We know, generally speaking, that Steppin' is good for our health. While we continue our search for more direct ways to document several of the specific benefits of our dance, we can draw upon existing research that gives empirical evidence of what we, intuitively, already know about dancing and how it relates to Steppin.
The International Journal of Innovation Sciences and Research recently published findings showing that participants in a systematic and well-designed traditional dance training program can improve their physical fitness levels. It enlisted 80 male student-volunteers at Mekelle University, Ethiopia, into a 12 week dance training program to measure several physical fitness traits. At the end of the study, the researchers (Mulay G. Tensay and Dr. Somsankar Mukherjee) concluded that the participants had improved their physical fitness levels in several areas. One unique aspect of this study is that it compared the impact of 4 (four) traditional dances of the Tigray (Ethiopia) cultural region on 5 (five) selected physical fitness variables: Flexibility, Speed, Agility, Power, and Strength.
There are many noteworthy subjects of interest in this study and this article will only highlight a few. For further information, the reader can access the research article from the April, 2015, (Vol. 4, No, 4, pp. 129-138) of the International Journal of Innovation Sciences and Research.
As the study notes, Ethiopia is known for its rich cultural heritage – having more than 80 ethnic groups and each one with its own dance, music, and cultural lifestyle. The traditional dances in this study are from the Tigray region, one of 9 (nine) regions in Ethiopia. Part of what drives the interest in this study for the researchers at Mekelle University, Ethiopia, is that Ethiopia is well known for its middle and long distance running sports accomplishments. By unlocking hidden knowledge of how the Tigray traditional dances many influence or improve the physical fitness of athletes to develop in this area of endeavor would contribute to the national and cultural esteem of the people.
The objective of the study was to discover correlations in the effects of the traditional dances: (1) Awris, (2) Hura, (3) Kuda, and (4) Kunama - on the selected physical fitness variables. Each of the dances has its own “rate, rhythm and sharpness in movement.” The 80 volunteers were divided into four teams/groups of 20 participants based upon their place of origin and (more importantly) their desire to participate in one of the traditional dances. The participants met 3 (three) times a week for 12 weeks, for 1 (one) hour sessions, for a total of approximately 42 hours per participant. With ages ranging from 19 – 25 years of age, the participants’ physical traits were measured prior to the dance training classes and, again, afterwards.
Researchers found that the Awris traditional dance “can improve flexibility and power components…” but negative effects were “seen in speed and strength.” ( Awris Traditional Dance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZ6l6dj3qlI )
The Hura traditional dance was found to be “the safest and more effective to improve overall all components of physical fitness amonth each omember of the team, with negligibile negative effect.” (Hura Traditional Dance - Searching for Video Example )
In the Kunama traditional dance, researchers found that “flexibility and agility components are much better than other dances.” (Kunama’s Traditional Dance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rY0l9N0gMXE )
Another discovery was that the “Kuda tradition dance can improve agility . . . , whereas on power, speed & strength the impact was bit negative.” (Kuda Traditional Dance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WY1-k7sEJ4 )
Physical Fitness is widely acknowledged to be a key factor in a happy and healthy life. This research, believed to be the first of its kind, raises a very interesting perspective in looking at how “A Dance” may contribute to various measurements of that “Physical Fitness”.
In our community, the concept of "fitness" extends to our physical, mental, social, and cultural sensitivities. Following the example of the Ethiopian research, the value of Steppin can be measured by its ability to contribute to the development of our "fitness" in all of these areas. Since we are fortunate that our cultures have always been a fecundating source of dance (even long before the American experience), we have a virtually untapped rich history and tradition to draw upon.
Samuel L. Parker, Sr.
 Ron Parker and Chester Whitmore's stage play "The History of Black Dance In America". An outstandingly educational and entertaining theatrical performance for the mind and eye - with delicious tidbits of little known information and engaging dance talent on the stage. While, the version we saw, did not include Steppin' - we hope future productions will include the dance genre.