Dance addiction? Study finds excessive dancing can be a problematic coping mechanism

Dancing has been shown to benefit our physical and mental health, but not much is known about how excessive dancing can harm an individual.  Although a great deal of research has focused on exercise addiction, few researchers have explored dance addiction specifically. In fact, very little is known about dance addiction, what predisposes individuals to becoming addicted to excessive dance, and whether dance addiction is linked to other disorders.

An article published this May in PLoS One explored the signs of dance addiction. Nearly 450 salsa and ballroom dancers who danced at least once a week participated in the study.

“The purpose of the present study was to explore the effect of dance addiction on mental health and wellbeing. To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study to explore the psychopathology and motivation behind dance addiction,” researcher Aniko Maraz of Eötvös Loránd University and her colleagues wrote.

The participants completed a version of the Exercise Addiction Inventory which was adapted specifically for dancers. This survey assessed their general mental health, as well as other psychological disorders (including borderline personality disorder and eating disorders). Finally, the researchers assessed the participants’ motivation behind their dancing.

Dance addiction was associated with other psychological disorders. It was strongly linked with several eating disorder symptoms, and was less strongly associated with traits of borderline personality disorder.

In addition, results showed those who were motivated by escapism—dancing to avoid negative feelings or to avoid dealing with everyday problems—were particularly prone to dance addiction. The researchers said this shows that dance addiction is actually a maladaptive coping mechanism that individuals use.

The researchers found that 11 percent of the participants were classified as being the “most problematic”. These participants scored high on all the symptoms of dance addiction. Individuals were twice as likely to have an eating disorder in this group.

“These results provide support for the notion that excessive dancing constitutes a potential addiction problem for a minority of individuals,” the researchers said.

Because of this close link between dancing addiction and eating disorders, the researchers said future research should explore whether one disorder is causing the other. Do those with eating disorders use excessive dance as a weight-control strategy, or does becoming a dancer make people more prone to developing an eating disorder?

This study was one of the first research studies to focus on dance addiction as a disorder. It is important to note that for the majority of people, dance is a safe, fun, and healthy activity. It is only when these individuals show signs of exercise addiction—dance addiction in particular—that predisposes them to a higher risk of other psychological disorders.

In sum, although dance is a healthy activity for most people, the researchers concluded that excessive dancing is linked to other psychological disorders, particularly eating disorders. Those who use excessive dance as a way to escape their problems are at an especially high risk of developing dance addiction and eating disorders.

“Dancing is very clearly a healthy activity for the majority of individuals therefore one should avoid overpathologizing the behavior,” the researchers noted.