Inspired by Strictly Come Dancing? Dancing shapes your body, boosts your mood and gets your heart rate up – all in the name of fun…
Enthusiasm for ballroom and latin dance classes is at an all-time high, probably thanks to a certain Saturday night TV show. And it’s one craze that can easily be transferred from sofa-spectating to the dance studio. You don’t need to be athletic or invest in any kit other than comfy shoes to foxtrot yourself to good health. And, as we’ve seen on Strictly, with the right teacher it’s perfectly possible to go from beginner to Ginger or Fred in a matter of weeks.
Dee Thresher, a fitness instructor and a personal trainer, started dancing at 11. She swears by it, not only for being a great body shaper, but also a mood and confidence booster. The key is finding the dance that suits you, she says. ‘The drama of the tango or the vigorous energy of the jive isn’t going to suit everyone. Try different dances until you find the one you like. Men usually take to ballroom best, as there’s less movement of the hips. At 6ft, my partner [TV GP Hilary Jones] is a natural ballroom dancer.
‘Once you find what you like, go two to three times a week if it’s your only exercise, or practise at home. If you’re doing other exercise, an hour’s class once a week is fine,’ she says. If you don’t fancy classes, learn at home with online videos. ‘The steps and terms are pretty universal, so once you’ve mastered them you can drop into most classes,’ says Dee.
A whirl around the dance floor can work wonders if your posture is challenged by sitting hunched over a desk or computer all day. ‘Dancing is great for aligning the spine and giving you a better awareness of your bodyline. Gentle and controlled ballroom will help you achieve a strong core,’ says Dee.
Tips from the pros
– Latin is great for hips and legs and for defining your waist. The tango will tone your legs and arms.
– The arm and leg movements of the jive give a good cardio workout, while the rise and fall movements of ballroom help to elongate the frame and improve posture.
– Ladies will need a pair of heels – preferably dance shoes, designed to help you move and turn easily. Trainers won’t help your posture.
Former Strictly dance instructor Flavia Cacace adds: ‘Want quick results? If you go to three one-hour-plus intense tango classes a week you could start to see a difference in your body within two to three weeks if you’re working hard enough.’
Watch your posture
Dancers such as ballerina Darcey Bussell swear by pilates as it improves muscle strength, flexibility and balance. The method trains you to use the deep core muscles – abdominals, back and pelvic floor – to support your posture and bring your skeleton into alignment, so you can move correctly and efficiently. The benefits go beyond improving your dance technique, though: improve your posture now and you’ll have fewer aches and pains in later life.
‘I barely do a surgery without seeing someone with back pain, and improving core stability could prevent a lot of suffering,’ says HFG expert Dr Dawn Harper.
If the body is held out of good alignment, it puts a great strain on the muscles and joints, compresses the organs and limits our capacity for deep breathing. We often hold our posture with the wrong muscles (such as those around the neck and shoulders, or buttocks), creating tension. Pilates teaches us to use our core so our muscles are balanced and helps us to correct our misalignments and imbalances and achieve the optimal placing of muscles. This allows the shoulders to relax, the neck and head to move freely and relieves stress on the lower body.
You can improve your posture without signing up to a pilates class, though. Check your alignment in front of a mirror (see right), then correct it whenever you catch yourself slouching during the day – it will soon become second nature.