Monday 22 July 2019

Bopping away the calories: Dance as a means to boost your health is having a moment

Whether you like to hip-hop or tango, dance as a means to get into shape and boost your health is having a moment, writes Kathy Donaghy

Dancing is a great way to get fit
Dancing is a great way to get fit
Dublin-based dancer and choreographer Jane Shortall
Jess Colivet says dancing gives her a boost

Kathy Donaghy

While many of us thought our dancing days were behind us once we left the teenage disco years, dancing is being touted not just as a means to get fitter, but also to get happy on your fitness journey.

Celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson, who helps hone the bodies of celebrity clients such as Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, claims dance is her favourite cardio workout. And she says it's frustrating when people think you have to become a dancer to do it - because you don't.

In Britain, the National Health Service (NHS) devotes a page on its website to the various types of dance classes available nationally and highlights the benefits of dancing for fitness.

Dublin-based dancer and choreographer Jane Shortall believes that many people are looking to fitness activities that aren't all about going to the gym. Having worked on numerous music videos and films, she says what people love about dance is the fact that they gain so much more than fitness.

Dublin-based dancer and choreographer Jane Shortall
Dublin-based dancer and choreographer Jane Shortall

Leaving Ireland with a longing to be a dancer saw Jane fall in love with hip-hop in the clubs of New York, where she started to take classes herself. She felt it was something people back at home in Ireland would love.

"There's a reason I've stuck with it - when you're passionate about something, people can see you're authentic," says Jane, whose ConfiDance classes in Stillorgan in Dublin are packed to the rafters.

"You never stop learning with dance. There's so much I'm learning when I'm working myself. I think people need an outlet to have fun and get out of the house," she says.

ConfiDance was born after Jane had numerous conversations with women who wanted to try something different, build confidence in themselves and get fitter while learning a routine.

Her classes now combine a mixture of African Salsa, hip-hop and commercial dance, channelling everything from classical music to Beyonce. Jane choreographs a routine depending on the song and the dancers in her class learn the routine with a bit of practice at home.

"I would usually repeat the same choreography first and we'd break it down till everybody gets it. Then we get into groups and perhaps do a dance-off in smaller groups," says Jane.

Jess Colivet says dancing gives her a boost
Jess Colivet says dancing gives her a boost

However, she says it's not a case of having to do everything perfectly: she gives her class participants the moves and they in turn develop their own style.

"The more you let go, the better. I wanted to start a programme like this because I was listening to women be so hard on themselves. I've been dancing my whole life. People love music and they want to be able to dance and to have fun doing it. This is like going to a nightclub in the day time. It's like going to a party and having a ball.

"As an adult it's not cool to just let yourself go. It's all about making sure you act right and speak right. You become a stress ball and forget the person you were at three years old. Dancing is not about being perfect or overanalysing. It's about everyone moving to the same beat and everyone smiling," says Jane.

Jess Colivet, a mum-of-five from Punchestown, Co Kildare, had always wanted to dance and it was in the run up to her 50th birthday a few years ago that she googled dance classes and found Jane Shortall.

Having survived breast cancer, Jess explains that the dance classes were her gift to herself for her birthday. She didn't tell anyone she was taking classes and surprised her family and friends on the night of her birthday party with a routine beautifully choreographed by Jane.

While her family wondered what she was doing when they'd hear her moving around in the bathroom, they never guessed that she was practising her routine in front of the mirror.

"It felt great on the night. My family was so shocked thinking 'what is mum doing?' Afterwards nobody got off the dance floor for the night," says Jess.

She explains that dancing gave her a renewed sense of positivity about life after she was challenged both mentally and emotionally by her brush with cancer.

"The thing about dancing is that nothing comes into your mind when you're doing it. You're so present when you're dancing. Your mind and your body are working together - it's my form of mindfulness. I had wanted to get rid of the brain fog which can accompany treatment. Having to learn the steps really boosted my brain power and it made me fitter and healthier too," says Jess, whose children age in range from 32 to 16.

Jess still travels to Dublin every week for Jane's classes and says come hail, rain or snow, she's there. "I get into my car afterwards and I smile the whole way home. There are so many positive women in the class and the energy is so upbeat. You have to be so present in the moment when you're dancing you're totally de-stressed afterwards. It's just so much fun," she says.

Joe Newman (70) from Swords, Co Dublin is a late convert to the power of dancing but he's not letting that get in his way and dances several times a week.

He believes that men and boys should have more dancing in their lives and says seeing people like former Irish rugby international Peter Stringer strut his stuff on Dancing with the Stars will make men more open to giving it a go.

Having worked all his life, first as a pipe fitter and later as a domestic heating contractor, Joe says dance didn't really have much of a place in his life.

However, when he was running for the local elections in 2014 he was asked to participate in a schools Strictly event and this opened up the world of dancing to him for the first time. He won a free dance lesson with Ciara Francis, the owner and principal dance teacher with Dance Elite in Dublin and now he and Jean, his wife of 45 years, dance and compete in countrywide events.

"It's a challenge but it keeps me active and stops me from sitting in the armchair when I come home in the evening. It makes me get up and get out. By the time I come back home, I'm buzzing with energy. You meet people enjoying themselves, dancing around the room - it's an unbelievable pastime," he says.

As well as twice-weekly practice at Dance Elite in Ballyfermot, Joe and Jean go dancing on a Saturday night to Fingallians GAA Club in Swords. They might also get a bit of practice in around the kitchen table, he says.

"We started as beginners. We won the All Ireland beginners championship and Republic of Ireland beginners championships last year. Now we are competing in the novice category. This keeps us mentally and physically fit. We have goals and challenges and they're all achievable," says Joe.

"I think boys should be encouraged to dance at a younger age because they don't know what they're missing. I've really taken to it and I'm serious about it. My wife was looking for someone to dance with for 40 years and now she has me," he laughs.

It's estimated that aerobic dance can burn upwards of 443 calories an hour and yes, even dancing around your kitchen counts.

While calorie expenditure through exercise is an individual matter and the number of calories you burn during a workout depends on your body weight, body fat percentage, muscle density, and intensity and duration of your exercise, dance is a great way of incorporating high intensity exercise into your routine.

According to the American Council on Exercise, rhythmic dances such as the foxtrot and waltz offer an especially low-impact option for dance workouts, even though they burn the fewest number of calories, coming in at an average of about 260 calories an hour.

However, when it comes to salsa, this burns nearly double that of less vigorous styles, coming in at about 500 calories an hour.

Music makes a difference, too - the more beats per minute, the more calories you'll burn.

But it's not just the calorie burn. Dances such as the jitterbug, tango and paso doble focus on toning the arms, thighs and core, while hip-hop and salsa styles focus squarely on trimming the body from the waist down.

How to dance away the calories

It’s estimated that aerobic dance can burn upwards of 443 calories an hour and yes, even dancing around your kitchen counts.

While calorie expenditure through exercise is an individual matter and the number of calories you burn during a workout depends on your body weight, body fat percentage, muscle density, and intensity and duration of your exercise, dance is a great way of incorporating high intensity exercise into your routine.

According to the American Council on Exercise, rhythmic dances such as the foxtrot and waltz offer an

especially low-impact option for dance workouts, even though they burn the fewest number of calories, coming in at an average of about 260 calories an hour.

However, when it comes to salsa, this burns nearly double that of less vigorous styles, coming in at about 500 calories an hour.

Music makes a difference, too — the more beats per minute, the more calories you’ll burn.

But it’s not just the calorie burn. Dances such as the jitterbug, tango and paso doble focus on toning the arms, thighs and core, while hip-hop and salsa styles focus squarely on trimming the body from the waist down.

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