Dancing to fitness

Sonia Bibershtein knows a thing or to about dance. A physical therapist in the osteoporosis clinic in Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Bibershtein routinely promotes dance to her patients as a healthy exercise regime.“Generally, in terms of osteoporosis, I recommend people do some dancing,” she says. “I think it’s good for their balance, and certainly as a social activity it’s extremely beneficial.”

The dance of choice?
“Line dancing seems to be the thing people have most access to. But Scottish country dancing is actually pretty good as well. It depends on what you’re interested in. And, generally, all you need is a good pair of shoes.”

Benefits for posture
Joanna Speller, a physiotherapist who’s worked with professional dancers, agrees. She’s a former dancer (New York and Toronto) who also teaches pilates in the Athletics and Recreation department at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

“There are lots of benefits, particularly with flexibility and strength,” she says. “And what’s important is postural awareness. That’s particularly applicable to women with osteoporis, who start to see alignment and postural changes. Dance is something that can really enhance good alignment.”

Simply put, dance does its stuff by strengthening the core – the abdominal region, and the spinal region. It’s also a great body-mind activity, giving participants, as Speller puts it, a chance to “get out of your head and into your body.”

Suits abilities
While Speller recommends people choose a dance step that suits their abilities-for  example, however glamorous it may appear, flamenco wouldn’t do for someone who has to catch their breath after a leisurely waltz-she does suggest adopting a style that will emphasize strength and flexibility.

“There’s something fairly new called NIA – neuromuscular integrated action -that combines yoga with dance and martial arts. It’s fairly gentle on the joints, it flows and it feels good. It’s constantly moving, so in that sense it’s good for your heart and lungs. Anything that has you exert yourself, you’re always going to get that release of endorphins that makes you feel good.”

Different types
Ballet is another form of dance gaining in popularity. According to Speller, it makes people aware of their posture, of particular importance as you age.

And for those uninterested in ballets rigid structure, modern dance classes are, says Speller, “the kind of thing you can do until you’re 90. Modern dance is more forgiving on the body. The emphasis is not on turnout. It’s in parallel position, it uses different levels, the floor, so it’s not just upright. There are so many different techniques within the modern approach you can pick what’s good for your body.”

Latin dances are also making a return in popularity. The aforementioned flamenco has drawn a lot of interest, especially from people who have enjoyed dancing in the past, or who have a tap background.

“They love to do it because it’s a great form of stress release,” says Speller. “Rhythmically, it’s very satisfying.”

Suits older bodies
Interestingly, as the population ages, dance in all its variations is setting itself up to become the number one form of exercise, surpassing even the once dominating aerobics.
“The trend towards aerobics is finally dying down,” says Speller. “It doesn’t really suit older bodies. It’s for younger bodies. People are turning to dance because they want to do something gentler that also addresses strength, flexibility, stress release, and feels good to do. It’s not all work. It’s also connected to music.”