Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Cultural Dance and Health: A Review of the Literature

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Cultural Dance and Health: A Review of the Literature

Article excerpt


Physical activity has many physical and mental health outcomes. However, physical inactivity continues to be common. Dance, specifically cultural dance, is a type of physical activity that may appeal to some who are not otherwise active and may be a form of activity that is more acceptable than others in certain cultures. The purpose of this paper is to summarize literature describing the health benefits of cultural dance. Several databases were searched to identify articles published within the last 15 years, describing physical and mental health outcomes of cultural dance or interventions that incorporated cultural dance. In the seven articles reviewed there is evidence to support the use of cultural dance for preventing excessive weight gain and cardiac risk, reducing stress, and increasing life satisfaction. Cultural dance is a practical form of physical activity to promote physical and mental health among subgroups of populations that often have lower amounts of participation in physical activity. There is a need for additional research to isolate how and in what ways cultural dance can be offered to promote physical activity. Practitioners should consider nontraditional forms of physical activity, offered in partnership with community organizations.


Physical activity is important to a healthy lifestyle. With health problems such as diabetes (1) and obesity (2) reaching epidemic proportions, there is a need for programs that encourage regular participation in physical activity among a variety of communities (3) Being overweight is a significant predictor of chronic health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease; (4) and racial disparities in the prevalence of overweight exist. In the United States for example, African-American girls have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) as compared to Caucasian girls. The differences were independent of suspected contributing factors, such as income. One survey conducted between 1999 and 2002 found significant differences in BMI between African-American and Caucasian girls (p < 0.001) with rates of 20.4% and 19.0%, respectively). In addition, African-American girls' mean BMI z-score rates increased 0.71 compared to Caucasian girls' increase of 0.30 between the examination periods of 1971-1974-and 1999-2002. (6)

Physical activity programs are one method to prevent obesity, however, not all groups respond well to traditional physical activity programs such as running, walking, and playing competitive sports. For example, young girls report little enthusiasm for traditional physical activities and gym classes. (7) Women in minority groups, specifically African-American and Mexican American women, tend to have higher levels of leisure time inactivity than Caucasian women. (3) Differences are maintained when controlling for economic, educational, and social factors. A change in physical activity level for all people is needed and, based on research, more so for members of minority groups, not only to increase physical activity but also to address rising obesity. (3,6)

Cultural Dance as a More Acceptable Form of Physical Activity

Non-traditional types of exercise may better meet the activity needs of groups that do not respond to traditional physical activity. Swimming, walking, soccer, football, baseball, basketball, track, and/ or cheerleading are examples of physical activity programs that are widely available, yet some individuals still do not partake in these activities. Non-competitive dance may be a more viable alternative for those who view traditional exercise negatively, such as girls who do not like to get hurt in sports or prefer non-competitive forms of physical activity. Dance, in this respect, is a highly preferred physical activity for many girls. (7,8) In addition, dance provides other benefits as well including an outlet for emotional expression, stress reduction, and creativity. …

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