How dancing helped me get more creative in my business

How dancing helped me get more creative in my business

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I’ve been a business owner for a little over eight years. Over that time, my industry and I have gone through a lot of changes—and in order to stay competitive, I’ve had to adapt, evolve, and get creative.

But last year, I’d been feeling stuck, both creatively and professionally. I hadn’t been able to come up with new ideas. My business, which always felt like a creative outlet and source of pride and challenge, started to feel stagnant. Even preparing to launch a new business—which, historically, is pretty much guaranteed to get my creative juices flowing—wasn’t enough to pull me out of my rut.

After almost a year of feeling like I was just going through the motions, I knew I needed to do something to shake things up and find my creativity again. And I knew that, in order to do that, I was going to need to step outside of my comfort zone.

Or, as it turns out, pirouette, leap, and kick ball change my way out of my comfort zone. Because the thing that finally helped me move out of the dreaded stuck place and start feeling creative, excited, and inspired about my business again? Dance.

How dance helped me get unstuck

Here’s how this started. Two of my closest friends, both of whom have a background in dance, started taking classes at a local studio. While I would occasionally join them for one-off dance fitness classes, when it came to committing to longer-term choreography classes, I was hesitant. Not only am I not an experienced dancer, but coordination in general? Not my strong suit.

But, like I said, I was feeling pretty desperate to get unstuck and was willing to try just about everything—so when the next term rolled around, I signed up for a 12-week lyrical jazz class.

Deanna's dance studio
My dance studio

That class ended up being so many things that I didn’t know that I needed. Learning the choreography forced me to use my brain in a different way. Moving my body consistently—and in challenging ways—not only helped me loosen up, but also gave me more energy. I started to feel the sense of stuckness fade away.

That was earlier this year, and today, I dance two to three times per week across a variety of styles—some of which surprised me. (I was the most nervous for hip-hop, which, in my mind, required the most coordination and personality—it ended up being by far my favorite class.) And the more I’ve committed to dancing on a regular basis, the more inspired, creative, and all-around happy I’ve felt.

Why dancing increases creativity

Turns out, my experience isn’t strictly a personal one; there are clear links between dance and creativity. “Many scientific studies have concluded that dance contributes to our health and well-being in many ways—including to our creativity,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Monica Vermani.

Dance impacts creativity in a few different ways. Studies show that dance increases cognitive flexibility, or the ability to switch between tasks—which can help promote higher cognitive functioning as we age. “Cognitive flexibility is our ability to act and respond in the moment to environmental factors,” says Vermani. “In dance, we are responding to music, to other dancers, and to instructors, conventions, or sequences of movement.”

Dance itself is, at the core, a creative activity—and participating in one creative activity can often increase creativity across the board. “Dance provides an opportunity to be purely creative and inspired. It immerses us in the creative process, thus improving our ability to be creative,” says Vermani. 

Disco ball at Deanna's dance studio
How can I not be creative when this is above me?

The challenge to the brain that dance provides can also foster both creativity and higher functioning. “The intricate steps, patterns, and sequences involved in dancing require memory and problem-solving skills, which strengthen the brain’s ability to think flexibly and creatively,” says Kyle Kunkel, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor at mental health company Thriveworks (and a dancer herself!). “Furthermore, dance’s coordination enhances the brain’s neuroplasticity, which is its capacity to rewire and adapt to new experiences. This adaptability is key to creative thinking, as it allows the brain to form new connections and synthesize information in novel ways.”

Finally, because dance requires you to consistently respond to your environment and problem-solve in the moment, it prompts lateral thinking (thinking outside of the box)—which can help you be a more creative problem-solver in other areas, like your business. “Dance encourages us to think outside the box, experiment with various movements, and problem-solve through movement,” says Kunkel. “The spontaneity and freedom in dance challenges our brain to think beyond the ordinary, fostering creative thinking.”

When you consider all of these elements (not to mention the fact that dance is one heck of an exercise—which has also been shown to increase creativity), it’s no surprise that, the more I dance, the more I feel the stuck energy replaced by creative energy. 

For me, that’s manifested in a few different ways. Professionally, I’ve been able to brainstorm new ways to market my business (which, as my industry changed, has been a real challenge). I finally feel excited and inspired about the new business I’m launching—and I’m coming up with new ideas for content, partnerships, and marketing opportunities on a near-daily basis. I’m even writing more personal pieces (like this one!) again—which is something I haven’t felt inspired to do in a long time.

And the benefits don’t stop at professional gains; dance has also made a huge impact on my personal life. It reminded me that I can do hard things. That I can show up for myself. And that I don’t have to be “good” at something in order to reap the rewards—which has encouraged me to explore other creative classes.

Basically, dance was the vessel that helped me (literally) shake off a very hard, very stuck time and hop, skip, and twirl my way into the next stage of my professional and personal journey—which is proving to be a creative, inspired, and exciting one.

Tips on how to start dancing—and get back your creativity

Are you feeling stuck and want to leverage dance to help you find more inspiration and get your creative wheels turning? Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Focus on the journey, not the destination

It’s fine to have an ultimate goal of dance helping to move you out of a place of stuckness. But tying dance to a specific goal (for example, “for every week I take a dance class, I will come up with 10 new marketing ideas”) will suck the joy out of it, making it feel like another item to check on your to-do list—which isn’t exactly a recipe for creative inspiration. “Stay focused on dance—rather than a goal,” says Vermani. “Trust that you will reap the many benefits of dance over time through engaging in the process.”

And one more (important) thing: remember, you’re stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something totally new—so be compassionate with yourself on the journey. “Stick with it, even if at times, you may feel like a fish out of water,” says Vermani. “Give yourself time to learn and grow.”

Make it social

Stuckness thrives in isolation. If you’re all by yourself, it’s easy to get caught in the feelings of stuckness—and equally as hard to pull yourself out of the stuckness and reclaim your creativity and inspiration.

That’s why, if it’s possible, aim to make dance a social activity. “Group dance activities can enhance social interactions, sparking creative collaborations,” says Kunkel. When you’re regularly interacting with other people, there are opportunities to connect, bounce ideas off of each other, or maybe even partner on a project—all of which can help spark creativity.

So, where do you find group dance classes? Try reaching out to local dance studios to see if they offer any adult and/or mixed-level classes—or check Meetup.com to see if there are any peer-run groups in your area.

Strike while the iron is hot

Dance can be a killer workout. And after a workout, your body is flooded with endorphins, which can make you feel happy and energized. So, take advantage of all those feel-good endorphins, and carve out time after your dance class to harness your creativity.

Now, as I mentioned, you don’t want to transform dance into a means to a specific output. But you can be strategic about when you carve out time for creativity. For example, after dance class, consider freewriting. Set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes and just…write. Don’t worry about whether what you’re writing makes sense. Don’t force yourself to write about a certain topic. Just write about whatever comes to mind in the moment. 

Chances are, you’ll be surprised at some of the creative thoughts, ideas, and problem-solves that will come out of your session—particularly since your body and brain are feeling so energized post-dance.

Already a dancer? Step outside of your comfort zone

As mentioned, I am *not* a dancer. Part of the benefit I saw from dance is that it was so far outside of my comfort zone. But if you dance regularly, you’re already experiencing the creativity-boosting benefits that dance can bring. If you want to up the ante, consider experimenting with a style of dance you’re unfamiliar with.

“Creativity often thrives in unfamiliar territory,” says Kunkel. “It encourages us to embrace new experiences, perspectives, and challenges. This break from routine and the known can lead to a heightened state of awareness and receptivity—both of which are essential for creative thinking.”

Unstuck, but still dancing

I can confidently say that, today, I am feeling significantly less stuck—and more creative—than I did a year ago. But I know that dance has played a huge role in helping me disentangle my feelings of stuckness—so I have no plans of stopping any time soon.

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