Tired of the elliptical? Ready to really strut, shimmy and samba?
Get down and get dancing. Dance is a great way to shake off the weight — and to trick your body into thinking you’re out for a night on the town, rather than simply fitting your cardio in for the day.
“Movement and music have been shown to increase endorphins that make you ‘feel good’ and reduce stress,” says Lynelle Vandenbos, Zumba and barre instructor at the Bellevue Club, who’s been dancing for more than 20 years. “Dance fitness is really the total body workout, forcing you to use your brain as well as your body. Music moves us naturally, and it’s freeing when we let ourselves go and enjoy the experience.”
It’s freeing and fabulous for your shape, too. Although it depends on each person’s effort, Vandenbos estimates that a person can burn 300 calories in a low-impact/high-intensity, 60-minute class such as barre — a combo of ballet and aerobics — and as many as 800 calories in a high-impact/high-intensity class such as Zumba, a fusion of Latin and hip-hop dance styles.
For the best results, attend a dance class two or three times a week to build muscle memory, stamina, strength and endurance, instructors advise.
Belly up to the barre
Different styles will yield slightly different results. Dancer Elisa Taylor, who teaches and performs Middle Eastern dance (belly dance), is an advocate for the toning and strengthening of the core in this particular style. “Above and beyond that, dancers find it will build your confidence and self-esteem, and help you see the beauty in other women,” she says. “Through that, you learn to appreciate and feel gratitude for your own body and see the beauty in yourself.”
Your mood gets a boost from dance. And as your body becomes stronger, you begin to feel better. Then you infuse the positive feelings back into the movements by working harder — it becomes a choreography of sorts.
“When I was flattened by fatigue during my pregnancies, the only time I felt human was when I could drag myself to my space in the living room and turn on the music. Before the first song was over, I felt completely normal and good,” says Taylor.
Mixing it up a bit by dabbling in various dance styles is one of the best ways to keep health benefits coming as quickly as the sweat drips from your brow. As with most any other exercise regime, dedication and variation make an unstoppable team.
Indigo Wood, a belly dance and Zumba instructor, has been dancing various styles for the past 17 years. As an instructor, she enjoys helping women let loose while toning their tummies, during sessions in which they engage with the music and dance from within.
All styles, she says, will benefit the core, inner thighs and posture, because dance is a weight-bearing exercise. “For most people, starting to dance will help their heart, blood pressure, blood-sugar levels, and burn calories,” Wood says.
Don’t let the brain take too much control during a class, instructors say, because sticking with the moves isn’t as important as remaining in motion. And don’t stress about how you look. “If you are having fun, dance and come to class. It takes time to develop the connections in our brain and body,” says Wood.
Taylor echoes the sentiment. “Learning the basic moves well is like learning the words of a beautiful language. Even the simplest phrases are delightful to learn and practice. And from there, you’ll continue to build a vocabulary of movement with which you can express the most wonderful emotions and stories.”
Zumba, belly dance and barre are currently the hottest dances on the street. But whatever style you select, make it enjoyable. “It may become the healthiest and most fun addiction you could ever have,” says Vandenbos.
Allyson Marrs is a Pacific Northwest native and a writer with a special interest in health and wellness.
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