Think you need to be a Dancer-with-a-capital-D to take a dance class? Fear you’re not coordinated or fit enough to tap into the rhythm of the music and let your body flow? You can probably come up with plenty of reasons not to dance, but in doing so, you’re missing out on the benefits of this multifaceted form of movement.
“Dancing is a workout in disguise,” says Jeimy Bueno Prisby, a Life Time elite performer and virtual performer development coach. It gets you moving, twisting, and shaking in all directions and brings your heart rate up. And it’s fun. “You forget you’re working out,” she says.
Physically, dance is a creative and effective cardio workout. It can help improve heart and lung function; improve balance, agility, and coordination; and build some muscle and bone strength.
Emotionally, dance can be a phenomenal mood booster and stress reducer: Dancing induces your body to release serotonin and other feel-good hormones.
In addition to these benefits, multiple studies have found that dance provides cognitive, antiaging, and social boons as well.
- Social dance, including ballroom, Latin, and swing, has been shown to increase the size of the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in learning and memory.
- Dancing improves cognitive flexibility, the ability to adapt to new or changing situations. This can help keep the mind sharp and is associated with reduced risk of dementia.
- Tango dancing is associated with improved balance and gait in older adults.
- Other benefits include the social connections formed with classmates or a partner; the potential for enhanced cultural understanding (many forms of dance are linked to heritage); and the practice of embracing a beginner mindset by routinely learning new moves.
Consider this expert advice for letting go of preconceived notions about your dancing ability and finding a dance style that will help you get moving.
Get Out of Your Head
One of the most common stumbling blocks people face when debating whether to take a dance class is the fear of looking foolish.
“I have students who worry about embarrassing themselves, and I keep telling them, ‘Everybody is looking at themselves. No one is looking at you,’” says Niosha Nafei-Jamali, owner of Niosha Dance Academy, a dance studio in San Jose and Pleasanton, Calif., that specializes in Persian dance, belly dance, ballet, and Zumba. Keep that in mind lest your fear of judgment prevent you from joining a class.
If you’re nervous, consider taking a spot in the back of the room as you follow along at first, and then move closer to the front as you become more comfortable and confident, Bueno Prisby suggests.
Online dance classes are a great entry point for nervous beginners. Nafei-Jamali has recently been teaching classes via Zoom exclusively, and Bueno Prisby leads live classes via the Life Time Digital app.
Remember It’s a Skill
Many people assume they need inborn talent to dance, but that’s simply not true. “There’s nothing in our DNA or in our blood that says one person can dance and another can’t,” Nafei-Jamali explains.
She encourages students to abandon hang-ups around being good, especially when just getting started. Like any other activity or movement pattern, dancing is a skill you can develop and hone. Focus on feeling the rhythms and learning the steps; you can add style later.
What’s more important than whether or not dancing comes naturally is having a willingness to meet yourself where you are, regardless of age, ability, or fitness level. “Learning to dance is like learning a new language,” Nafei-Jamali says. “Give yourself time. And practice.”
Nafei-Jamali and Bueno Prisby suggest modifying moves as needed in ways that suit your body, skill level, and energy. When in doubt about how to modify a movement, communicate with your instructor.
Find a Class
Unless you have a strong preference or dislike for certain types of music or dance, there’s no reason not to try various classes until you find something that clicks.
The options at health clubs and dance studios run the gamut from fitness-forward dance classes, like Dance Jam, Zumba, Jazzercise, and Aqua Dance, to classes featuring skill-focused and culture-based styles, such as jazz, bachata, flamenco, belly dance, bhangra, and more.
Consider what type of music you like and whether you’re more interested in solo, partner, or group dancing. And be honest with yourself about your skill level and the experience required for a class. For instance, don’t sign up for an advanced swing class if you’re new to partner dancing.
If you’re hesitant to try a full-on dance class, dip your toe in the water with barre, which draws inspiration from ballet, or Pilates, which many dancers use to build strength or recover from injuries.
Once you find a class you’d like to try, sign up. “You might love it, or perhaps it’s not for you at the moment — but unless you try, you can’t say, ‘It’s not for me,’” says Bueno Prisby. “You have nothing to lose and all the smiles and movement to win.”
(Ready to move and groove like you’re on the dance floor — and get in a full-body cardio workout? Try this 30-minute version of Life Time’s Dance Jam class from the comfort of your home.)
This article originally appeared as “Let’s Dance” in the November 2022 issue of Experience Life.