Cha-Cha Your Way to Better Health
Put a little pep in your step — who said exercise can't be fun?
With the 32nd season of "Dancing with the Stars" having recently wrapped up, dance is still in the air. If you enjoyed the music, the moves and the rhinestones, you might want to try ballroom dancing yourself. It could even be your New Year's resolution — ballroom dancing is a great way to get and stay in shape.
This is true at any skill level, meaning you don't need to be "Dancing with the Stars" material to benefit from dancing the cha-cha, waltz, or paso doble. (Though if you've got the skill, flaunt it!)
The benefits of exercise for all age groups are well-documented by organizations like the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), but much of their advice is generic; they say get 150 minutes of cardio per week, but how you get that exercise is up to you.
It could even be your New Year's resolution — ballroom dancing is a great way to get and stay in shape.
This is your reminder that exercise can come in many different flavors, including dance—and research has shown that it's easier to exercise regularly when you're having fun.
While running is excellent for folks who enjoy it and for those whose bodies can handle high-impact activities, dancing is a great way to mix up an old exercise routine or start a new one altogether. Enter ballroom dance!
Ballroom Dance Benefits
Beyond the flashy costumes and catchy music, research pinpoints three specific benefits associated with ballroom dance. It's beneficial as a form of exercise, a way to enhance cognition and an opportunity to socialize.
It's beneficial as a form of exercise, a way to enhance cognition and an opportunity to socialize.
As a form of exercise, ballroom dance has been surprisingly well studied. One study noted that ballroom was the most researched type of dance among the 50 studies they examined. Their analysis concluded that any form of dance benefitted balance and might contribute to metabolic health.
Another study noted that ballroom could improve one's reaction time outside of dance. Though many studies focus on the health benefits of dancing for healthy adults, a 2021 study focused specifically on how ballroom dance impacted the lives of cancer patients.
The Impact on Brain Health
The researchers found that ballroom increased patients' activity levels, emotional health and connection with their dance partner, all supporting their overall well-being. Beyond its fitness benefits, ballroom dance has also been associated with cognitive benefits. A 2022 study offered ten-week courses in ballroom dance and music for older adults; those who attended either course experienced increased cognition.
A preliminary study in late 2022 found that social dancing was "safe and feasible" for dementia-at-risk adults; though more research is needed, they also found less brain atrophy in the dancer group than in the treadmill-walking group, suggesting that dance is more beneficial for brain health.
Regarding the social benefits, one study found that ballroom dancing offered "social and emotional interactions" that other forms of physical activity, such as lifting weights or running, might not. This made the ballroom uniquely suited for people seeking socializing and exercise time. As a 2020 thesis notes, one of the ballroom's biggest draws is its ability to offer a "human connection" to dancers.
'I Wanna Dance With Somebody'
Ballroom dance has a lot of jargon — but don't let it intimidate you. The most accessible way to learn any type of dance is through group classes. This is also a great way to mix exercise with socializing.
Group classes are taught by trained professionals at either a ballroom dance studio or in a school gymnasium through a continuing education program. Though ballroom dancing is done in pairs, you will not need to bring a partner to class. The commitment and buy-in are generally low for group instruction.
When you know a few moves, you have even more options, ranging from intermediate classes to events like studio parties.
To teach new moves, classes are split into leaders and followers. Historically, these have been men and women, but those gender roles don't hold strictly true anymore. Professional instructors dance both parts, and some even compete in same-sex partnerships. (Think Jojo Siwa and Jenna Johnson on Season 30 of "Dancing with the Stars.") So don't feel tied to gender roles if you want to learn one or both sets of moves.
Once you've found a group class, sign up and try! Your instructor will be able to answer any questions you have along the way. When you know a few moves, you have even more options, ranging from intermediate classes to events like studio parties. The latter allows dancers to practice moves from their lessons, meet other dancers and enjoy light refreshments.
Though instructors may be present at these events, they don't typically offer feedback, making this a low-pressure way to dance for fun and maybe make a few new friends.
For more intensive instruction, opt for private lessons, where an instructor will give you, or you and a partner, individual instruction. This is great if you want to make your dance lesson a date night or if you want to try dancing in a showcase or competition down the road.
Do I Need Special Clothes Or Shoes?
Not at first! Unlike tennis, which can be pricey in terms of equipment, court time and instruction, ballroom dance is more financially accessible. Athletic clothing is an excellent choice for any dance class, but you can also wear dress clothes if you prefer that sharp-dressed Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers look.
Though executing more advanced moves in street shoes can be challenging, this is an excellent way to try dancing without purchasing anything.
As long as you can move (and potentially sweat) in your outfit, it's fine for dance. What you wear on your feet matters more. To start, some dancers wear dress shoes or sneakers. Though executing more advanced moves in street shoes can be challenging, this is an excellent way to try dancing without purchasing anything.
Dancing in socks is another option. (And a surprisingly common one — I spent a few years dancing in socks.) For this, any thick pair of socks will do. If you're enjoying ballroom, though, it's worth it to invest in a pair of ballroom dance shoes. These look like dress shoes but have flexible, suede bottoms that allow dancers to slide across the floor quickly.
There are a few different styles. Practice shoes are a good bet, but if you plan on competing, leaders typically wear the dance version of an Oxford dress shoe; followers wear an open- or closed-toe heel, depending on the dance style. The height of that heel is up to the individual dancer.
Most shoes start around $100. You can find them in person, at some dance studios or dance stores, or online. Major brands include Capezio, Bloch and Aida, though many others exist. You can always ask your instructor for suggestions.
See you on the dance floor — cha-cha on!