Whether bopping in your living room or taking a Zumba class at the gym, choose dance-based workouts that let you tap into the joys of rhythmic movement. Pick a style you love or experiment with a new one (samba, anyone?). In a group setting—regardless of age or experience—you suddenly become part of something bigger, a growing trend that inspires all fitness levels to soar, shake and shimmy. If you’re looking to boost your mood, drop a few pounds or keep your mind laser-sharp, dancing does it all. So, shake it up already. Here’s why.
BOOGIE BUILDS YOUR BONES
Dancing is weight-bearing exercise, meaning it stimulates the growth of osteoblasts (bone-building cells) in order to make new bone. Research shows that dancing—especially tap dancing, polka and folk dance–increases your bone density. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), “Regular low-impact, weight-bearing exercise helps bones stay strong and safe.” Different exercises stress different parts of our body (to build more bone mass at one site), so it’s a good idea to switch from one type of dance to another every few weeks. Experiment with low-impact styles that feel good, fortify bone mass and boost confidence, too. Try: ballroom, tap, ballet, Irish clogging, two-stepping, hip-hop
PIROUETTE FOR HEART HEALTH
Dance can burn equivalent calories to walking or slow jogging, and help you maintain weight, which combats heart disease. It also improves core strength, flexibility and muscle tone, especially in the lower body, according to NOF. “Dancing for cardiovascular exercise helps you lose weight and gain flexibility so you won’t get injured during other activities,” says Johnny Anzalone, a certified group fitness instructor and assistant professor of dance and musical theater at NYU in New York City. Several European longevity studies tested groups of exercising seniors, including participants who walked, danced and a final group who were sedentary. Researchers then tested the oxygen levels, artery elasticity and other indicators of heart health, and found the dancing group had the healthiest cardiovascular signs. They believe the dancers exercised longer than other groups because it was so enjoyable. Try: jazz, free-style, modern or ballet, fox trots, hip-hop and Latin styles.
BALANCE BODY WEIGHT WITH A SHIMMY AND A SHAKE
The U.S. Surgeon General’s Report and Physical Activity Guidelines now state that healthy adults should exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes daily to boost health benefits. To improve fitness and body weight, your goal is closer to 45 to 60. Dancing with a buddy is extra motivating for people looking to drop a few pounds, according to the National Dance Association, and can almost instantly improve your mood. Anzalone, who starred on Broadway in Cats and Chicago, says, “Moving to music with likeminded people almost instantly relieves stress and teaches decision-making, teamwork skills and self expression.” The exact number of steps you take while dancing depends on the class duration and style, but high-impact (hopping around and swinging) square dancing for 60 minutes is roughly equivalent to walking four miles. Try: barre workouts, ballet, hi-low aerobics, Zumba, jazz class, tap dance
BOOGIE BUILDS BRAINPOWER
Dance may enhance brain capacity, mental function and creativity, and it’s linked to lower rates of dementia in seniors, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers compared cognitive activities (playing board games and musical instruments, for example) with exercise to see which boosted memory and affected the brain. Of all exercise activities, only dance was as effective at training the brain as the cognitive activities. In addition to the memory-boosting increase in blood flow to the brain, researchers suspect that memorizing intricate dance steps and staying in sync with the rhythm of the music help promote the growth of new brain neurons. Try: Tango and ballroom dance, polka and folk dance, salsa, hip-hop, ballet
Best Dance Workouts at Home
We tested dance DVDs from belly dancing, ballet and booty barre workouts to traditional cardio-salsa routines. These are some of our heart-pumping favorites that inspire us to move.
Tracy Anderson Method: Dance Cardio Workout (90 minutes; $14.99)
Trainer to A-listers like Madonna, Anderson attracts an intermediate to advanced dancer who follow these fast-paced, traditional routines in jazz and hip-hop. Better have your groove on.
FuseDance Cardio Melt (60 minutes; $17.99)
Prepare for a high-energy calorie blast-off with Tracey Mallett, whose two intermediate, full-body workouts are challenging and uber-effective. You want to kick it up with Mallett.
Dance off the Inches: Latin Cardio Party (43 minutes; $9.99)
Geared toward beginners, these gentle hops, “booty bouncers” and slow Latin choreography make it doable for every body. Love the core-toning Latin tunes.
Petra Kolber’s Liquid Grooves (56 minutes; $18.99)
Professional dancer Kolber effortlessly melds modern dance, tai chi and even some flowing yoga to a balancing, toning workout. More of a gentle tone-up than a fat-burning fix, this feels great on your joints – and spirit. collagevideo.com
Dancer and fitness instructor Nicole Kroeuse (photographed here) is glad to see non-professional dancers putting their moves on. “Classes like Zumba and Samba can feel almost like a dance party,” says Kroeuse. “It feels great to get moving to music you love, and coordinating with rhythms, choreography, and balance is a good challenge for the body and mind.” Kroeuse began her dance training at Pacific Northwest Ballet and Turning Pointe Dance Centre in Seattle, where she grew up studying ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary and hip hop. After moving to New York City, Kroeuse performs professionally. She also teaches fitness at Refine Method, and is a Nike Women’s Training Brand Ambassador. “Dancing as an art form is something that many people respect and admire,” she says, “and it’s something I love to do—marrying movement to music just feels amazing. Sometimes people are afraid they will look silly,” she continues, “but dancing is meant to be enjoyable,” she says. “So let go!”