Shall we dance? Waltz, tango, samba or foxtrot – they all can give you a great physical and mental workout.
When we think of ballroom dancing, images of sparkling couples gliding gracefully across the floor in the soft glow of candlelight to strains of the Viennese Waltz might come to mind. But when we analyze the physical and mental activity that is taking place, we are actually looking at a respectable, “moderate activity” workout, all dressed up, so that it feels more like fun than exercise.
As it turns out, dancing not only burns calories, it works out the muscles and strengthens the core, and it also challenges the mind. Dance is a weight-bearing activity that builds the bones and is great for the upper body.
Muscles you didn’t know you had
Ballroom dancing calls for moving forward and backward. Many new ballroom dancers admit to feeling muscles they didn’t know they had. Taking long, sweeping backward steps is very different from the kind of movement you would engage in walking on a treadmill or jogging around the neighborhood. Dancing works the backs of the thighs and buttock muscles differently than any other kind of exercise.
The core experience
While the legs and arms tend to demand most of the attention when we watch someone dancing, what we don’t see is the importance of a strong core. The core muscles – the abs and back get a thorough workout as we bend, twist and dip. The more practice the core gets the stronger it becomes.
Keeping the brain “on its toes”
Dance not only challenges the muscles, it can also help keep your mind fit. A study published in The New England Journal looked at 469 people that were 75 years old or older. At the beginning of the study each person answered questions about mental and physical activities they enjoyed and participated in. At that time none of the subjects had dementia. Five years later 124 had dementia, but those who were frequent dancers had a reduced risk of dementia than those who rarely or never danced. Some neurologists believe dancing helps the brain by increasing blood flow, reducing stress, depression and loneliness, and posing a mental challenge to memorize steps and work with a partner.
Why dancing makes us happy
Endorphins. When you start moving your body, your brain starts to release endorphins – pleasure chemicals – in response to your body’s heightened motor activity.
Self-Esteem. Dancing helps you feel more self-assured. When you dance, you start to lose inhibitions and gain self-confidence in your body and its movements.
Dancing combats depression. It has been proven that many forms of aerobic exercise, including dancing, fight off depression. As your dancing develops over a longer period of time, your body adapts and changes a depressive mentality into a more relaxed and positive one.
Sensitivity. Dancing can be a gateway into understanding more about how you feel and about who you are. Moving your body around and engaging your mind to steps and music strengthens all your senses.
Creativity. Like painting, writing and playing music, dancing is an art – a performing art. Moving in time to rhythm and music triggers all kinds of inspiration that can apply to other areas of life.
Socialization. While we don’t have to have a partner to enjoy dancing, when we dance with others, we reap some additional benefits. Studies have shown that strong social ties and socializing with friends contribute to high self-esteem and a positive outlook. Dancing provides many opportunities to meet other people.
Ballroom Dance Tips for Beginners
1. Look for a good teacher who emphasizes your abilities not your limitations
2. Don’t expect perfection. Look at dancing as fun, not a physical exam.
3. Don’t let your size or age keep you from enjoying yourself. Dance is for everyone.
4. Let yourself get caught up in the music, instead of stressing over the steps.
5. Have a ball!