Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What dancing does for you


So many ways to dance: Zumba, line dancing, folk dancing, ballroom, belly dancing, flamenco, jazz, tap, just shaking your booty ... Which are your favorite ways to get your kicks?

Dancing may seem like too much fun to be an important form of exercise. The good news is that dancing is great exercise, serving as a moderate-to-high-intensity calorie-burning cardio workout and building our strength and flexibility at the same time. The fun factor is a major plus, because it means we’re more likely to do it. So consider spicing up your exercise routine by dancing one or more days a week.

Moving to music can be especially beneficial for those of us who don't play a sport that challenges our balance, agility and coordination. (Think about it. Walking, cycling or stepping on the elliptical – and I love to do all those - are great for the heart, but only use our muscles in limited ways.) Don’t think dance can be compared to sports? A University of Hertfordshire study compared members of Britain’s Royal Ballet to a squad of national and international swimmers. The dancers scored higher than the swimmers in seven out of ten areas of fitness.

As we struggle to learn or create the steps of a new dance step, style or choreography, we’re working out our mind as well. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that ballroom dancing at least twice a week made people less likely to develop dementia. No partner, no worries. Zumba, line dancing and belly dancing all challenge the mind of the solo dancer.
One of the easiest ways to incorporate dance into your exercise routine is just to turn on some peppy music and shake your booty. I started doing that as a toddler and periodically throughout my life have just given myself over to moving with the music. When I was working on taking off weight several years ago, I used the shake-your-booty method more systematically. I found it was a great alternative to walking outdoors when the weather was bad or if I had to delay exercising until after dark.

Eventually I progressed to wanting more dance in my life, but didn’t have a partner to take ballroom dancing with. Luckily, I heard about Zumba, which can incorporate most any dance step you’ve ever seen or heard about, depending on the instructor’s interests and ability. Although I knew I wanted to teach Zumba the first time I took Zumba, I had a long way to go. At first I did well just to get some of the steps right. Later I added some arms. Much work and many months later I’m now licensed to teach Zumba and lead several classes a week.

Among the most rewarding developments I’ve seen in myself since I’ve begun dancing regularly is the the increased strength and power I feel in my core. My cardio health, while good before thanks to walking, is even better now. And I look forward to exercising.

Dancing regularly has unleashed and empowered my inner dancer. I am listening and dancing to music from places I’ve traveled to or wish to see, which makes my exercise experience more meaningful. My Zumba class makes my spirit as well as my body dance. I feel the music in me!

Maybe dancing will also speak to you now or in the future as a favored way to get moving. If so, and if you want to go beyond shake-your-booty basics, don’t stop till you find a class you enjoy.