Beaumont School of Medicine connects health and dance

Everyone loves a little cha-cha-cha, and the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine has been doing Dance Medicine, M.D. (metro Detroit) to connect the fun of dance with the health benefits of being active. 

Asha Shajahan, a family physician and OUWB assistant professor, decided to start teaching dance classes to neighborhoods for free to encourage people to exercise more often. 

“I was talking to a lot of patients that had problems with high blood pressure, diabetes and then also weight gain,” Shajahan said. “A lot of these patients really couldn’t afford gym memberships and a lot of the programs that were available to them.” 

Shajahan used to dance a lot when she was younger and has been able to relight that spark by starting the program.

The program starts off with some meditation and relaxation stretches, then they continue onto dancing for about 40 minutes. 

Participating in Dance Medicine, M.D  is free and the program is completely run by volunteers. In addition to improving the health and wellbeing of participants, there is also an exploration of different cultures through dance. 

“The main purpose of it is to really connect health with the creative process,” Shajahan said. “We know that creative expression through things like dance or song and embracing other cultures can really help people heal their anxiety and depression in addition to having the benefits of physical activity.”

As the program grew, Shajahan partnered with some community centers. A lot of the patients agreed that this program felt like a great community.

This past summer there were some outdoor classes that were held.

Currently, with the winter weather and COVID-19 pandemic going on, all classes are virtual. They hope to be able to return to in-person sessions as soon as possible.

Two OUWB second-year medical students, Hayley Walton and Dana Rector joined the program as instructors. Walton and Rector found out about the program during a lecture by Shajahan this past fall in their public health class. 

Every two weeks there is a new dance posted by either Hayley or Dana on the Dance Medicine, M.D youtube channel.

Walton started dancing when she was six years old and has lots of background experience in dance fitness classes. She teaches more latin jazz routines. Her youtube channel videos are about 20-25 minutes long with a warm up, a couple of latin jazz fitness based dances and a cool down ending.

“Even before COVID this was a great way for people to incorporate exercise in their lives,” Walton said. “I know for a lot of folks exercise kinda feels like a chore and it’s an easy thing to drop off when you are short on time.”

Rector started dancing when she went to University of Michigan for her undergrad and joined the ballroom dance team. She typically contributes by teaching salsa and latin.

“The getting up and moving around is a big benefit,” Rector said. “But especially once we are able to be together outside, I think that’s one of my favorite parts of dancing with other people and being in that community.”