Ballroom dance for fitness

Getting fit through ballroom dancing

Ballroom dancing is a leisurely and relaxing form of exercise that has a number of social benefits, as well as offering a great workout for the body. Ballroom dancing requires you to hook up with a partner so it’s a fine activity for developing team work skills and cooperation! Here’s our guide on how ballroom dancing could improve your personal fitness and lead you to a fitter, more active lifestyle.

An introduction to ballroom dancing

Ballroom dancing has, thankfully, come a long way since its conception as a form of ‘social dance’ for upper class toffs passing the time at grand parties. These days, the term is applied to a variety of dancing styles between two participants – a ‘leader’ and a ‘follower’. Ballroom dancing involves a large degree of physical contact between these two players, through their upper or lower bodies, or the arms. So make sure you choose your partner carefully.

Most ballroom dancing is non-choreographed, although it does possess a number of archaic conventions and etiquette rules which you should try and learn before attending a dance. Dancers do require a degree of step positioning knowledge, so that the leader can guide the follower into each move.

Key fitness benefits of ballroom dancing

Ballroom dancing has many key health and fitness benefits, in addition to those already associated with dance exercise. It is a very low impact activity, compared with other dance forms, and fitness benefits therefore include:

  • Ballroom dancing builds a stronger heart - Regular ballroom dancing can lead to a slower heart rate, as well as lower blood pressure and a more balanced level of cholesterol. It offers a great workout for the cardiovascular system as it requires a large degree of flexible movement.
  • Ballroom dancing burns off the calories - Ballroom dance is renowned for its ability to burn off calories, with a one-hour session burning as many as 800 calories, depending on the intensity of the dance. And you thought you could only lose weight through long sessions in the gym!
  • Ballroom dancing is a great form of cross-training - If you’re on the steady road back from a serious sporting injury, a spell of ballroom dance could – in moderation – be ideal to help you regain overall bodily movement and avoid any load-bearing on the injury in question. Dance may seem a strange exercise alternative if you’re a runner or sports player, but a couple of sessions of ballroom dancing really could set you back on track. 

Key styles of ballroom dancing

There are ten styles of ballroom dancing recognized internationally, from slow waltz and samba through to rumba and jive. Here are details of some of the more common ballroom dancing types:

  • Slow waltz - Typified by it′s pendular body action, most basic waltz movements are set to music with a step for every beat. This form of ballroom dancing requires grace and discipline, as dancers glide across the floor to the sound of traditional waltz music. The slow waltz is recognized for its dancers’ foot parallelism and regular swaying.

  • Tango - Originating in Argentina, the tango is danced by two people in an embrace, with the leader and follower either at arm’s length or very close to one and other – chest-to-chest. Traditionally the tango is a heated and passionate dance set to high-tempo music that expresses aggressive desire. It could offer a healthy, active way to spice up your love life!
  • Rumba - Rumba dancing has developed from Afro-Cuban roots and is a highly popular Latin dance, renowned for its sensual slow rhythm and hip movements. Most ballroom-style rumba dancing requires great motion in the hips, with desirous swaying caused by the dancer rhythmically bending and straightening their knees.
  •  Jive - Originally pioneered by African-Americans in the 1940s, jive is a form of the popular jitterbug routine which is a lively swing dance. With quick turns and overhead moves, jiving allows dancers to slide and glide across the floor, to the rhythm of a 4/4 beat. It’s certainly an option for the more energetic ballroom dancer.

What to expect from your first ballroom dancing class

Beginner ballroom dance classes normally encourage people to regularly swap partners, so they can quickly make new friends and learn from each other’s mistakes. However, instructors are normally open to the idea of couples dancing together exclusively. Classes will see a number of styles of ballroom dance taught – everything from cha cha cha and foxtrot through to quickstep if you’re lucky. This allows for a great variety of dancing, which is fun, sociable and great for your body. 

Key ballroom dancing tips and more information

Formal ballroom dancing may seem overly concerned with archaic etiquette and disciplined steps, but don’t worry if you make a few mistakes in the early days. No dancer is perfect when they first start out so if you accidentally tread on the odd toe or slip when you’re meant to slide, just take it on the chin and learn from your errors. It’s the best way to improve, honest!

Sources of further ballroom dancing information include:

  • Ballroom dancing with Angela Rippon (DVD)
  • Ballroom Dancing for Beginners (DVD)
  • The Complete Book of Ballroom Dancing by Richard Montgomery Stephenson (book)

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