The best dance to get in shape depends on your own personal shape, and also – this might seem strange – your personal likes and dislikes. We all know committing to regular exercise is hard enough without forcing yourself to do something you hate, so if you really can’t picture yourself break dancing three times a week then don’t do it. Find out what your tastes are as a starting point, and move from there.
Good dance disciplines for exercise include belly dancing, salsa, tango and other forms of ballroom, hip-hop, breakdancing, jazz… the list goes on. Different disciplines will provide different benefits: for instance, belly dancing is great for toning the muscles and improving the posture, while ballroom is good for stamina and endurance. Tap, jazz and African dance provide a cardiovascular workout, and ballet can strengthen particular areas of the body.
Some things to consider when choosing your discipline: Consider your state of health carefully before beginning a dance program, and make sure that any injuries you have are well protected, as it is very easy to get carried away on the dance floor. If you are looking to ballroom, be aware that you will often be partnered with strangers so your personal space will be invaded. If your nightclubbing days are far behind you, perhaps get a check-up from your doctor before embarking on a class – they might even be able to provide some advice as to the type of dance you would most enjoy.
Just as with any type of exercise, it is vitally important to warm up and cool down before and after classes to prevent injury. If your class does not provide this as part of the class, either arrive early so you can warm yourself up, or warm up at home (not the best option, but better than nothing). You can quickly warm up your body by performing a few quick stretches and rolls.
If you don’t want to pursue a particular form of dance, your range of options is possibly even wider. An increasing number of dance studios are opening up combined classes which incorporate a number of disciplines for fun. Gyms also increasingly offer combined dance classes as part of their schedule. This is a recognition of what many people are coming to realise – exercise doesn’t have to mean being strapped to a machine, and dancing has a range of benefits for the psyche as well as the body.
While it is best to join a class and have access to a proper studio and instruction, don’t let financial constraints prevent you from enjoying this very basic form of exercise. Don’t forget, boogieing around your lounge room with the couch pushed back and your music up loud is still exercise – and it’s free. Clearing all the breakables from the room and doing this for half an hour every day will not only get you fit, it will provide a mood boost and even help your confidence.
*If you don’t have a warm-up routine: try first wriggling your toes, rolling your ankles, gently swinging your leg at the knee, then the hip; then move into wriggling your fingers, rolling your wrists, swinging your arms at the elbow and shoulder; roll your head gently around, then gently tip each ear to its shoulder; do a spinal roll by carefully rolling your head and then your torso down until you are bent over and let your arms hang for a few moments, then roll back up, stacking your vertebrae on top of each other one at a time; roll your hips. Once you have done this you can move into side, arm and leg stretches. A cool-down routine generally involves a few gentle stretches and then a period of rest in a structured position, such as half-lotus, semi-supine or even another spinal roll.