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Dance into the Exercise Groove

Focused on Health - February 2011

by Laura Nathan-Garner

disco ball

In an exercise rut? Here’s an idea: try a workout that’s so fun you’ll forget you’re exercising — dance classes.

Most dance classes don’t require fancy footwork. So, you can still improve your strength conditioning, get your heart pumping and trim belly fat that can up your cancer risks — even if you’re not super coordinated!

Best of all, the sheer fun of working out in a group may motivate you to keep exercising, so your body can fight off diseases like cancer.

So you think you can dance? Amp up your exercise routine (and your heart rate!) with one of these classes.

1. Zumba legs dancing

  • What it is: Latin-inspired class where each song repeats the same three or four steps over and over.  
  • Tunes you’ll hear: Latin music like salsa, cumbia, reggaeton and merengue, as well as world music like Bollywood and samba.
  • Moves you’ll use: Marching in place while you sway your hips and arms, stepping side-to-side, stepping forward and back.
  • Health perks: The high-energy, fast-paced moves provide a good cardio workout that burns fat and builds endurance. Plus, you’ll use just about every muscle in your body and move them in different directions — much more so than activities like running, walking or biking.
  • What to wear: Comfortable clothes you can sweat in; dance fitness shoes or cross-training shoes (not running shoes) that allow you to move side-to-side easily.
  • Take note: Have knee or lower-back problems? Beware: Zumba involves lots of twisting. Before class starts, ask your instructor about modifications you can make to avoid injury.

2. Nightclub cardio

  • What it is: A nightclub atmosphere with strobe lights, loud music and easy-to-follow choreography.women jumping
  • Tunes you’ll hear: 80s, 90s, dance, old school, hip-hop.
  • Moves you’ll use: Heel kicks, free dance, side-to-side step touch.
  • Health perks: This aerobic workout gets your heart pumping, boosts your energy, helps burn calories, and strengthens your legs, abs and arms.
  • What to wear: Add some fun club flair to your outfit to get you in the mood. Whether they’re covered in glitter or neon, be sure your clothes and shoes are comfy and allow easy movement.
  • Take note: Get to class on time so you don’t miss the warm-up stretches. They’ll help curb your risk of injury.

3. Belly dancing

  • What it is: A low-impact workout that uses controlled movements that isolate different parts of the body, including the hips, shoulders, chest and stomach.
  • Tunes you’ll hear: Traditional Middle Eastern dance music, Flamenco.
  • Health perks: The emphasis on the hips and belly area helps trim excess belly fat, which helps reduce your risk for colorectal cancer and possibly pancreatic, breast (after menopause) and uterine cancers, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.
  • Moves you’ll use: Spins, turns, shimmies and arm movements.
  • What to wear: A close-fitting top and loose, free-flowing pants or a skirt that allows you to move easily.
  • Take note: Belly dancing has been practiced in many countries around the world and, as a result, has several variations, including Egyptian, Greek and Turkish, and Western varieties, each with their own moves and ethnic music.

4. Pole dancing

woman pole dancing
  • What it is: A series of exercises using a vertical brass pole and your body as resistance. Variations are offered for both men and women.
  • Tunes you’ll hear: Louder, contemporary music ranging from Britney Spears to Marilyn Manson.
  • Health perks: This aerobic and anaerobic workout strengthens your core, tones your abs, arms, back, legs and glutes. It also builds flexibility.
  • Moves you’ll use: Mat stretches, the “fireman” (wrapping your legs around the pole and swinging around), cross-knee release.
  • What to wear: Form-fitting clothes that won’t distract you or get caught on the pole.
  • Take note: Ensure you have a firm grip on the pole by skipping lotion use the day of class.

Remember, no dance class is one-size-fits-all. But by choosing the one that’s most appealing to you, you can dance to your own beat and find your way back into the exercise groove.

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center