I started dancing when I was about five years old. First, I was enrolled in ballet class. I still remember the sequined orange costume and frilly tutus we wore that year as “Florida Orange Blossoms” in my dance studio’s recital showcasing routines representing each of the fifty United States.
I eventually added tap and jazz to my repertoire, but I quit dance classes when I became a teenager because I thought I was way too cool and way too busy doing things teenagers do like three-way-calling all of my friends to talk about boys.
Aside from a semester of ballet in college that I thought would be an easy ‘A,” it was close to twenty years before I ever took a dance class again. I was vacationing at a women-only spa in Southern California, and the program offered about a dozen exercise and yoga classes every day. I didn’t think I had enough rhythm to join the cardio dance classes, even though they looked really fun. I couldn’t resist on the last day since I heard that a well-known choreographer from the east coast was coming out to teach the class. That hour was SO MUCH FUN that I stayed for the second dance class and had a ball dancing to tunes from the Grease soundtrack that I’d played about a million times as a kid.
Due to my job and other preoccupations, it was still a couple of years before I made dance (or any kind of exercise) part of my regular routine. I discovered both Zumba and NIA (the acronym for Neuromuscular Integrative Action) dance at approximately the same time. While both dance classes, the two are completely different. In Zumba, you feel like you are in a music video. You move non-stop, but it is so much fun the sweat and breathlessness doesn’t seem to matter. NIA is a completely different experience. While still a cardio workout, NIA emphasizes self-expression, body awareness, and enjoying the movement. After my first NIA class, I remembered how much I used to love to dance. Dance has a way of making us feel lighter in spirit, which is great for type-A’s like me who feel the need to control.
Dancing for exercise isn’t a new concept, (remember those infomercials for Sweatin’ to the Oldies with Richard Simmons?) but the popularity has increased in the past couple of years making it pretty easy to find a variety of classes no matter where you live. In addition to benefits such as a decrease in blood pressure and weight loss dance has also been shown to provide benefits such as improved mood and energy, stress reduction, and increased self-esteem.
A study at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York with close to 500 participants aged 70 and older measured cognitive activities such reading and doing crossword puzzles as well as physical activities like swimming, golf, and dancing to see if doing any of these activities reduced the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Frequent dancing reduced the risk of dementia by a whopping 76% — way more than any other activity that was studied.
There are plenty of dance classes/styles to choose from, so choose something appropriate for your current fitness level. Start with beginner level class at first and move up as your confidence and skill increases.
Want to know how many calories you are burning? Check out this Calorie Burn Calculator for info on calories burned while dancing and tons of other activities.
The most important thing? Have fun!!