dance health

Fit to Dance

Get moving with these dance-inspired workouts.

By Kellee Katagi

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Drop the beat and get moving with these dance-inspired workouts.

When the holidays hit, exercise can seem like drudgery. For the proverbial spoonful of sugar you need to keep yourself moving, try a dance-inspired fitness class. It will add just enough play to keep you engaged, while warding off extra holiday pounds and giving you the energy you need to power through the season. Don’t be fooled, though—just because dance workouts are fun doesn’t mean they’re easy. Possibilities abound; here we highlight a few.

With roots in Africa and Brazil, capoeira blends dance, martial arts, gymnastic-style moves and music, making for a capoeriacomplicated but exhilarating workout that challenges every muscle in your body, including oft-neglected spots such as your face, hands and feet.

The first order of business is to learn ginga, a simple, flowing, dance-like movement in which you step back with one leg as you swing one arm in front of you and then repeat on the other side. That movement is the building block for “playing” capoeira, which in its full form looks like this: Participants stand in a circle called the roda (pronounced “hooda”). Then two players move into the middle, where they employ complementary movements (as if they’re dancing) interspersed with martial-arts-like kicks, punches and dodges—all in time to the rhythmic music. Expert capoeira players use cartwheels, handstands and breakdance-style moves in their attacks and dodges. Most of the class is spent practicing various skills and capoeira components, and it ends with playing instruments (tambourines, drums and a unique percussion instrument called a berimbau) and singing—in Portuguese. (In true capoeira, participants may play instruments, clap and sing while in the roda.)

Because it’s so complicated and unusual, capoeira can be intimidating (and a bit humbling) to try. It may help to remember that nearly everyone needs a long time to learn. “It took me a whole week to learn the ginga, because I came from a martial arts background so I was too stiff,” says Randall Bambu Duval, instructor and cofounder of Capoeira Duas Terras in Aurora. “It might take six months before you feel comfortable in your skin.” Earning a new belt (as in martial arts) usually takes a year or more.

Best for: full-body strength, agility, flexibility, and both aerobic and anaerobic cardio (interval bursts). It’s also the most “manly” of the dance-inspired workouts, attracting as many or more men than women.

If you’ve never done gymnastics, this Cirque de Soleil–style workout (think: trapeze bars, flowing fabric, ropes, hanging hoops) may seem impossibly intimidating. But even for never-evers, aerial dance fitness is surprisingly doable.

aerial dance The circuit-style class alternates traditional exercises such as jump rope, crunches and calf raises, with apparatus stunts like swinging on a trapeze bar, inverting on a suspended hoop or lyra, or gliding through the air with your arms wrapped in fabric that hangs from the ceiling—all of which are not quite as difficult as you might think. Each exercise offers a progression, making it accessible for beginners but still challenging for regulars. And what’s unique about aerial dance—compared to gymnastics, ballet, ice skating or similar disciplines—is how quickly you can transition from novice to expert.

“The learning curve is incredibly fast,” says Gayle Lynne, owner and cofounder of Aerial Dance Over Denver studio. “After just a few weeks, people start to look pretty good.”

Best for: upper-body strength, flexibility, core stability, anaerobic cardio.

This popular workout—available at larger gyms and smaller studios—is styled to resemble a dance party, set to both Latin and pop, club-style music. Instructors lead classes through choreographed routines featuring hops, hip shaking and full-body dance moves that are easy to pick up, even if you don’t have a dance background.

“I tell my participants that this is not a dance class, it’s a workout, so they don’t have to be perfect,” says 24 Hour Fitness Zumba instructor Tammy Brown. “The objective is to just keep moving.” If you’ve been slacking in your fitness routine, Zumba provides a great re-entry point to get you moving again; for more diligent gym-goers, it’s a more engaging cardio choice than a half-hour slog on a machine.

Best for: aerobic and anaerobic cardio, coordination

Keep on Dancing
Here are even more ways to move and groove.

Pole dance. Strip off your inhibitions for this unique workout that builds upper-body strength, flexibility and perhaps your inner tiger.

Hip hop. A fast-moving workout that cranks up the cardio and challenges your coordination. Bonus: You might learn a few moves you could bust out at your next party.

Belly dancing. Learn to isolate foot, hip, abdominal, chest, arm and hand movements in this graceful art. Expect fun: Where else can you wave a veil and play finger cymbals?

Familiar with the barre method? Learn  more

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