The fitness industry has always used the dance industry to create new, innovative and sometimes trendy (bound to die) workouts. Many times these classes are taught by instructors who have never even stepped into a dance studio and who couldn’t tell you the difference between a battement and sissonne.
Dance alone has never been considered a “real” form fitness by the fitness industry. By nature, dance stops and goes… it pushes and pulls, it moves rapidly and it sometimes stands still. So how could this form of ‘movement” really be considered a good workout?
Let me ask you this….. have you ever seen an obese dancer…. one who uses dance as their means to stay in shape? (I don’t mean the person who takes a few classes a year) Chances are… you haven’t and there is a reason why.
Dancers are some of the world’s most athletic, agile and overall fit persons roaming the planet. For many of them, this is all they do to stay fit… they dance. They don’t spend hours on a treadmill…. or hours lifting at the gym…. and they don’t waste their time dabbling in one fitness discipline just to get sidetracked and move to the next trend. Dancers always come back to dance.
Now, dance isn’t for everyone. I know many of you would much rather slave away at a gym, taking your newest fitness magazine exercises to the floor along with your drink shaker. That is perfectly fine… I’m not saying at all that this is a bad idea…. I’m simply going to make the argument that dance might actually help you hit your goals faster than your daily visit to the sweat-shop.
The science is hard to deny. The fitness industry is getting flooded with the new concept that small doses of high intensity work are actually better for your health and metabolism than long stints of repetitive movement. This has birthed new workouts like cross-fit and HIIT training bootcamps, etc… But are you getting all you need from these too?
Like everything…. the answer is in the balance. Personally, what I love about dance is that I don’t have short, choppy muscles that lack fluidity. My muscle structure is flexible, liquid like, long and solid. My tendons feel fluid and resilient and I have confidence in them that they will protect my joints. This has all come from a good many years dancing….. (well nearly my whole life) and while I too have had my share of dance related injuries (like that of a “traditional athlete”) I overall believe that I will have longevity with my health due to my dedication to dance.
So how can dance improve your overall fitness performance? Well first, lose the idea that you have two left feet and are incapable of dancing. It’s not about whether you can dance or not, it’s about taking the principles of dance, learning the “new to you” lessons and executing them “properly.” <— I stress properly. I can’t tell you how many “barre” instructors I’ve watched teaching their students the wrong ballet form that is not only is a “slap in the face of ballet” but more so… movement that has the potential of injuring their clients. Dance principals are going to give you back fluidity in your body and workouts. They are going to increase the flexibility within your muscle fibers and allow you to hit all kinds of new goals that you didn’t think you could… or you’ve been waiting to see from your traditional workouts.
I never saw this to be so true until I taught a few college football players how to point their toes, plea in first and balance in passe. (I thought they were going to cry) They were sweating their tails off, complaining about their feet hurting and were shocked by how tough a dance class could be. They were great sports by the way (as this was a bit of a college class experiment) but it reminded me that these guys were on the field, multiple hours a day and multiple times a week… and it was very challenging for these athletes.
If you need agility in your sports performance, you’ll find it in dance. There is no other physical movement on the planet that will show you muscles you never knew you had than dance. If you are seeking length in your muscles, you’ll find it in dance. Dance both pushes and pulls during the movement while using your own strength or body weight… This lengthening movement creates long lean muscle mass. If you are seeking fine cuts in your muscle tone, you’ll find it in dance. If you compare a dancers quad, with that of someone who uses the gym only…. you will be able to see an immediate difference. There will be small chiseled cuts in the dancers quad that the gym goer will likely not have. This isn’t because the gym goer is slacking, it’s just a difference in muscle adaptation and movement that creates this. How is the achieved?….. Well think of sitting at the leg press and balance the weight with small movements in your feet rather than relying on the rack to balance this weight for you.
Okay…. and be honest. When you go to the gym…. how often do you spend at least (I do mean, at least) 20-minutes stretching both pre and post workout? Yeah, that’s what I thought. In dance, you stretch prior yes, but while dancing, the stretch naturally happens since dance is all about elongating the body with supporting it through balance while using your own strength.
The most compelling thing about the dancers body however is what they have going on up stairs. For the dancer, this movement allows them to be transported, it helps them cope, feel empowered or use dance to fuel their inner fire to accomplish things they didn’t think possible. Part of having the body is believing you can achieve it. They tackle dance principals and movement they can’t do, or have never attempted and when they hit this goal (just like a gym goer hits a goal rack weight) they get a sense of accomplishment. The best part, this is done through an artistic means, rather than a commercial means which plays into a slew of mental well being…. which is a whole other blog post all together. Now…. we’ve seen the extremes where dancers do extreme things to their bodies and health to fit into stereotypes, but I’d argue you see these same stories come out of the locker room.
It’s no accident that dancers have the bodies they do. And while the day to day dedication of spending hours at the barre or attempt after attempt to tackle choreography is not going to be for everyone… it is hard to say that dance isn’t going to give you a great physique. It’s even harder to argue that dance doesn’t give you new found agility and a whole different cardio-vascular push to your workouts…. so…. give it a whirl, a pointe or a leap……
You might just be surprised what that body of yours is capable of.