For four years I have witnessed the transformative eﬀects of dance for women living with or beyond cancer, including those caring for someone with cancer. Central to this process of transformation has been a rediscovering of joy among participants, both individually and with others. I have seen women arrive to a session seeming tense and depressed, and then leave looking relaxed and smiling. I have felt laughter reverberate around the room so loudly that it immediately dissipates the heaviness of having cancer.
These joyous sensations, caused by the intrinsic eﬀects of dance, are felt throughout the body and dramatically contrast with participants’ experiences outside of the dance space. As one women explains, ‘you are controlled by everything that happens when you have cancer’ and then are wonderfully ‘out of control when dancing’. This juxtaposition only heightens participants’ sense of joy, as dance generates a ‘lightness of being’ when facing the ‘heaviness of appointments and having a needle stuck in your arm’. In Dance Magazine’s 2017 article Does dance have a responsibility to bring us joy?, writer Jo McDonald suggests ‘joy is sweeter when we’ve known darkness’, and that it may have less meaning without its opposite (i). This resonates for some Move Dance Feel participants as they struggle to reﬂect upon the joy they feel from dance separately from the ‘un-joyful’ experience of cancer.
Whether it manifests instantly or slowly builds over time, there is no question that dance gives rise to feelings of joy. One Move Dance Feel participant commented that when dancing, joy occurs as if a ﬂame were igniting, adding ‘it’s a bit like a night sky and then a comet suddenly appears’. This suddenness can be attributed to certain elements of the dance practice that encourage spontaneous responses, promoting a sense of unexpected discovery. Joy comes from exploring diﬀerent movement possibilities and discovering how the body can move in new and exciting ways.
Additionally, participants’ feelings of enjoyment are enhanced when collaborating and simultaneously discovering with others, as one women describes;
“The enjoyment comes from a sense of dancing as a joint enterprise…that reciprocity of dancing with someone else encourages you to greater heights, just by the energy that’s generated between you and the other person, or the other people.”
This sense of shared energy and reciprocity explains why dancing together, as opposed to alone, intensiﬁes feelings of joy. Proximity to, and interaction with, others allows for positivity to transfer between people. Move Dance Feel participants repeatedly mention that the shared experience is what makes dancing so important, and that when dance happens in a way that encourages understanding, empathy and acceptance, it builds trust which ‘enables joy to come to the surface much quicker as a result’.