Ballroom dancing can provide aerobic benefits

June 27, 1997|By John Rhodes

Last week while shopping for groceries, I was approached by a very timid elderly lady, "I find your news articles very informative, but I've never written to you or the paper because I'm a little shy about things like that. However, I would like to ask you a question. My husband and I both enjoy dancing. Is our ballroom dancing a good aerobic activity? I really hope something so enjoyable is also good exercise."

What I told the lady is very important - all dancing, not only ballroom, is an excellent exercise if done properly, with enough intensity and duration. For an example, if someone dances one slow dance, sits down for 20 to 30 minutes for a few drinks and conversation, the activity will not have aerobic benefits since the duration and intensity are lacking.

My conversation with this lady generated some ideas for this article about the aerobic and health aspects of dancing that everyone should know. I told her to watch for such an article in the paper soon.


Some people may wonder, "What do you know about dance? You're in the fitness field." Actually, dancing is one many "fun" forms of physical activity (exercise). My fitness background includes dancing. I took social dancing and modern dance classes in college, after which I became a professional ballroom instructor in Washington, D.C., for several years. My involvement continued through the years through teaching at the fitness center. In fact, since ballroom dance is again becoming more popular, the classes are well-attended.

I know little about ballet, tap, line dancing, etc. The square dancing I did while growing up in Shepherdstown, W.Va., does not qualify me to teach that form of dance, either. However, I am qualified to instruct ballroom dance.

Some history of dancing

Most people aren't aware that dancing is the oldest and liveliest of the arts. Starting with early man, dancing has been a means of expressing joy, anger, sadness, etc. There were religious dances, war dances, victory dances, rain dances ... the list could go on.

You don't have to be a Gregory Hines or a Fred Astaire to dance. If the mood hits and the music moves you, just get up and move your feet.

Dance today also is used by psychologists and others of the medical community to help with recovery from depression, psychological problems and rehab for certain injuries. Dance has many positive aspects and benefits.

Ballroom dancing seems to be the choice of many people in the Tri-State area. Most of our senior citizens remember the big bands and the previous locations of ballrooms in our area.

When we talk about ballroom, we talk about foxtrot, swing, cha-cha, rumba, waltz, tango, etc. We also must include disco and dirty dancing (individual dances). Dances where partners or people dance apart from each other also are part of ballroom.

How good is ballroom dancing as an aerobic activity? Great! The dancing should be of adequate intensity and duration to deliver benefits. Since the first 20 minutes of an aerobic activity burns mostly carbohydrates, keep dancing for 25 to 30 minutes to begin the fat-burning process.

Most establishments that have disc jockeys or bands play a series of sets of music. Two to three slow, two to three fast, etc. Enjoy the dancing, talk with friends and have refreshments, but also enjoy enough dance activity to get your heart rate up for a decent amount of time. A good way to do this is to dance two to three slow numbers in a row, followed by two or three fast numbers. Then, take a break if you need to, and repeat the sequence.

It really depends on the type of evening a person is looking for. If the purpose is to talk, drink, eat and do a little dancing, you can't expect too much aerobic benefit. But, it's possible to enjoy the dancing and also the conversation with friends - just make sure you enjoy adequate time on the dance floor. Of course, this would only apply if you want to use the fun of dancing to increase your aerobic activity.

A good beginning point would be to make sure you know the best and safest way to dance. People can end up with injuries while learning some of the dances because of excessive pressure on various joints, such as knees and ankles.

Ballroom dancing is good for all age groups. Senior citizens especially can dance up to and through old age. Dancing is especially good for arthritis and other joint conditions that require movement to keep limber. Just keep dancing.

John Rhodes is co-owner of J&J Fitness Center in Hagerstown.Write to him in care of The Herald-Mail Co., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown,Md. 21741.

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