Our rating
 Question mark: This treatment has not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.

What is it?

Dance involves movement of the body rhythmically to music. There are many different styles of dance, which can be performed alone, in a pair, or in a larger group.

How does it work?

There are many ways in which dancing might help to improve mood.

  • Dance is a type of exercise. Exercise causes a change in the levels of neurochemicals in the brain, which might improve mood.
  • Dancing usually involves listening to music. Listening to music is thought to influence emotions and may lift mood, though how this occurs is not understood.
  • Dancing can also involve social contact, which may be helpful for improving depression symptoms.

Is it effective?

There is a small amount of evidence to suggest that dance can be helpful for depressive symptoms. Some studies have found that dance can be an effective treatment for depression, while others have found that it had no effect.

Four studies of reasonable quality have looked at Tango, Rumba, Ballroom and Turkish Folklore Dancing. Two studies showed that dancing had a positive effect on depression. These involved Tango and Rumba. The two other studies found that there was no difference in depression symptoms between people who had taken dance classes and others who had not.

One review has looked at the use of dance movement therapy for depression, which is a type of therapy that combines dance and psychological techniques under the guidance of a therapist. The review found that there was not enough good quality evidence to determine whether dance music therapy was an effective treatment for depression.

Much more research is needed to understand the effectiveness of dance for depression.

Are there any disadvantages?

Some dance styles can be more strenuous than others. You should choose a style that is appropriate to your fitness levels. Some dance classes may be costly, but there are free alternatives.

Where do you get it?

Dance classes are offered through dance studios, fitness centres and community groups. If there are no dance classes available in your local area, you should be able to find tutorials online for a wide range of styles. Dance Movement Therapists can be found on the Dance Movement Therapy Association of Australasia  website.


Dancing can be recommended as a positive lifestyle activity but more research is needed before it can be recommended as a treatment for depression.

Key references

  • Akandere M, Demir B. The effect of dance over depression. Coll Antropol. 2011; 35(3): 651-6.
  • Eyigor S, Karapolat H, Durmaz B, Ibisoglu U, Cakir S. A randomized controlled trial of Turkish folklore dance on the physical performance, balance, depression and quality of life in older women. Archives of gerontology and geriatrics. 2009; 48(1): 84-8.
  • Meekums B, Karkou V, Nelson EA. Dance movement therapy for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015(2).
  • Pinniger R, Brown RF, Thorsteinsson EB, McKinley P. Argentine tango dance compared to mindfulness meditation and a waiting-list control: a randomised trial for treating depression. Complement Ther Med. 2012; 20(6): 377-84.

Last reviewed and updated: 1 November 2019