Dance Your Way to Health

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By Kate Wicker


When was the last time you shimmied across a dance floor — or maybe just across your living room floor — and allowed all of your inhibitions to fade away? Maybe your boring, serious adult self hasn’t broken out in a full-bodied boogie in ages, but just this week my 7-year-old pirouetted and whipped and nae-naed her way through our house. Although she delights in having an audience, she also takes the whole “dance like no one’s watching” to a new level and will gladly dance the afternoon away with free-spirited abandon. 

 

This little girl is on to something. It turns out that when you make like Taylor and “shake it off,” you literally shake off calories and stress as well as build strength and stamina. 


“There’s nothing more invigorating than to just let loose on the dance floor while dancing to a powerful song,” says Tami Kiser, a dance instructor, mom, and founder of SmartMartha.com and CatholicMosaic.com


There are many physical benefits of dancing, according to Kiser. “You get in some cardio, flexibility, strength, and endurance,” she says.


Kiser has been dancing since childhood; she grew up with a mother who was a dance teacher. She’s followed in her mother’s footsteps and now teaches ballet, modern jazz, musical theater, and social and ballroom dance to middle school and high school students at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville, South Carolina. She also teaches line dancing and Zumba, an aerobic dance workout inspired by the myriad styles of Latin American dance, to senior citizens.


Kiser sees many benefits of dancing, including the fact that it serves as a conduit to the divine. 


“I have a dance ensemble made up of talented high school girls.Many of the dance pieces we do are songs of praise and worship. We literally glorify God with our bodies,” Kiser says. “Another way we glorify God with our bodies during dance is that even though the music may not be specifically Christian, it can be fully human. Our bodies experience and express the music, which can be sad, happy, exciting, joyful, even mad. All of these God-given emotions make us human and are expressed when we dance. And let’s not forget about beauty. We create and participate in beauty when we dance. Beauty ultimately leads to God. Anyone who dances can glorify God in all of these ways.”


Through her own experience as a dancer as well as teaching dance to others, Kiser also irrefutably sees that moving to music helps the body, mind, and spirit stay healthy.


“One of the reasons I’ve begun to teach line dancing to senior citizens is because not only does dancing [boost] their emotional and physical health, but it’s also good for their mental health. I tell them that doing these line dances is like doing a Sudoku puzzle but with their whole bodies. Turning around and remembering steps isn’t easy, and it gets harder the older you get,” Kiser explains. “You need to remember steps, and in tap dancing, for example, you’ve got a whole series of rhythms and counts to remember.”


If you have zero boogying experience, this might all sound intimidating, but like the popular Walk the Moon song croons, it may be time to just “shut up and dance.”


“You may consider yourself a non-dancer, but believe me, you’re not alone,” Kiser says. “Look for classes that have people like you (same age, sex, skill ability). If you’ve always loved ballet, look for a class at a local dance school. If you always wanted to try salsa, try a Zumba class at your local gym. If you don’t like it, try something else. Everyone has an innate ability and desire to dance.  


“We’re born with this. We know this because even the youngest children dance on their own. It may take a few tries of different types and different classes to figure out which one is best for you, but just keep trying. We have to put aside our inhibitions and false perceptions of ourselves and see ourselves as children in the eyes of God. Some of us have a very hard time doing this. I’m not saying that you have to make a fool of yourself, but you do have to let go. Take that first step — literally.”


Also, consider why you want to start dancing. Are you looking for a fun way to get fit? Then try an aerobic dance class like Zumba or Jazzercise.


“There are many fitness options that use dance to complete a great workout. Pilates, kickboxing, barre, piloxing, and many others have elements of dance in them,” Kiser says. “I find that when I’m at a class that has music and keeps me dancing that the time goes by so much more quickly than when I’m just running in place on a treadmill.  In fact, my knees and arthritis keep me from doing any running now, but I can complete a Zumba class just fine.”


Some people turn to dance as a way to draw closer to their spouses or as a social outlet.

 

“Two of my high school sons go swing dancing every week. About an hour north of me in the mountains of North Carolina, families get together once a month to go contra-dancing.A friend of mine in upstate New York does this with her family, too. Don’t know what that is?  Google it. Want to spruce up your relationship with your spouse? Try taking some ballroom dance lessons together,” Kiser says.


Whatever style of dance or class you pursue, the feel-good factor can’t be discounted. You might get fitter, but you’ll definitely have fun if you can learn to let loose and just enjoy the music. There’s also a certain sense of accomplishment that comes with mastering a new skill.

 

I personally am far more athletic than graceful, but I regularly take Pure Barre classes and feel strong and yes, even light-footed like a ballerina when I’m working my body poised on my tiptoes. Barre has been a wonderful complement to my regular running routine and has also helped my core to get a lot stronger. But my favorite dance workouts are living room dance parties with my children. We pump up the music and get our groove on. It doesn’t even feel like exercising, and my cool factor with my kids goes up a few points every time we cut a rug together to popular songs.


Follow Kiser’s lead and keep on shaking it even if you feel klutzy or silly at first.

 

“I’m always amazed by the progress people make. They’re always on the wrong feet at first. They can’t reach their toes,” she says. “But without fail, the people who stick with it get better. It just takes practice and work. As adults, we don’t get as many opportunities to get that feeling of learning something new and accomplishing something so measurable. I love seeing this in my high school students, too. 


“One benefit for them is learning self-confidence in something that’s completely new and foreign to them. It’s not easy for a 180-pound football player to compose a dance to Chopin with few fellow students and then do it for the class. But they do — and love it! In fact, all of my classes have waitlists. See if you can find some time and a place in your life for your inner dancer.”


Shall we dance?


There are countless dance styles and classes available. Here’s just a sampling of what’s out there:


Many instructional YouTube videoswill show you the basics of various ballroom dancing styles. You can also find a local USA Dance chapter at USADance.org. 


Pure Barre: Pure Barre studios are popping up all over. Find one at PureBarre.com


Zumba: Find a Zumba class near you, or purchase a DVD to do it in the comfort of your own home. Visit Zumba.com.


Need more inspiration? Check out ABC’s Dancing with the Stars where celebrity rookie dancers are paired up with professional dancers and perform in a televised competition. ABC.Go.com/Shows/Dancing-with-the-Stars.


Kate Wicker

Kate Wicker is the author of Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body and writes frequently about health-related issues. Read more at KateWicker.com.