Happy Dance: How Dancing Influences Cancer

Can you really dance your way to cancer prevention?

According to researchers around the world, the answer is a definitive YES. But dancing also has positive benefits for patients who already have developed cancer. Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., professor of behavioral science at MD Anderson and a breast cancer survivor, definitively advocates for the total body movement dancing requires. “Whether you’re undergoing treatment or trying to avoid developing cancer, exercise makes your body stronger.”

Studies like this one recently published in PLoS One demonstrate conclusively that dance therapy is a viable non-pharmacological intervention for many cancer patients. Science is not only proving what dancers have known for centuries — that dancing has everything to do with positive changes in our physical and mental wellbeing — but is also demonstrating how dancing can also help reduce the incidences of cancer and other chronic debilitating conditions.

An article published in Express claims that dance classes can impact not just cancer, but heart disease and dementia. Fitness expert Ukactive, quoted in the article, remarked “breast and bowel cancer cases would fall by 6,000 and 9,000 over the 10 years and that just 2½ hours a week of dancing could prevent more than 850,000 cases of disease and injury.”

Functional Complementary Therapy

Today dance and movement therapy are well-recognized forms of complementary therapy used in many hospitals and cancer clinics. The physical benefits of dance therapy as exercise have been well documented. We know that physical activity increases endorphins, those amazing feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain that create a natural euphoric state of well-being. And we know that physical movement can ease the pain threshold for chronic pain. But dance therapy goes beyond that in its ability to enhance the recuperative abilities of the human body.

Cancer survivor and Dance Psychologist Dr. Peter Lovatt, author of The Dance Cure, knows first-hand that when facing cancer, “For what lies ahead, you need to be as fit and strong as possible.” His suggestion? Remember the acronym STEP.


Research has shown that when people move together in synchrony, it brings them closer together. Maintaining social relationships as well as physical contact with other people are enormously helpful when you are fighting cancer.


Moving your body in different ways helps you to think and solve problems in different ways. Dancing has been shown to help people break away from old, set patterns of thinking, effectively helping you to find new, effective solutions to old problems.


There is a strong link between motion and emotion. We’ve long understood the connection between dancing and the reduction of feelings of depression and anxiety.


Dancing stimulates our fully body — heart, hormones, muscles, and tendons. Scientific studies have shown that dancing is good for a wide range of medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and cancer.

Total body movement required in dancing enhances all of the body systems — circulatory, respiratory, skeletal, and muscular. If you are able to incorporate a fast-paced form of dance such as Zumba (aerobic moves based primarily on Latin dances) , then you can reap the added benefits of a high-energy, fast-paced cardio workout that burns fat, builds endurance, and strengthens muscles. If you’re not up to this form of workout, just start where you are and build from there. What do you have to lose?

So grab a partner and warm up the stereo or tune in to your favorite online music and get ready for some therapeutic “wellness sessions” as you take advantage of the unique ability of dance and whole-body movement to positively increase both physical and mental health.

And if you need a little inspiration, check out this video by Dr. Peter Lovatt:


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Aktas G, Ogce F. Dance as a therapy for cancer prevention. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2005 Jul-Sep;6(3):408-11. PMID: 16236009.

Karkou V, Dudley-Swarbrick I, Starkey J, Parsons A, Aithal S, Omylinska-Thurston J, Verkooijen HM, van den Boogaard R, Dochevska Y, Djobova S, Zdravkov I, Dimitrova I, Moceviciene A, Bonifacino A, Asumi AM, Forgione D, Ferrari A, Grazioli E, Cerulli C, Tranchita E, Sacchetti M, Parisi A. Dancing With Health: Quality of Life and Physical Improvements From an EU Collaborative Dance Programme With Women Following Breast Cancer Treatment. Front Psychol. 2021 Feb 24;12:635578. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.635578. PMID: 33716903; PMCID: PMC7943865.

Silva da Costa N, Alves da Silva AS, de Melo-Neto JS. Effects of dance therapy in women with breast cancer: A systematic review protocol. PLoS One. 2022 Jun 24;17(6):e0257948. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0257948. PMID: 35749369; PMCID: PMC9231811.

Ferioli M, Zauli G, Martelli AM, Vitale M, McCubrey JA, Ultimo S, Capitani S, Neri LM. Impact of physical exercise in cancer survivors during and after antineoplastic treatments. Oncotarget. 2018 Feb 8;9(17):14005-14034. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.24456. PMID: 29568412; PMCID: PMC5862633.

MD Anderson News Release: “Dance Your Way to Cancer Prevention,” (Feb 15, 2011). https://www.mdanderson.org/newsroom/dance-your-way-to-cancer-prevention.h00-158669478.html

Michael Knowles, “Dance classes can stop heart disease, cancer and dementia’, experts say,” Express (April 9, 2017). https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/789904/dance-classes-stop-heart-disease-cancer-dementia

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