Dancing and Life: Making Every Step Count

dancers in the park

For most people, movement is essential. For those living with a chronic condition like arthritis, it can also be painful, but it's important to move our joints daily. Strengthening the surrounding muscles helps support our joints, and joint movement transports nutrients and waste products to and from the cartilage that protects and cushions the ends of our bones.

My friend, Mary, has severe rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. Her doctor once told her, "It is important to choreograph every movement." To choreograph is to arrange or direct movements, progress, or details. Choreographing every movement makes each step count.

Another friend, Gladys, knows something about that.

Gladys dances to keep active, fit, and healthy. Dance helps her cope with her chronic conditions. She says that dance has always been important to her, but more so now that she is retired.

For Gladys, dance is more than just fun or recreation—it is a social and physical activity. Dancing improves her strength, flexibility, and balance. She dances Tango and other Latin dances, swing, and the waltz.

"Danceable music makes me want to dance," says Gladys. When listening to a terrific jazz group recently, she felt like she wanted to get up and start dancing. And so she did!

I had the opportunity to see Gladys dance at the Seattle Center House and can attest to her grace as she glided across the floor with her dancing partner. I could tell that she was not only having a great time but that, indeed, she had choreographed every movement and made the most out of each step.

Gladys says that a good "lead" is very important in dancing. The lead does the dance, and she follows.

"It's an unusual dynamic," she says. "Dancing is like life. You need to adjust and change your steps according to the dance."

Whether you dance for physical fitness, social activity, or other reason, everyone can dance. Make every step count.


Mary Patricia O'Leary, RN, BSN is a planner at Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for King County. She has been instrumental in developing chronic care management programs, and motivating clients to set and meet health and fitness goals.

"The dance is a poem of which each movement is a word."—Mata Hari

"To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak."—Hopi Indian Saying

"Socrates learned to dance when he was seventy because he felt that an essential part of himself had been neglected." (source unknown)