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Happy feet, happier brain: how I found myself in dancing

The focus of Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 is movement: a vital part of maintaining positive mental health and wellbeing. However, when life gets busy it can be hard to fit movement into our busy schedules. Our guest blogger Catrin has learned the importance of adapting when life gets in the way.

Catrin is a 35-year-old dancer, crocheter, bookworm and cinephile from Cardiff. She is also the Communications Manager of the National Centre for Mental Health (NCMH) and the wider division of psychological medicine and clinical neurosciences at Cardiff University.

I found myself in dancing

Lindy Hop is the granddaddy of all swing dances, which followed the more upright Charleston in the 1920s. It’s not meant to be elegant and uptight. It can be fast, slow and somewhere in between but never serious.

I remember it taking immense courage and the company of a fearless friend to step foot in my first Lindy Hop class. Despite a love for the era’s fashion and music, I had some weight-related hang ups that I didn’t belong in such spaces.

Eight years later, and I’ve teamed up with a friend to teach our own classes. In that time, I’ve danced around the UK and on holiday in Iceland and Spain, I’ve performed at parties and danced in the street for fun, as well as part of  at Cardiff’s biggest citywide outdoor celebration of Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday.

Check point: I’m no longer 26

The covid-19 pandemic put a bit of a dampener on my obsession, as well as a more recent diagnosis of arthritis (I’m struggling to hold a pen as I write this).

While I’m no longer dancing several hours a week with friends, it brings me great pleasure to be able to practise a little bit every few days and attend weekend workshops – it’s also encouraging to have a ticket or two lined up for special social events.

It hasn’t been a quick process, but I feel like I’m finally on my way to get back to a bit more movement, outside of the house, each week.

Happy feet, happier brain

Mental health-wise, dancing got me through some low moments. Following a rough breakup, I was feeling a little lost and isolated after moving out on my own. As well as the friends I’d made, I honestly believe having a reason to get out of the house, as well as joyful human connection and physical contact, saved my mental health.

To me, it’s an exercise in true mindfulness. You’re in the moment, feeling the music, remembering how to move your feet and dance comfortably, as well as reading subtle signs from your dance partner – each of whom has a different style and a few signature moves.

Keeping it light

A large part of my love for Lindy is the encouragement to get silly with it.

A similar dance style from the same era that is particularly fun is Collegiate Shag (apparently shag doesn’t mean the same thing in the US as it does in the UK – chuckling as my dictation tool is writing shag as ****).

From moves like the ‘Tom and Jerry’ and ‘fish out of water’, to ‘sailor kicks’ and ‘bunny hops’ it’s danced to faster tunes.

With both Lindy and **** once you know the basics, you can improvise with any partner and it’s a brilliant playground for creativity and self-expression.

I don’t know many other hobbies where you can play and create something with other people, and if it goes a bit wrong it’s part of that moment in time. You laugh and move on.

Keep dancing, but more importantly, keep learning

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the wonderful teachers I’ve had in Cardiff over the years: Anna Rogers and Ollie Parham, Jessie Brooks and Benjie Talbot, and the good friends I’ve made from whom I’m also continuously learning.

If you’re in or near Cardiff and fancy having a go, join the Swing Project community who dance in Chapter Arts Centre weekly at classes and free social events.

And if you just fancy some toe tapping tunes, I’ve pulled together a quick playlist of my favourites, which always put me in a good mood. Check it out on Spotify.

  • Lavender Coffin – Lionel Hampton
  • Bill Bailey, won’t you please come home – Ella Fitzgerald
  • I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free – Nina Simone
  • I didn’t like it the first time (The Spinach Song) – Julia Lee and her boy friends
  • Ain’t nobody here but us chickens – Louis Jordan
  • Just a gigolo / I ain’t got nobody – Louis Prima

I love swinging out to Lavender Coffin and any time I can dance to a bit of Ella Fitzgerald. Shoofly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy will always have a place in my Lindy heart, as it’s one of the first songs we listened to in lessons.

Another tune that will always be a favourite is the brilliantly ridiculous Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens, to which Lindy Hop Cardiff learnt a routine to take part in the City of the Unexpected, the celebration of Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday that engulfed Cardiff for two whole days in 2016.

 What makes you smile?

While I’d love to see everyone and their mum take up Lindy Hop, I know it’s not going to be for everybody. Whatever gets you up and moving and isn’t too difficult to fit into your day is worth indulging in – some days it can just be getting outside with a good podcast.

I’ll leave you with some lovely words from one of Lindy Hop’s founders, Mr Frankie Manning: “I’ve never seen a Lindy Hopper who wasn’t smiling. It’s a happy dance. It makes you feel good.”


Black and white photographs by photographer Nick Treharne

Catrin Hopkins

Catrin is the Communications Manager for NCMH and Cardiff University's Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics

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