DANCING FOR FITNESS OR FITNESS FOR DANCING? - A Personal Experience From Our Founder

A lot of people mention to me that dancing must be great for fitness. Yes and No. Let me explain further. 

Dancing is GREAT activity if you want to stay healthy. Its believed that even a brisk walk daily is supposed to keep people healthy. Dancing actually is way more than brisk walking. The hand gestures, facial expressions (yes there are so many facial muscles used when you are expressing), footwork and the co-ordination between all those makes it a great fitness regimen. But thats all good when you are mostly socially dancing and doing a few shows once in a while. 

When it comes to competitive dancing, it takes you to whole another level. Dancing everyday is NOT "necessarily" going to make you fitter. In fact, its going to cause more wear and tear at the muscle and tissue level and guess what? You will be more prone to injuries. When I started my Latin / Ballroom training, I used to dance 4-5 days a week, few hours each time and weekend could go as long as all day. I used to think its making me fitter and stronger. But as days passed and as I was spending little or no time in taking care of my body (no resting and no stretching), my body started wearing out. At the end of my 2 year training I was struck with a bad back injury which threw me off dancing for a whole year. What did I do wrong? I was surprised as I thought I was in a pretty good shape (also teaching my own fitness class) but then one thing my therapist said stuck with me. He said yes, you are flexible and strong, but not strong enough to do the kind of activity I was doing. I was trying dance moves that a competitive dancer does but without really training my body for it. Those crazy hip movements, the amount of rotation and the speed at which they are done should not be done without warming up every time and more importantly training your core to be stable. Moreover, dancing in heels doesn't make it any easier on your back.

So I studied and observed these competitive dancers to see how they train for dance. I asked questions to dance celebrities on Facebook, read several articles, talked to my physical therapist continuously as I was under therapy for 2 years - whatever it takes for me to figure out why it happened to me. I realized that over a period of time the more you use your body more you need to fuel it (rest, nutrition) as well as cross training to be able to do moves which needs extreme fitness. It might sound pretty obvious, but we often cross those boundaries without realizing. Remember, dancing is a sport and ANY sport requires training. Dancing is not an exception. Have you ever heard of dancers retiring due to injuries? Its not surprising to me when I see stars in DWTS getting injured within few weeks of training. Yes some of it is drama but there is a lot to learn from it. 

Just about the time I had my doubts whether dancing is an anaerobic activity (after talking to my dad and sister who happen to be deep diving fitness freaks) I came across this brilliant article - How to have a dancer's body. Its a no brainer! The article talks about the kind of fitness a dancer’s body needs to have and what you need to do to achieve it. High intensity interval training (HIIT), strength training and plyometrics is required for your body to be able to move that fast with that much power. Let me add another regime from my experience - Yoga (especially Yin Yoga - it saved my back). Its complements the workouts very well and gives your muscles time to rest and recover. 

I studied Tommye Giacchino (my dance coach, idol and my guide from Chicago and a master coach at Windy City Wedding Dance), who is a Blackpool Cabret Champion and a National Judge about her fitness regimen. Her quick response was strength training. She trains 5 days a week doing a mix of cardio, upper body, abs and legs. She mentioned, the last competition she was in she danced 90 dances - it sounds crazy and knowing she is now 53 kicks it up a few notches. But it all makes sense. 

So when you ask that question to yourself, try to think what direction you are going (social or competitive) and try to adapt. Take care of your body, more importantly, learn to listen to your body as you go.

Its much easier to avoid injuries than to recover from them

That does not mean you can't, but you would have wasted your precious time recovering instead of playing your favorite sport. And that applies not just for dancing but a normal lifestyle or any other sport you are pursuing. 

- Uttara Vaidya
Founder, Dance With Panache

Please share your experiences in comments below. 

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