New England Journal of Medicine shows that dancing increases cognitive acuity. Significantly more than crossword puzzles. The article is nicely summarized here, on the Stanford social dance site.
Not just any kind of dancing, either. It has to be the kind that requires improvisational work, the styles that require you to make lots of decisions on a split-second basis.
And mostly women benefit. Why? You probably know that most partner dancing is pretty sexist. Men are expected to "lead" and women are expect to "follow". I put those words in quotes because there are no really good words describing what those two roles are doing.
The lead -- usually the man -- does what? Directs? Orients? Maybe invites. Offers an idea about how to understand the music with this particular partner.
The follow -- usually the woman -- does what? Not just does what she's told, that's for sure. Responds? Interprets. The follow interprets the dance based on the music and the guy in front of her.
Now because, as the article says, follows typically make "hundreds of split-second decisions as to what to do next", they gain the most cognitive exercise from dance. The leads don't have to respond or interpret nearly as often, so they gain less.
In dances like Argentine Tango and Blues and Fusion, where each led movement can have dozens of subtle implications requiring immediate and complicated follow decisions, the cognitive workout is significant.
The article suggests ways leads can improve their cognitive workout. They suggest the lead really notice the subtleties of their partner's actions and respond in real-time, rather than following a pattern.
That is, pay attention. That is, watch and listen.
Hey leads, are you listening now? Maybe it's a good time to start. Do it for your brain.