Since 1986, when Chicago Bear player and Super Bowl winner Willie Gault flaunted his ballet prowess by performing with the Chicago City Ballet, many professional and amateur athletes have turned to dance training as a way to improve on-field performance and resistance to injury. Willie knew what many have now come to accept, that ballet challenges the muscles in ways the traditional sports training does not.
Well-Being spoke to Catherine Bishop who teaches Ballet Fitness at the Baptist Healthplex in Jackson (Belhaven), about the ways dance training differs from other kinds of exercise.
“The class I teach is based on the New York City Ballet Workout,” Bishop explains. “When someone new comes into the class, they usually are surprised at how challenging a workout it is. That is because it works your muscles in different ways. For example, some positions require the legs to rotate from the hips, helping to strengthen the smaller, more injury-susceptible muscles. Other positions help enhance ankle and foot flexibility.”
According to Bishop, dance lengthens the muscles and makes them more flexible, while high impact aerobics and running shorten the muscles. It is true that dance moves can affect some of the smaller muscles, but it also involves the big global muscles used for jumping and lifting.
In Bishop’s class, the traditional ballet barre is not used, but balance training comes from what is called the ‘floor barre,’ during which one stands on one foot for extended periods with both arms out to the sides. Not an easy task for the novice. Bishop’s fitness program also focuses on stretching, toning and an emphasis on core strength.
Dance, and ballet in particular, is an excellent way to get fit, without causing the damage to joints that can come from high impact exercises. Ballet fitness can provide a challenging workout that can improve agility, strength and balance whether it is used to enhance performance of an elite athlete on the playing field or to tone, strengthen and build stamina of someone who just wants to stay fit and flexible.
Sports science research supports the notion that ballet and dance can enhance agility and other measures of sports performance. Physical activity based on dance has also been shown to improve balance, leading the researchers to conclude that dance training could be a useful tool in reducing the risk of falling in the elderly. This has important implications for master athletes whose balance and agility may reduce with age. But the benefits of dance don’t stop there…
One recent study in Circulation: Heart Failure, reports people with cardiac conditions who danced for just 20 minutes three times a week saw their heart health improve significantly more than those who stuck to traditional cardio workouts. Dancing can also help make your skeleton strong, per the National Osteoporosis Foundation. And, when researchers compared dancers with non-dancers, they found evidence that dancing may preserve both motor skills and perceptual abilities.
The ample flow of mood-improving chemicals that dancing releases can elevate your mental state, according to a study in The Arts in Psychotherapy. Combine dance with social interaction and it can lead to less stress and stronger social bonds, key factors in both mental and physical health. Dancing can help with memory, coordination, and focus, as well. Dancers tend to stay sharper in the short term and are less likely to develop brain diseases in the long run. A New England Journal of Medicine study of 11 physical activities found that dancing was the only one that lowered dementia risk by a whopping 76 percent.
It’s never too early or too late to enjoy the many benefits of dance. Ms. Bishop tells us that in her classes members range in age from twenties to sixties. Whether you choose ballet fitness, Zumba, ballroom or anything in between, dance can be a great way to improve you overall level of health, fitness and wellbeing.
Sources: Women’s Health; Sports Performance Bulletin