06 August 2008

Get fit without thinking

Dancing - a perfect, easy and fun way to get into shape.

“Dance lessons” make most of us think of men with gelled hair in penguin suits, spinning women in glittery evening gowns and high heels – the kind Wilma Stassen says she wouldn’t dare to walk in, never mind doing choreographed dance moves in.

Truthfully, there are few things as graceful as ballerinas floating on stage in their white tutus, or elegant ballroom dancers sweeping over a dance floor in perfect time. But who has the years of dedication required to get that good – and who is committed enough to live with the bruised feet, bloody toes and strict diets that come with the territory?

If any of us were in any doubt, SABC2’s hit series Strictly Come Dancing made it clear just how much painstaking effort is needed for contestants to learn their moves.

And almost as difficult, imagine trying to convince your partner to do it with you... You can’t very well dance on your own, can you?

Who needs a dance partner?
Oh yes you can! There are countless dance studios and gyms across the country offering all sorts of classes – from ballroom to hip hop, modern to salsa, and even belly-dancing classes – where you don’t need to bring a partner. In fact, most of these dance styles don’t even require a partner.

“The classes are very sociable,” says Sasha Schagem of the Durbanville School of Dance. “It’s not like other fitness classes, where the instructor stands in front of the class and tells the students what to do. There’s a lot of interaction between students and instructors.”

No rhythm, no problem
OK, but what if every time you try to dance it feels like you have three left legs?

Schagem reckons: “If you can walk, you can dance.” In fact, she says, those who think they have no rhythm would be the ones to benefit most from dancing, as doing hand and foot movements simultaneously improves one’s co-ordination. “Not everyone picks it up the very first time they’re shown how to do a new move, but those who persevere will succeed,” Schagem promises.

Belly dancing is increasingly popular among South African women, instructor and professional performer Aviva told Health24: “Women of all ages, fitness levels, shapes and sizes can do it.” It’s not a guy thing, so you emphatically won’t have partner problems here.

No equipment, like shoes or special outfits, is needed to doing belly dancing.

High intensity, low impact workout
Aviva says belly dancing is an excellent workout. “It’s high intensity and low impact. Unlike many other forms of exercise, belly dancing puts hardly any pressure on your joints, while still providing an excellent cardiovascular workout.” It tones and conditions the whole body, especially the abdomen, where dangerous belly fat can gather, and the lower back and thighs.

Avina says she has found that many students’ confidence and body image improve as they get into better shape – they feel so much more comfortable with their bodies, she says. “It’s especially true for women who are overweight and have difficulty doing other exercise.”

10 Reasons to dance

  • Whatever form of dance you do, it burns calories. An average-sized person will burn 280 calories in an hour of slow to moderate dancing, compared to only 210 calories walking for the same time .
  • It makes you happy. Like all exercise, and perhaps more so than most because of the fun element, dancing releases the body's own painkillers, endorphins, into your system.
  • It boosts confidence and self-esteem. Learning and succeeding at a new skill improves your confidence.
  • It makes you good in bed. All medical research points towards it: the fitter you are, the better your sex life.
  • It tones your muscles.
  • It develops and enhances co-ordination.
  • It’s an excuse to get out of the house. Sometimes you need a formal, regular commitment to jerk you away from your daily routine and responsibilities.
  • It increases your suppleness. Dancing gives the body a good stretch.
  • It’s a great way to make friends. Dance classes are usually very social.
  • It’s fun!

Read more:
Get fit by dancing, Riaan says
The box of tricks


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