The Future of Dance: Forecasts for Post-COVID Society

I can't predict the future, but here are my 3 forecasts for the future of dance in a post-COVID world.

  1. Dance and movement therapy will be used as treatment for Long COVID (post-COVID syndrome).

Thousands of people will be navigating what it means to live with the long-term neurological and physical effects of post-COVID syndrome. Principal amongst the symptoms, which are similar to ME/CFS, is extreme fatigue. If we all have an internal "battery" which supplies our energy for the day, post-COVID syndrome reduces the capacity to a fraction of pre-COVID conditions. Like ME/CFS, post-COVID will require rehabilitation and ongoing therapy from a number of experts. Unfortunately, the reality of our care for chronic disabilities is inadequate. "Long haulers" will need dedicated support that is accessible physically, financially and mentally.

Enter, dance and movement therapy. Gentle movements to music synchronize breathing, coordination, mental focus, and pro-social behaviors. Movement is highly effective for healing the body, the lungs, and the mind. post-COVID syndrome may manifest in many forms, but dance can repair the nervous system directly, regardless of variation in individual symptoms.

For example, processing difficult emotions verbally or through writing may be exhausting for those with post-COVID syndrome. The demands on energy and focus can make talk therapy and expressive writing difficult to access for healing. However, dance therapy can be scaled to the individual's access reality, while still providing substantial benefits to mental and emotional wellness.

It may take time for movement therapy practitioners to appropriately meet the growing need, but there are disability justice organizations (such as Access Centered Movement) already doing this work. My hope is that more will follow the leadership of disabled folx to provide accessible and inclusive care for long haulers.

2. Dance will gain prominence as a method of harmonious re-socialization after prolonged social isolation, especially for children.

Things have gotten pretty weird this year. Socially, I mean. What will it be like to "human" around other humans after COVID? My guess: it will be awkward. And that's okay! It will take some adjustment, being in safe proximity to others, when the time comes. Luckily, dance is social technology for building trust and collective connection.

Dance and music encourage pro-social behavior, trust, and cooperation. For children who have spent the last year socialized by social distancing, it is critical to provide avenues for bonding, community, and healthy relationship building. Dance offers this, and more. I recommend that parents look for LGBTQIA inclusive, trauma-informed, and non-competitive dance programs to get started. Learning dance online can be challenging, but it does offer the comfort of home, especially for shy and introverted kids.

If dance classes aren't the right fit, that's okay. Introducing non-judgmental, joyful movement to music is incredibly helpful to building a life-long love of dance. There is no right or wrong way to dance (non-judgment is really the key word here) and kids can build confidence through play. Don't know where to start? Try building a playlist of music that gets you moving. For other inspiration, there are some SEL movement modules which can be adapted for home.

3. Dancers will rise as leaders in pro-social community building.

2020 has proven that we, as a country, have never been more polarized. With this social polarization comes conflict, de-humanization, and ideological extremist violence. Who will help us move forward together? My vote goes to dancers.

The legendary Debbie Allen says "Dancers are the most intelligent people in the world." Indeed, practicing mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional intelligence simultaneously in dance is under-appreciated genius. Currently, dancers do not receive the respect they deserve from our society, but dancers will have a unique role to play in building communities that are stable, sustainable, and cooperative. Dancers have particular expertise at moving together in harmony and unison. Further, they have a deep understanding of body language which helps convey messages non-verbally to humans of diverse and different backgrounds.

The practice of dance is vital to the human species. Before we even learn to walk or talk, infants learn to dance and bounce to the rhythm of music. Dance is foundational to our development as humans, but we live in a society which often shames, commodifies, and places standards of perfectionism on dance. If we want to move forward together, it would be a good idea to start by dancing together. Dancing together restores trust and social cohesion, and can mend emotional wounds by creating a shared positive experience.

There are many, many wounds that need healing. From COVID alone, we will need all the mental health support we can muster to address the meteoric rise in depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidality. There are not enough therapists to meet the need--and many individuals may not be ready for professional mental health support due to perceptions of stigma--but dance provides us with a healing modality that has tremendous benefits for cognition, cooperation, and socialization. Dance also releases oxytocin, a feel-good neurotransmitter associated with safety, pleasure, and relationship-building, providing vast swaths of the population with a quantifiable mental boost. After 2020, we're going to need as much oxytocin as we can make.

In the not so distant past, dance was ubiquitous in culture. People came together to celebrate, mourn, grieve, and give thanks in a shared, non-violent experience. We may have forgotten how to dance together, but, deep down, we all know the steps. I hope to see you on the dance floor in 2021.

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