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Ballroom dancing isn’t just for weddings and 50th anniversary parties-—it’s an antiaging elixir for couples and singles. Besides being a fun way to stay fit, the health benefits of dances such as the foxtrot and waltz may surprise you.
Ballroom dancing can improve joint health, increase muscle mass, and build self-confidence. Researcher Jonathan Skinner of Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, studied the effects of social dancing on older people in Ireland, Britain, and the United States.
He concluded that the benefits of ballroom dancing extend beyond physical health. Social dancing leads to a continued engagement with life, contributing to dancers’ longevity. He found that dancing also alleviates social isolation and helps to relieve the aches and pains associated with aging.
Stronger muscles and improved joint health
“Ballroom dancing is about resistance training,” says competitive dancer Tatiana Keegan. “You use your arms in Latin dances such as the cha-cha, paso doble, and jive. In standard ballroom dances (foxtrot, waltz, and quickstep), you have to stay in the closed position, holding your muscles steady.”
Since ballroom dance moves are multidirectional—unlike the forward motion on treadmills and elliptical trainers—they may enhance joint health. One research study showed an improvement in hip motion and spine flexibility in adults who did three months of dance training.
Winter can be especially hard on joints and muscles, wherever you live in Canada. “Dancing improves my health, especially in winter,” says Sybilla Watters, who resides in Whitby, Ontario. “My muscles are very sensitive to the cold and constantly ache. Dancing keeps my muscles and joints limber, and I’m having fun at the same time!”
Better brain cells
Any physical activity that involves coordinating brain and body can strengthen neurons and improve cognitive health. Since there are almost 30 different ballroom dances with at least 18 steps each, this activity activates both body and mind.
“I love the principles of motion and balance in dancing,” says Gordon Howell, an Edmonton-based electrical engineer. “It’s sheer delight to fly around the room at great speed in the Viennese Waltz, samba, or quickstep with balance, poise, and control.” He also enjoys nonverbally communicating with his partner and managing the available floor space.
Although ballroom dance is a challenging exercise, you don’t need to be a good dancer or even all that fit to benefit from it.
Rehabilitation from injury
Chris White’s wife has a permanently damaged right arm from an injury sustained in a bad accident. Her doctors and physiotherapists said dancing would be a good rehabilitation tool and source of stress relief. “She feels elegant and young again, even though she was severely injured,” says White, who lives in Tsawwassen, BC. “There are so many physical activities she can’t do, but she can dance!”
Dancing can also help back and neck problems. Ricardo Roca is a dance teacher-in-training in Vancouver who struggled with lower back and neck problems due to a pinched nerve. “Since I started dancing regularly, my chiropractor said my posture has improved,” he says.
“I haven’t suffered from back and neck pain in over three years.”
Along with physical health benefits, dancing can help to improve relationships too.
Happier, healthier couples
“I know a married couple who separated for a couple of years, then decided to get back together,” says Keegan. “Part of their plan for reconciliation was to take ballroom dancing classes. It worked; the classes gave them a common interest and something to do together.”
Ballroom dance also gives couples motivation to exercise. Surrey, BC-based Henry Cheng says ballroom dancing is the only sport he and his wife can do at the same pace. “We co-operate, grow, and learn together; get frustrated together; share the glory; and bond with our fellow dancers and teachers,” he says.
Cheng adds that the satisfaction the couple gets when onlookers admire their skill and beauty is beyond description. “We’ve grown younger in appearance and spirit,” he says. “And I lost five inches in my waistline since I started dancing.”
Ballroom dancing doesn’t just make marriages stronger; it can help people recover from broken marriages. For instance, Joan Brown started dancing after divorcing her abusive husband after 32 years of marriage. “Ballroom dancing is my most successful therapy,” says this vibrant 53-year-old. “It freed me from depression and keeps me fit. My smile, sense of self-worth, and confidence are back.”
Joan adds that dancing reduces stress, enhances her social life, and reminds her of happy childhood memories. Other dancers report that they feel euphoric after class—even if they aren’t adept at the steps and take classes without a partner.
Many dance classes require couples to change partners. “The result is a stronger, more confident person who can dance with anyone,” say Bruce and June Crowther. “Dancing spilled over into every aspect of our lives.” They took ballroom dance lessons several years ago for their daughter’s wedding reception and haven’t stopped. They volunteer as dance assistants at a community hall in St. Albert, Alberta.
Many people report feeling released from their thoughts and worries before and after dancing. Like meditation, dancing leaves them feeling focused, happy, and energized.
“I’ve heard that dancers never grow old, and now I believe it,” says White.