Dance Fitness: Converting Art to Sport

By: Tori Fyock ’15, Campus Recreation Services Group Fitness Instructor
Terps dancing for fitness in Cole Fieldhouse at "Dance Through the Decades"

Terps dancing for fitness in Cole Fieldhouse at “Dance Through the Decades”

Dance is a physically taxing activity that puts performers at high risk for injury by its very nature – traditional dance training is unnatural to the human body. According to a 1975 study in the Journal of Sports Medicine, ballet was ranked as the number one most physically and mentally demanding activity, followed by football and bullfighting. The premise of traditional dance is perfecting the lines on the human body with controlled body positioning and limb extensions. In everyday life, no human being should ever turn out his or her hips nor walk on their toes as ballet dancers do, but that strain is the essence of basic training.  It is beauty over everything because dance is not a sport; it is an art. And in order to maintain the artistry, the subject must make sacrifices.

This is not to say that dancers are not athletes. The ability to play a sport and the ability to be an athlete are mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, the career lifespan of a dancer closely resembles that of the stereotypical athlete today. Most dancers retire in their late 30’s due to aging or bodily damage.

This is why dance fitness classes like our Zumba® and Hip Hop Shake options through Campus Recreation pose such a dilemma for group gitness instructors.

The objective of a dance fitness class is to provide a means of exercise that walks the line between dance and sport.

Not only do dance fitness classes disguise a holistic cardiovascular workout, but they also improve coordination, boost memory, enhance flexibility and provide a social outlet for participants.

Here are some principles that we bring from classical dance training to class, and the caveats that we steer away from:

  1. Bend your knees. Unless you want my soul to cry, please heed the warning to bend your knees when you jump in your classes. This is the first thing every dancer learns because by bending at those joints, you can not only propel yourself higher in the air, but also cushion your knee caps from the shock of landing back on the floor.
  2. Engage your core. If you have taken any of my abs series classes, you have heard the phrase “Belly button back to spine”. My Russian ballet instructor made sure this was always the posture in class, and it’s a principle that you can apply anywhere. By engaging your lower abdominal muscles, you automatically straighten your spinal cord, lifting your chest higher and correcting your overall stance.
  3. You don’t need to look pretty doing it. Modern dance, pioneered by Martha Graham, was the beginning of contemporary movement that focused on body alignment and contracting. To this day, despite drastically increased popularity, modern dance is not considered beautiful by a majority of audiences, but it is the most natural on the human body. Don’t pretend to be a contestant on Dancing with the Stars in Zumba®; it’s not natural!
  4. Learn the combos, but feel free to make it your own. As we always say, there are no mistakes, only solos. Professional dancers are confined by the limits of choreography, while dance fitness classes use choreography as a guide. Instructors simplify movements and repeat combinations to engage less seasoned participants, but if you want to challenge yourself, go ahead and try a different arm with that salsa. After all, the class is for you.
  5. Control your pops. Whether it’s shimmies or twerking, we yell to encourage you to have fun with it, but use your muscles to control your body. Flailing is never promoted in dance nor fitness and strains your body.
  6. Pay attention to form when squatting. The most common mistake that we see in class is a squat that takes everything low, including the chest. By letting go of your upper body as well, you are handicapping your leg muscles from getting any kind of workout.
  7. Stay for cool down! Take advantage of the elasticity of your warm muscles and stay until the end of the class to stretch and properly reduce your heart rate. It’s no longer than 5 minutes, and I promise it makes such a huge difference in your flexibility and  how sore you feel the next day.
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