, Dickens, Gandhi, Hemingway, and Steve Jobs were all famous walkers who said something similar.

Finally, for many of us, this week is Spring Break—a time to leave our regular routine and the problems associated with them behind, at least for a little while, and just go; go somewhere. If you’re lucky enough to have the chance to do so, I hope you get to go somewhere new and uplifting, even if it’s just somewhere local. But whether it’s dancing, walking, or just taking a break, try to find the opportunity to get up and move, leaving that invasive, irritating inner dialogue, that tendency to ruminate about your day-to-day problems, behind for a bit. If you do, you’re likely to find that what ails you most might just yield to some forward motion—what we might call the healing tonic of movement.

God—May some new motion usher in a new outlook, a new perspective. Help me to get moving, leaving myself behind. Amen.

1 Effect of exercise for depression: systematic review and network meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, BMJ 2024; 384: e0775847; (Published 14 February 2024)
Hebert, Olivia, New study shows dancing is best exercise to combat depression, February 23, 2024,,