Dancing has a wide range of physical and mental benefits including: improved condition of your heart and lungs, increased muscular strength, endurance and motor fitness, increased aerobic fitness, improved muscle tone and strength, weight management, stronger bones and reduced risk of osteoporosis, better coordination, agility and flexibility, improved balance and spatial awareness, increased physical confidence, improved mental functioning, improved general and psychological well-being, greater self-confidence and self-esteem, and better social skills.
You can dance in a group, with a partner, or on your own. There are lots of different places where you can enjoy dancing, for example, at dance schools, social venues, community halls and in your own home. Dancing has become such a popular way to be active and keep fit, that most fitness clubs now offer dance classes in their group exercise programs. Dancing can be done both competitively and socially. It can be a great recreational and sporting choice, because anyone of any age can take part. It doesn’t matter whether it is cold or raining, as dancing is usually done indoors. The gear you need for dancing will depend on the style of dancing you choose. For example, tap dancing will involve buying tap shoes, whereas ballet will require ballet slippers and ballet clothing. To get started, simply choose a style you enjoy, or would like to try, look in the Yellow Pages or online for dance schools in your local area and join a class.
There are many styles of dance to choose from, each with its own attractions. Popular styles of dancing include:
- Ballet – mostly performed to classical music, this dance style focuses on strength, technique and flexibility.
- Ballroom dancing – this involves a number of partner-dancing styles such as the waltz, swing, foxtrot, rumba and tango.
- Belly dancing – originating in the Middle East, this dance style is a fun way to exercise.
- Hip-hop – performed mostly to hip-hop music, this urban dance style can involve breaking, popping, locking and free styling.
- Jazz – a high-energy dance style involving kicks, leaps and turns to the beat of the music.
- Pole dancing – has become increasingly popular as a form of exercise. It involves sensual dancing with a vertical pole, and requires muscle endurance, coordination, and upper and lower body strength.
- Salsa – involving a mixture of Caribbean, Latin American and African influences, salsa is usually a partner dance and emphasizes rhythms and sensuality.
- Square-dancing – a type of folk dancing where four couples dance in a square pattern, moving around each other and changing partners.
- Tap dancing – focuses on timing and beats. The name originates from the tapping sounds made when the small metal plates on the dancer’s shoes touch the ground.
Some people consider dance to be a cure for much of what ails us. It may not be the answer to every health crisis, but there's no doubt that it can benefit the body and mind in many ways. Some of the physical effects are obvious: dance can – among other things — boost cardiovascular health and bone strength (because it's weight-bearing exercise), as well as improve balance and flexibility. But there’s evidence it does much more.
A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine investigated the effect leisure activities had on the risk of dementia in the elderly. Researchers found that frequent dancing was the only physical activity of the 9 studied that appeared to lower the participants’ risk of dementia considerably. The lead author of the study, says he's not sure why dancing had such a unique effect, but surmises that, "Unlike many other physical activities, dancing also involves significant mental effort and social interactions." Both intellectual and social stimulation have been shown to reduce the risk of getting dementia.
Dance seems to help Parkinson's patients as well. The focus in many dance groups is to help members find new ways of moving and to improve the speed at which they move. Other clubs introduce slow, ballet-like movements, sometimes taking the class to see ballet performances for inspiration. With time, members often become more mobile, and more confident.
Dancers really believe in the body/mind connection, and dance is a way for people to use what's happening inside them and express it in an external, expansive way. Dance compares to talk therapy, where patients use discussion to explore feelings and alleviate psychological discomfort or pain. But in addition to using words, dance therapists help people develop a physical vocabulary to do much the same thing.
Many dancers firmly believe in dance as way of connecting themselves to their bodies in elemental ways, which leads to improved body alignment, enhanced mood, boosted confidence, and many more physical and mental health benefits. People may still have a chronic condition, but they can experience less fatigue, and much more strength from dancing. When dancing, lifestyles are improved, self-reliance increased, and yes – pathology prevention efforts strengthened. Note: If you are under the care of a Physician, please check with them before starting any exercise regiment.