How does dance keep your health

Dancing sets the soul free

Music is much more important in our society than dance. Wrongly. When children dance, they feel happiness. It is often not easy for adults to just start dancing. It is worthwhile to give yourself completely to movement.

Text: Sibylle Dubs
Pictures: Daniel Schoeneck

When you talk about exercise, you usually think of sport. Movement - in other words: dance - as a form of expression has largely disappeared from our everyday lives. “Dance lives where there is repression, where there is poverty. When the person is satisfied and full, the dancing is done », says Oki Degen, dancer and dance teacher from Basel. Born in Berlin, she teaches dance to around 200 children and young people at the Binningen-Bottmingen Music School. Many pupils visit the dance hall for the first time in their primary school years and remain loyal to their dance teacher until they are adults. The 50-year-old originally comes from contemporary dance, has also studied many folk dances and mixes different styles when working with children and young people. She likes to compare this to a cook who has the courage to experiment.

Playing rhythms from sight is a fun brain game.

Last year the dance teacher started a small survey. Oki Degen wanted to know from her students whether they like to dance and why. “They looked at me as if I were a horse,” she says with a laugh. “Of course we like to dance!” They would have shouted. The reason was different depending on the age. The younger children said that they felt happiness while dancing. The young people are happy about the opportunity to break out of everyday life. "It is a basic human need to express oneself with the body," says Oki Degen. "Unfortunately, this form of communication is neglected in our society." In the Balkans, according to Degen, people dance in groups at practically every festival. More is expressed than with small talk at the table. But even in the Balkans the dances are disappearing more and more. "When societies get richer, dance takes on a different meaning," explains the dance teacher. “Trends like Zumba emerge, where fitness is done to music. This is also called dance. "

In our society, music is much more important than dance. Wrongly. Music and movement are partners. Movements can be set to music and music triggers movement. This can be illustrated with an exercise from a music class: a child kneels gently, turns quickly and then stretches vigorously into the air. All children repeat their own sequence in a quiet room and at their own pace. Now the teacher sets the movements of one of the children to music with the piano, so they always play the same thing parallel to the movements. The children will figure out which sequence is being performed musically and adopt it until everyone is dancing the same thing. Then the teacher changes the music a little and the children get involved in new movements. What is happening? Music follows movement and movement follows music. The children combine their personal expression with music and movement. You are part of the whole and yet travel individually. They communicate through movement and sounds, without words. This only works if the children have already had some practice in expressing themselves with their bodies. How do you move gently?

Some children have to overcome themselves at first

What does a sudden movement look like and a combination of tender and sudden? Trying this out and finding solutions can be both serious and laughing. Some children initially have to overcome using their bodies as a means of expression. In any case, trust and respect in the group are necessary so that this little great moment can be experienced in class. Music is impossible without movement. Just think of the playing technique and the physical effort that every instrument demands. In the musical elementary school, for example, the children learn to play the xylophone. On the one hand, it is about hand-eye coordination, on the other hand, the dosage of strength poses great challenges for some children. It is not only the practice that makes perfect, but also trust in your own body.

"The body learns very quickly and subtly if you trust it and let it do its thing."

Andreas Zihler, musician and music teacher

“The body is brilliant,” says Andreas Zihler, Zurich musician and music didactic. "The body learns very quickly and subtly if you trust it and let it do its thing." Zihler is experienced in many areas: on the drums of the Zurich Opera House as well as on West African drums. He is a trained mime and spiral dynamist (movement therapist) and teaches at various schools. He teaches his students to trust that the body can store movement when learning complex rhythms. The children are no different. In the musical elementary school they experience music with their whole body. Rhythms are implemented with body percussions, a legato (connecting the notes) is painted with large brushes on paper, an accelerando (getting faster) is danced. Of course, music is also notated, and children learn to play rhythms from sight. This is a mental exercise that many children enjoy. But the elementary experience of making music is that children feel a personal connection with what they are doing and with those who do it with them.

At Oki Degen, this connection is not only visible in the dance hall. Long before lessons begin, students come to the anteroom to prepare or to warm up with the little ones. Oki Degen is convinced that the lessons are more than just "right-left-right-left" for her students. Her four own children also learned to dance from her. The youngest was brought to dance lessons twice a week by her grandfather. And because the granddaughter no longer wanted to leave the place and continued to practice outside with the other children, Oki Degen's father often had to wait for hours in front of the dance hall. «My dad then took my cheeks in his hands and said: Oh Oki, if I had met you when I was a little boy - that would have been the greatest gift for me. I think I would have become a dancer too.



A dance in the park

A dance in the park Children are constantly creating small choreographies. For example, when they walk back or dance around the linden tree in the park, then to the bench and the lines of the cobblestones. When was the last time you rounded an avenue of trees? Do it. And invent variants:

  • Hopping, floating, swinging your arms or leaning on your side, on tiptoe, very deep.
  • Someone can pre-dance and the others copy the movements.
  • Take your children and their friends and their parents by the hand and meander around the trees together, changing direction at a sign.
  • Change the formation: always two together, one against all or two large groups that get mixed up.


A song sung along with it helps to bring the whole thing into shape. Perhaps you will sing "Sur le pont d’Avignon", "If you have tannigi trousers", "Zoge am Boge". Of course, you can also sing all melodies on «la-la» and «jam-pa-pa».