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Move to the Music: Dancing as Exercise

Don’t like jogging in the park or swatting a tennis ball on the court? Slip on your dancing shoes instead for a good workout.

The benefits of dancing go well beyond heart health and physical fitness. Dancing, especially group dance activities, provides opportunities for people of all ages to be socially and mentally engaged, as well. Many people find the combination of music and movement stimulating, relaxing, and pleasurable.

Research shows that dancing can have all of these benefits:

  • Improved balance

  • Improved posture

  • Better reaction times

  • Better cognitive (thinking and memory) abilities over time

  • Better overall health

  • Better motor control of hands and arms

  • Weight loss

  • Stress relief

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a “good” dancer, staying involved with dance over the course of your lifetime enhances many of these benefits—and probably will help you be a better dancer. At least one study has found significant benefits for people who have been involved in dance for more than 16 years. 

Dance training also has different benefits at different stages of life. Overweight young people may find that dance is an enjoyable way to lose weight and stay healthy. Older adults find dance to be both a social outlet and a way to maintain strength and balance to avoid falls.

Getting started with dance

When researchers study the benefits of dance, they generally look at ballroom or group dance activities. But you don’t have to be a fan of the waltz. Explore contra dance (group folk dancing), try the tango, or live your dream to become a ballerina—any dance discipline that excites you is good. As long as you are physically active on a regular basis, you should see many positive results.

Here’s how to put your best foot forward with dance:

  • Sign up at a dance studio. If your budget allows you to take formal classes, use these tips for finding the best instruction:

    • Research the instructor. Word of mouth is often the best way to find a good instructor. Ask about the teacher’s credentials, including experience with new dancers.

    • Look for a broad, basic curriculum. If you’re new to dance, start with classes that offer an overview of different dance styles. As you progress, you can focus on the styles you enjoy most.

    • Comparison shop. Some studios or instructors may want you to sign a contract committing you to studying dance with them for a set period of time. Before you take this step, shop around and compare the options in your area. Compare costs as well as the scheduling and variety of classes offered.

  • Join a community group that promotes dance. One way to find such a group is to get in touch with your local USA Dance chapter through its website (www.usadance.org). USA Dance is a national organization that promotes dance for all ages.

  • Join a dance-style fitness class. Many gyms and recreation centers offer dance-based programs.

  • Try an interactive video game. Dancing at home is another option. Interactive video games available through gaming systems or dance workout DVDs can bring the challenge and pleasure of dance right into your living room.

Whatever approach you take to increasing dance activities in your life, remember to practice. On days when you don’t have class, try to spend at least a few minutes practicing the moves you have learned—this is great exercise and will help you progress, too.