As a professionally trained dancer for nearly 20 years, I’ve found that a combination of pirouettes and leaps across the floor can leave me sweaty and breathing heavily on the other side – but I often don’t even notice it.
The rush of joy, power and freedom of dancing far outweighs the challenge.
If you get self-conscious, though, it may not have felt that way when the music came on at your cousin’s wedding in the Before Times and you stepped onto the dance floor.
If you can find a way through that initial awkwardness, experts say dancing can benefit your physical and mental well-being.
With the latest surge of Covid-19 raging, now may be the ideal time to get the hang of dancing from home. Why not start off by boogying in the privacy of your living room and build from there?
For many people, the new year starts off with ambitious goals for a better life, only to have those resolutions fizzle by mid-March. Bringing more dance into your life, however, might be a way to increase mental and physical health that actually sticks, said New York-based Brazilian professional dancer Ricardo Souza. With Covid-19 making gathering in the dance studio risky, many teachers are offering online options, he said.
“When most people set New Year’s resolutions, they make ones for things they really don’t want to do, like lose weight or work out more,” Souza said via email. “Dance is something that is fun, and because of that, you are much more apt to stick with it! It’s also something you can take at your own pace and have realistic goals around so that it continues being something enjoyable.”
The benefits of having fun are backed by science. Research shows that you are more likely to continue your workouts if you enjoy them, according to Katy Milkman, behavioral scientist and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Whether you are drawn to a two-step or a tango, jazz or jazzercise, hip-hop or Broadway tap: Dance professionals say there are ways for people of every taste and experience level to bring more dance into their lives to find better fitness, joy and social connection.
Get moving and go cardio
If you are looking to increase your workouts, how can you beat moving to your favorite music?
“I think dance is a fantastic form of cardiovascular exercise, which is a really important part of a well-rounded fitness program,” said Dana Santas, a CNN fitness contributor and mind-body coach for professional athletes.
Cardiovascular exercise is anything that sustains a raised heart rate, works your respiratory system and uses large muscle groups, she added.
“Upbeat dancing, which uses your legs – and pretty much your whole body – definitely qualifies,” Santas said. That cardiovascular exercise can help you reach a multitude of goals for the new year.
“It burns calories, helps your heart and lungs work more efficiently, boosts production of feel-good hormones and mood-boosting endorphins and increases endurance over time, so you feel more energized and less tired throughout your day,” Santas said.
For those aiming for more energy, cardio has also been linked to increased sleep quality, according to a study in the Journal of Physiotherapy.
That movement can also lift your mood during what is a stressful and chaotic time for many people. Research published in the journal Front Psychiatry found that exercise and activity reduces anxiety.
“Any time you move your physical body in a joyful way, it benefits all aspects of your health and well-being,” Souza said. “It’s also a great way to get out of this Covid rut so many people have been in, to try something new, and to meet new people.”
The poise, coordination and grace needed to execute many of the forms of dance can change the confidence people have in themselves, he added.
The clearest mental benefit of dance is the social engagement and emotional outlet it provides “in a way that doesn’t put pressure on the need to communicate verbally,” said Lucie Clements, a UK-based psychologist who works with professional dancers.
Find the dance style for you
Dance may sound enticing, but if images of perfect ballerinas in shiny, satin pointe shoes make the idea sound inaccessible, never fear, experts said.
There are plenty of ways to get inspired – and overcome the shyness that may hold you back.
“First, be open-minded to try and learn as many dances as you can,” Souza said.
Taking a one-off class likely won’t give you the results or happiness you are looking for, Clements said. It may help to try different styles or different kinds of instructors to see what works best for you.
If you are a little embarrassed at the thought of not knowing what you are doing, having a more structured class with an instructor with a history in pedagogical training may provide the experience you are looking for, Clements said.
Free yourself of expectations
“Second, have fun with your mistakes. Nobody is watching you or cares about your mistakes,” Souza said.
“There is a part of you that wants to move, be loud, and goofy, and expressive. Let it go!” he added. “If you still don’t feel comfortable, you can always name this ‘character.’ I have a name for my sexy and passionate self. I call him ‘The Latin Lover.’
“Every time that I start to feel uncomfortable with a sexy movement or choreography, I call ‘The Latin Lover’ to dance. It works!”
That might be easier said than done for some people. You can take it slowly with those online classes, Souza suggested.
“Then you build confidence to dance in person when things get better,” he said.
Show you’ve got the moves
The third step to creating a dance resolution is considering finding a way to work toward a performance, according to Souza.
“One of the benefits of dance is how it can train you to be in the spotlight, and this is a valuable lesson that can be applied to many areas of life,” Souza said. “Remember, this is about self-expression and having fun. Go in without expectations. Remember that movement is natural, and just have fun.”