Dance your way to fitness

When Frances Reilley’s daughter Margaret set the dance for her wedding, Frances (then 52) decided that she and her husband Eamon should brush up on their ballroom dancing. They signed up for a class through Toronto’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“It was so much fun,” says Frances, “To be honest, [At the start] I just wanted to look good at my daughter’s wedding. But I couldn’t remember the last time we’d had so much fun. So even once the class ended we looked for ways to keep it up – besides weddings!”

Ballroom dancing, in the way most people think of it – couples performing waltzes and other dances together – originated in England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as an activity of the upper classes of society. Its popularity gradually trickled down to the working and middle classes, and public dance halls became more common.

Of course the movies – and in particular, the pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – also added glamour and romance to ballroom dancing. But with the advent of rock ‘n roll – and also, perhaps, with high school gym class instruction and embarrassment – ballroom dancing took a back seat. But competitive dance has enjoyed a renewed popularity, and social ballroom dancing is following in its wake.

Benefits spirit and body

Frances and Eamon have kept with it. They found a once-a-month Saturday dance at a local community centre and since then they’ve made it a standing date. Frances says that it’s rekindled the couple’s sense of romance and also provided a new group of friends. “We all cut in on each other and have a great time. It really raises our spirits.”

There is a timeless quality to the marriage of music and motion, and dance can provide a much-needed boost to the spirit. Learning a new skill brings a sense of accomplishment while the physical benefits of dance are great too:

Keep your heart fit: Dancing can raise the heart rate just like any other aerobic activity. Dancing and keeping moving between dances for a 40 minute period will build endurance.

Build muscles: Dancing, particularly as one advances in technique, can improve muscle tone and strength.

Ease your joints: According to the American Journal of Medicine, the best way to avoid arthritis, early arthritis and to remedy current joint discomfort is to continue to use the joints in a controlled manner. Dance provides an excellent way to continue to extend your range of motion.

Posture: Good posture in dance puts the spine in the natural and correct position, helping to keep muscles around the back toned and cutting down on back pain.

And with many local community centres or dance studios offering group lessons, it can also be very affordable. All you need is a good pair of shoes and a willingness to suffer through a few missteps! Here are some places to get started, across the country:

Nanaimo Dance Society:
Vancouver Ballroom Dance club:
University of Calgary Ballroom Dance Club:
Bob’s Winnipeg Dance Pages:
Toronto Parks and Rec:
Edgett Dance Centre in Halifax:
Memorial University of Newfoundland Ballroom & Latin Dance Club:

Photo © Catherine Yeulet

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