Shall We Dance?
Ballroom’s Health Benefits Can Be Addictive
by Lee Walker
From the mambo’s sultry hip shimmies to the foxtrot’s long, sweeping steps, ballroom dancing has captured today’s fitness spotlight as a shining venue for shaping up, improving cardiovascular health and losing weight. The renewed interest is especially high among people 18 to 49, says Leslie Spearin, a rhythm champion and traveling consultant for Arthur Murray International, Inc.
Spearin is among those who attribute the dance form’s elevated popularity to recent Hollywood films and reality shows like ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. It also helps that news from prominent medical research centers supports ballroom dancing’s generous physical and mental benefits. Participants see it as a fun path to overall fitness.
All The Right Moves
While dancers are moving to specific rhythms, they are actually coordinating their body and mind, advises Judy Gantz, founder and director of the Center for Movement Education and Research, in Los Angeles. “They look at each other and interact, which are important social components. Walking on a treadmill or exercising in front of a mirror doesn’t provide that.”
“Dancers are happy and have fun, a winning combination for everyone,” adds Tara Christensen, director of public relations for Arthur Murray. “We see the benefits of ballroom dancing in our studios every day, as well as whenever our students and teachers gather for dance parties and competitions.”
Exercise For Body And Brain
Thanks to moves accentuated with pivots, turns, bounces, kicks, sways, quick steps, bends and rolling-hip motions, vigorous ballroom dancing, which elevates heart rate and oxygen consumption, can burn as many as 400 calories per hour. Studies by California State University at Long Beach show that beginning students can boost their heart rates to near-maximum training rates with just a five-minute warm-up and 20-minute polka, cha-cha or swing. Even moderate ballroom dance burns 250 to 300 calories an hour.
Whether dancing for health, to prep for a wedding or prom or to spice up a marriage, individuals and couples who get their groove on are reported to enjoy better bone health from this weight-bearing activity. Plus, they enjoy increased flexibility and core strength.
Gantz, who specializes in dance kinesiology and Laban Movement Analysis, a comprehensive system for understanding movement, notes that dances requiring complex coordination also enhance mental acuity.
A 2003 study by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine validates dancing’s ability to increase blood flow to the brain via mental challenges, which may lower the risk of dementia and the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Pertinent activities include memorizing complex steps, staying with the rhythm of music and working with a partner.
The same study also credited dancing’s social interaction with decreasing stress and depression. As the Mayo Clinic has reported, self-confidence and self-discipline jump right along with enhanced circulation, muscle tone and coordination.
Angela Prince, national public relations director of USA Dance Inc., encourages newcomers to quickly get beyond the idea that others are judging them. “Other beginners are too busy thinking about what they are doing to notice anyone else’s steps. Before you know it, you are learning to move beyond your comfort zone and unleashing your creative self.”