Dance Your Way to Health

by Joyce Luhrs

Dancing is not only fun and a great way to socialize, mix, and mingle, but it’s also a good way to stay physically fit. Exercise doesn’t have to be utter drudgery, especially when you can dance your way to health.

Doctors have long proclaimed the health benefits of social and ballroom dancing. Throughout history, doctors _ “‘ have recommended dance as good exercise to some very notable patients. It’s a mild form of exercise for the heart. It’s much more pleasurable than walking, and probably much more thorough because it involves the entire body. In fact, President Eisenhower’s physician, Dr. Paul Dudley White, was one of the first doctors to recognize the value of ballroom dancing as a valuable form of exercise. “He recommended it to President Eisenhower,’ explained Stan Martin of Englewood, New Jersey, who, with his dance partner and wife, Judie, have taught ballroom dancing to students in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

The Martins have espoused the health benefits of social dancing throughout their professional dance career performing for several years as an adagio team on several continents, while also continuing to teach ballroom dance to individuals, couples, and groups in the United States. A dancer since childhood, Judie was classically trained as a ballerina. Stan moved up the career ladder at Fred Astaire Dance Studios to the top level of teaching other instructors how to dance in a ballroom style.


Several leading research centers have touted the physical fitness benefits of social dancing. For example, the Mayo Clinic reported dancing is not only a great way to have fun and socialize but also offers several health benefits. Dance 30 minutes continuously, and you will bum 200 to 400 calories, the same as walking, swimming, or cycling. Their research found social dancing provides these physical health benefits:
*Cardiovascular conditioning. Consistent social dance exercise leads to a slower heart rate, lower blood pressure, and improved cholesterol levels. They recommend 30 to 40 minutes of continuous activity three to four times a week. The degree of cardiovascular conditioning depends on how vigorously you dance, how long you dance continuously, and how regularly.

* Strong bones. The side-to-side motions of many ballroom dances such as Mambo and Swing strengthen the tibia, fibula, and femur and also help in the prevention or slow loss of bone mass associated with osteoporosis.

Dr. Amy Cousins, a gynecologist in private practice in Binghamton, New York who also owns a dance studio, described the numerous health benefits of social dancing. “Dancers I know have much better posture. They know how to balance their weight and move and have fewer accidents in the first place because they’re supple and their joints are moving. [Ballroom dancing] makes it easier to climb stairs, and avoids developing a dowager’s hump, often seen in older women.”

“For young people who work at a desk all day humped at a computer, this may be the on~ to avoid having a slipped disk later on. It keeps their bodies mobile and their joints moving,” stated Cousins.

She added that while other forms of exercise and contact sports may also keep you mobile, those have certain risks. “This [social dancing] has all of the advantages and none of the disadvantages. In research studies, they tested people doing a Quickstep; it’s the same caloric level as running a four minute mile… social dancing is an all around good exercise.”


Dancing is also a good way to unwind. “I have one student who is a nursing supervisor who refers to her evening of social dancing as her mental health night. Others find the dancing to be relaxing and a relief from everyday business pressures and stresses. Psychiatrists, many who come for their own pleasure, also recommend it for their patients. The movement to music is always a superior form of relaxation,” stated Martin, who also operates social dance parties in New York City and New Jersey for people of all ages, with many attending for the good workout and exercise the dancing provides.


Recovering from an operation can be trying. Prescribed exercise and movement are often a part of physical therapy. A study conducted at the California State University at Long Beach a few years ago showed beginning students can derive health benefits from Ballroom dancing that equal aerobic dancing or jogging. Forty-five subjects (ages 18 to 35) warmed up five minutes followed by a 20-minute aerobic exercise with a Chacha, a Polka, two Swing dances of Jitterbug and Lindy, a Viennese Waltz, and a Samba. Most of the people got their heart rates up to recommended training rates, particularly with the Polka, Swing, and the Waltz. Results showed some forms of Ballroom dancing burn between 250 and 300 calories per hour and up to 400 calories with fast, vigorous dancing.

Dance instructor Dr. Peter Collins has witnessed first-hand the rehabilitative benefits of dancing among his students. He relayed the story of two female dance students who broke their hips around the same time. One opted to start dancing one month after the surgery, and the other wanted to wait until she was completely better. The student that danced one month after the surgery recuperated faster. The other student who didn’t complained of feeling stiff and sore, a year later. She was out of shape,’ said Collins, co-owner of a Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Englewood, New Jersey.

” Another student broke her shoulder falling off a horse. While recuperating, she wanted to go back into dancing. After six weeks, she was stiff and sore and decided to get back on the dance floor. Her knees, ankles, and legs weren’t used a lot. My student was mentally a little down. Her husband was a charging horse, and couldn’t wait to start dancing again. I calmed him down a little. By the end of the lesson, she was raring to go. By dancing, she’s getting her circulation going again. She gets into the dancing now,” noted Collins, formerly a physicist with the United States government.

Collins is a firm believer that dancing as a form of exercise is good physical activity. “Physical activity promotes healing. At any age it promotes muscle toning. It promotes circulation, but it also helps mentally getting into the music and dancing. It makes residual pain bearable. You heal faster, especially after a long period of inactivity,’ he said.

Joyce Luhrs is president of Luhrs & Associates, a marketing, public relations, proposal writing and development company based in New Jersey. She may be reached at 201-592-2196 or