I recently attended a lecture by Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction at Nottingham Trent University who has studied addiction for over 30 years. I was very interested to hear him talking about his latest study on Dance Addiction and so followed up the lecture by reading the report of his study.
Some of the following points stood out for me.
It used to be thought that one could only be considered addicted to something if it was an ingested psychoactive substance, but over the course of years of research opinion has now developed to include behaviours. Therefore we now know that people can become addicted to activities such as gambling, gaming and exercise.
There is much evidence to support the benefits of dancing including improvements in psychological wellbeing, increased self-esteem, and anxiety reduction.
Although recreational dancing is associated with increased physical and psychological well-being, little is known about the harmful effects of excessive dancing. The aim of the study was to explore the psychopathological factors associated with dance addiction.
The study proposes that excessive social dancing is associated with detriments to mental health. More specifically, the study aimed to identify subgroups of dancers regarding addiction tendencies and to explore which factors account for the elevated risk of dance addiction.
In the latter of these aims, demographic variables, increased dance activity, psychiatric distress, decreased well-being, borderline personality disorder symptoms, body shape dissatisfaction and eating disorder symptoms were expected to be contributing factors of dance addiction.
Finally, the study aimed to explore the motivations underlying excessive dancing.
The study found that there were eight major motivations for dancers as follows.
Dance Motivation Inventory:
Mood Enhancement was the strongest motivational factor for both males and females.
The explored motives such as Mood Enhancement, Socialising and Escapism appear to be similar to those identified in other forms of behaviour such as drinking alcohol, exercise, gambling, and gaming.
Exercise is a sub-category of physical activity that is planned, structured, purposeful and repetitive and has as a final or an intermediate objective which is the improvement or maintenance of physical fitness.
One of the common elements between behavioural and chemical addiction is that they both involve the satisfying of short-term needs at the expense of longer-term negative effects.
Given the fact that “runners high” is a good predictor of compulsive running, it would be interesting to know whether a similar pattern is present in excessive dancing.
Although dance is clearly a form of exercise it differs in a number of aspects. For example, dancing is closely linked to music and mostly requires the presence and physical closeness of a partner as opposed to most other exercise activities.
Given that dancing is a social activity, social conflicts may not arise when the person has only fellow dancers as partners or friends—therefore, the risky behaviour may remain somewhat hidden.
Dancing is very clearly a healthy activity for the majority of individuals therefore one should avoid over-pathologizing the behaviour. However, excessive dancing may have problematic and/or harmful effects on the individual’s life just as any activity that has a rewarding value. Although causality is yet to be established, clearly, dance addiction has the potential to be associated with mild psychopathology among a minority of individuals.
In short the study showed that excessive dancing could be considered to be a form of addiction as it meets the 6 criteria of addiction – salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse.
Although dancing for the majority of people is most definitely healthy – for a few, it can be taken to extremes and be as personally damaging as any other addiction.
This study has certainly given me food for thought and confirms some of the observations I have made over the years. When we talk about dance there are infinite accounts of the positives and benefits of dance. But there have also been occasions when I have seen people put dance above all else, at the expense of their relationships, to the detriment of their work via sleep deprivation and distraction. And despite the conflicts that the compulsion to dance has caused in both their work and family lives.
On the up side, at the lecture Mark Griffiths went on to say that the majority of people who were actually dance addicts had gone on to both feed and contain their potentially damaging addiction by converting it into a career choice by becoming instructors…