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Learning and Mastering Dance: Serotonin vs Dopamine

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

In this series I consider how happiness chemicals are used to learn and master a skill —in this example dance (Latin dance, specifically salsa and bachata). I focus on dopamine and serotonin.

However oxytocin and endorphins are also big players as dance is a skill that keeps on giving.

Read for an introduction to these happiness chemicals.

Serotonin can be considered the hormone for willpower and delayed gratification. It is associated with feelings of calm, focus and happiness.

Dopamine is your trigger for instant gratification. It is associated with feelings of rewards and motivation.

Learning salsa and bachata as a beginner could have been a slow and painful process but it was made smoother for a multitude of reasons. Lack of coordination, self consciousness and fear could of stopped me. The steady stream of endorphins, oxytocin, and dopamine kept me coming back. After a few years I began to enter a state of flow when I danced. The serotonin bliss of having 4 hours of focus and calm while I danced at socials is an ode to the joy of practising this skill. Going to congresses where the best international teachers are congresses is also a huge bonus.

My journey started when I left everything behind in London to move to South Korea to

teach English. To occupy myself I wanted to learn new skills. A colleague asked if I

wanted to take a salsa class with her. I knew nothing about Latin culture beforehand

and even less about a basic step. Our teacher said the first few lessons we danced like

we were making a tackle in rugby. However we joined his academy and after a year

we were performing on stage.

Five years later and now salsa is a huge part of my life where I can learn spanish, travel

the world and meet vibrant communities of people.

The weekly practice from joining an academy, learning with my friends and frequent socials with expert dancers meant learning this skill was more fun than a frustrating chore. The social element of a partner dance and community feeling released oxytocin, the love hormone. Building physical strength to dance for many hours and give my all in class released endorphins, the chemical that showers the body with good feelings to deal with pain and stress from physical exertion.

As a beginner dancer as long as you keep social dancing you learn fast. The dopamine release when you nail footwork in class or have a great dance with a stranger is addictive and it kept me coming back.

On an even better note, the satisfication of musicality was another skill packed into learning salsa. Using my body movement to hit the sound of a trumpet or the tak-tak-tak of the drums was so satisfying and a skill I’m still chasing to perfect. After a year or two you start to enter a state of flow. An evening out turns into 4 hours of serotonin bliss as you become one with the music, your partner and the joyous emotions of the music.

It has been 5 years and counting since I started learning salsa (and bachata). Despite seeming like a mountain without a peak I genuinely relish the climb and hope to continue mastering this skill.


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