Whether grooving to the beat of a handmade drum or bopping to tunes on the radio, humans have long felt compelled to move to music—and these days, many people are dancing not just for fun, but for fitness. In fact, fitness dancing is one of the most popular workouts at the gym today. From funk to Zumba, and everything in between, classes coast to coast are filling up with fans who are gliding, stomping and twirling their way to getting in shape, reducing stress and more—all with a smile on their face and pep in their step.
The Body Benefits of Fitness Dancing
Fitness dancing differs from what you’d do, say, at a wedding reception only in that it turns up the speed and intensity (no slow waltzes here). Instructors teach more energetic styles of dance and keep you moving throughout your session to keep your heart rate up, your muscles engaged and your body moving. Like other forms of aerobic exercise, fitness dancing can help prevent heart disease, decrease blood pressure and help you lose weight. You can burn up to 600 calories an hour, depending on your intensity level. Plus, dancing is a weight-bearing activity, which means it helps improve bone density (and thereby reduces the risk of osteoporosis) while strengthening muscles. It also improves coordination, balance and range of motion, all of which can help you in your everyday life by preventing falls, strains and sprains.
Fitness dancing can also help you feel more in touch with your body. Many dance devotees rave about their increased pride and acceptance of their unique body shape. After all, dancers come in all shapes and sizes, and the undulating moves you’ll find in dance styles like Bollywood—which involves a lot of hip shaking—can be particularly enhanced by curves.
The Mind Benefits of Fitness Dancing
There are mental benefits to dancing, as well. For many adults, dance is a way to bring out a playful side, release stress and connect with others. It can be a vital part of healthy aging. In fact, one study found that dancing is associated with a 75 percent lower risk of dementia, perhaps because of the increased blood flow to the brain. (The people in the study danced four times a week, but even dancing once a week has been shown to have brain benefits.)
Because dancing requires recall of steps and moves, and also demands rapid-fire decision-making, it activates the areas of the brain involved in those tasks. This can, among other things, help keep your memory sharp—which can make everything from remembering names to where you left your keys that much easier. This benefit comes with any kind of dance—not just fitness dance classes that also help you break a sweat.
Popular Types of Fitness Dancing
Dance classes show up frequently on schedules at gyms and fitness studios across the country; they are, in fact, among our most popular fitness offerings at Canyon Ranch. While classes vary from teacher to teacher, the uniting factor is fun, lively music that spans genres and keeps you moving. Here’s a little peek at what to expect in the most common fitness dance classes:
Funk Aerobics: This is an option that has a heavy youth influence and an emphasis on both fluid movements and more staccato (i.e. “pop-and-lock”) ones. The best part is that anything goes with funk or hip-hop; you can develop a style all your own.
Hip Hop: Similar in some ways to funk, this dance style has a distinctly urban vibe. The choreographed moves change up quickly, making this an effective cardio workout. Don’t be surprised to find yourself huffing and puffing a few minutes into class.
- Masala Bhangra (Bollywood): This Indian dance-style embraces the bouncy, jubilant moves that are typical of colorful, celebratory Bollywood movies. Masala means “spicy” in Hindi, and Bhangra is a form of traditional folk dance—the combination is a loose, non-rigid style, making it ideal for beginners. Your arms do a lot of the dancing. One move, for example, requires you to extend your arms in a U shape above your head while you turn your wrists.
Striptease: Though these fitness classes have a decidedly sexy side, they simply take the basic striptease moves and pair them with a core workout. There’s no disrobing, and many people find the sensual nature of the dance liberating.
World Beat: This is for the free-spirited among us. Instructors are usually accompanied by live drummers who tap out the beat using vibrant, joyous African, Brazilian, Latin and other rhythms.
Zumba: Because it originated in South America, Zumba tends to feature Latin-based rhythms. Instructors create simple routines easy enough for someone who’s never done the cha-cha, the salsa or the merengue to enjoy. Most classes involve quick, sharp steps and lots of hip movement.
If you’d rather try fitness dancing at home, there are popular dance-based programs, like Dance Dance Revolution, for gaming consoles such as Wii Fit and Xbox. You can also purchase DVDs that offer up the same level of structure and guidance as classes you’d find at a gym.
Heading to a Fitness Dance Class
You can find a fitness dance class by using the internet or calling your local gym, health club or fitness center and asking for their class schedule. Once you zero in on one that sounds interesting, just make a plan to go: You don’t need any special equipment or technical gear to take a fitness dance class, nor do you need to know a single move before getting started.
If you feel intimidated because you fear you’re not as fit or experienced as the other students, rest assured that no one is watching you and assessing the accuracy of your footwork. Everyone is there with the same goal: to exercise and to have fun. The most important thing is to set aside any self-consciousness or judgments about how well you dance.
That said, you will have a better time if you take a moment to introduce yourself to the instructor at the start of class. You can tell her that it’s your first time at a fitness dance class, ask questions about what to expect and discuss any injuries you may have. Often the “regulars”—who seem to know every move and song—stake out a spot in the front row. It’s great to stand behind them and follow along. You should also pick a spot that gives you a clear view of the instructor so you can watch closely and listen to her cues before each movement. Then, forget about comparisons. The idea is to dance with abandon, no matter what skills you have.