October 03, 2011

Dancing for Exercise? Six Big Mistakes To Avoid

Can You Spot the Form Mistake?
(See answer in the Comments)
 Photo: Philippe LeRoyer

I am not the first person to note that dancing is both great fun and great exercise.  The combination of movement and music is exhilarating! And you can pick an appropriate intensity for whatever your mood and fitness goal--whether it's a sexy salsa with your significant other, a zingy zumba class at the gym, a dignified waltz with Uncle Freddie, or some serious suicidin' & downrockin' with all your b-boy & b-girl buddies.

(And just how pathetically obvious is it that I know absolutely nothing about urban dance?)

But what if... horror of horrors...  you're doing it all wrong? The repercussions could be as minor as an eyeroll from your significant other, up to far more dire scenarios ending in serious injury, insanity, or death.

Sound like fun?

OK, I'm exaggerating, as usual.  Dancing is only rarely a fatal activity.  But playing on fears of doing something "wrong" is one of the time honored ways of getting people to click on links and read things!

But here's what I've managed to scrape up in the way of advice:  

1. Don't be a scaredy-cat

Photo: Buntekuh

The biggest mistake of all is to avoid dancing altogether because you fear you will suck at it.

Dancing is a blast!  It's also really beneficial for your health and well-being. I'm too lazy to go over the many health benefits of dancing, but since others have explained why dancing is good for you and even how it will make you smarter, it's safe to just trust me on this.

However, I don't really practice what I preach. I love moving to music, and was an aerobic and step class addict back in the 80's and 90's.  And sure, I'll still disco-dance my foolish ass off during summers in Provincetown, where Tea Dance at the Boatslip is a bizarre and uninhibited local institution. The fact that I am not graceful or coordinated doesn't matter--just give me a cocktail and a crowded dance floor full of drag queens, drunk bachelorettes, circuit boys, and various rhythm-challenged old fogeys like myself, and in my own mind: voila, I am invisible!

However, in the last decade or so I seem to have developed a fear of any dance environment where (a) steps must be learned and (b) other people are present.  Even a beginner class is intimidating, because a combination of increasing age and self-consciousness render me incapable of memorizing more than two movements in a row. 

Isn't that stupid? No one cares how doofy I look if I don't know the steps. So I may try to confront this fear, we'll see. Inspired by bloggers like Sylvia, I'm thinking of trying a Zumba class when we rejoin our gym in San Diego in November. (I'll just have to work really really hard on inventing a magic invisibility cloak in the next few weeks).

2. Don't Use Dancing as An Excuse for Crappy Food Choices.

Yes, dancing counts as exercise!  But if you consult this amusing calorie chart that helpfully points out that 1 hour of fast ballroom dancing permits you to eat 1.4 Grande Starbucks Caffe Lattes made with whole milk, half a McDonald's Big Mac With cheese, 4.9 glasses of wine, 1.4 Snickers Bars, or 1.9 cans of Coca-Cola, you might get the wrong idea about proper post-workout nutrition.

3. Perform a "Reality" Check

Dancing is everywhere on TV these days, whether it's the misfit show-tune-belting performers on Glee, the B-list celebs on Dancing With the Stars, or the ever-hopeful contestants on So You Think You Can Dance. However, the carefully calculated media images you're exposed to can sometimes cause confusion!

So warning: please don't be shocked when stage lights, back-up singers and orchestras don't magically appear when you start to bust a few moves down at the local shopping mall. Or try not to be disappointed that you can't emulate Kirstie Alley and magically shed a quick 100 pounds after taking up dancing.  You may also be surprised to discover that without a team of coaches and hours and hours a day to practice, you can't quite pull of the acrobatic leaps, spins, flips, and twirls that you see on your screen without causing major bodily injury.  And if you do happen to be pretty darn good?  Then you may be appalled to discover that absolutely no one is calling you up offering you huge prizes or starring roles in tv programs!

The biggest source of confusion of all?  Many people seem to be under the impression that sitting on their asses watching hour after hour of other people dancing on TV constitutes exercise.  Sadly, some actual physical activity is required--and pushing the buttons on your remote control to fast forward through commercials doesn't really count.

4. Be Careful If You Want to Go Pro

Well, if movies are any indication, it's scary to be a professional dancer! If you don't go Black-Swan insane, you're at least at risk of being Chorus-Lined into breast implants or will be tragically undone by your demonic Red Shoes.

And there's at least a little actual research to back up the notion that professional dancing comes with certain risks.  Not only are there the physical injuries, but ballet dancers are at increased risk of  anorexia and have an unusually strong preoccupation with achieving a low body weight.

5. Don't Dance Yourself to Death.

Here's where we get to the fun part about fatalities... ever heard of the Dancing Plague of 1518?  Hundreds of folks were seized with the uncontrollable desire to dance and didn't stop for days and days until many died. Oh, and during the depression, at least a couple of contestants perished during grueling dance marathons trying to win cash prizes.

And has the whole take ecstasy and dance until you croak fad ended yet? I'm thinking that trend went out in the 90's, but what do I know, I don't stay up late enough to know whether the young folks are still having raves.

6. Don't Be A Total Asshat!

Beware: combining the exuberance of dancing, a show-offy personality, and a bucket full of alcohol may result in serious injury and public humiliation. This YouTube video compilation has been out there a while, and in it are a few innocent folks who did nothing but stand in the wrong place and get clobbered by idiots. But most of those showcased fall into the "way asking for it" category. Don't let this be you!

So do any of you love dancing? Fear it? A little of both?


  1. The "form mistake" alluded to in the picture caption? The man behind the dancers appears to be picking his nose.

    You're welcome.

  2. You forgot the all-important accessory that some of us coordination-impaired people require while dancing: the brown paper bag over the head, so you're not recognizable. Very important if video cameras are around.

  3. Dancing is great exercise and lots of fun too! If you have a good teacher for the class, you will love Zumba! When I did it I couldn't stop laughing!

    “You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching,
    Love like you'll never be hurt,
    Sing like there's nobody listening,
    And live like it's heaven on earth.”
    ― William W. Purkey

  4. It's not that I fear dancing, it's that I respect it too much to try. As for the video, I could see all of those things happening to me.

  5. Dancing is fun! Something I pretty much never get to do except in the aerobic capacity these days. But Zumba is fun! I've not made it to a live class yet, but I have DVDs at home and I love it. If you are laughing and grinning while exercising, you know you are doing something right. :)

  6. Dancing Plague? This is the best fitness blog, nay, any type of blog, on the whole Interwebz.

  7. Oh my goodness Jill, don't know how you found Cranky Fitness, but that's high praise from a writer of your caliber! I am, however, embarrassed to have even mentioned b-boys etc in that it appears you actually know that world. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    And thanks Merry, Dr. J, Leah & JavaChick, what would I do without you guys to entertain me on a monday morning?

  8. Well goodness gracious Dear Crabby - how did you know my tap classes started again last night?

    For those of you who fear you are uncoordinated and not "good enough" for dance or dance classes - find a good studio and go for it. Most of us who enjoy dancing LOVE to help people learn. If you're being snubbed, you're in the wrong place. If you're being laughed at - give 'em a good kick in the shins. After all, everyone was a beginner at some point.

  9. Hey Bdaiss, great to hear that you skilled and graceful veterans aren't gonna make fun of us newby klutzes!

    Hmm, for some reason I suddenly have that "Mercy" song in my head... :)

  10. Thanks for the laughs. Thinking I'll steer clear of trying new dance moves near TVs.

    I would love to take a dance class from Ellen.

  11. There is dance and then there is dance! Dancing can be fun and a great way to exercise, especially if you use the Zumba fitness program like I do. Two benefits in one - fun and fitness.

    Lovely article!

  12. Dancing and exercising at the same time would be very relaxing as we feel like enjoying where as we are doing workouts.That's why aerobics is becoming that much popular.

  13. I love dancing more than just about anything else! I think your tips are right on, especially #6. I would also like to add that you (meaning me, natch) should not try aerial moves or lifts on a whim. Just last weekend: THUNK. Ow.

  14. Funny video, I could be some of those people. Dancing is fun, but I am NOT coordinated.I did aerobics back in the day and it would take me a month to figure out all the moves. Then they would change them.

  15. If I have to learn steps, I'm out. I did it in ballet class, for art's sake. I won't do it for exercise's sake, since I love to improvise to music. Strange, for such a shy child as I was, how even in my early teens I had no problem just moving to the music without caring what anybody thought.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  16. After seven agonizing years of forced ballet lessons as a very uncoordinated and not at all ballet type child, i'll do a dance exercise DVD when alone, or a slow dance with Sweetie if we are at a wedding. That's it.

  17. Dancing for exercise is pretty much the most fun way to trick your mind into thinking your just having fun and not actually working at anything.

    I absolutely love the Zumba program and the atmosphere in the live class is infectious, as I've recently learned. The instructor definitely makes a huge difference though. I suppose that's true with any exercise group though.

    Oh, and a dancing plague!? That's just awesome! I'd love to be a part of that...aside from the whole end with death. Also, if anyone really needs back up dancers, go to a class, stand in the front and let your brain create your own little world.

  18. I don't know what to say BUT I love the funny video & all the other drunk or crazy dance falls I see on TV! ;-)

    I used to dance a lot when I was younger but not so much now BUT it is fun & the key is to have fun!

    Yes, to the calorie burning chart & like anythelseesle, you can't out exercise too much eating! ;-)

  19. I love to dance...but found out a few months ago that 300 pounds and dancing all night long at a bar mitzvah = 2 days off work because I can't walk leave.

    I must dance at the Solid Gold Tea...I was always a big fan of the Solid Gold dancers and I love to get my disco on!

    The video had me howling with laughter...The Boss probably thinks I snapped a few gears.

    Thanks for the laughs!

  20. Great post - you've convinced to give Zumba a try and not feel a total idiot!

  21. Oh that video cracked me up.. until I realized that it could so easily be me.

  22. Dancing is a great way to have fun while exercising! Unless you are a professional dancer, it's almost unavoidable to not look foolish at times. The thing is, nobody really cares what you look like- so you shouldn't either!

  23. Those videos always make me cringe. Ouch, ouch, ouch. A little common sense, people!

    I desperately miss the time, about 10 (egad!) years ago now, when I had a regular ballroom night. Particularly when I could find a tall fellow who knows enough quickstep to keep my heart rate up. Salsa, jive, East Coast swing...all good for forgetting that what you're doing is healthy and just having fun!

    You remind me, to my chagrin, that there is a dance studio TWO BLOCKS from my new home (er, where I've lived for two and a half years now), and I still have yet to darken their door. Shame on me. Best hop to it.

  24. Dancing is fun! Something I pretty much never get to do except in the aerobic capacity these days. But Zumba is fun! I've not made it to a live class yet, but I have DVDs at home and I love it.

  25. This book is fantastic! It is divided into 3 categories, Self, Science, and Sweat.In Self, she teaches you how to build a support groups and revamp your negative self image and filter out those individuals in your life that are harmful to your health. She also provides a test to find out what type of 'oxidizer' (the way you burn nutrients) you are which helps you decide your nutrition plan.

  26. Best dancing advice?: Stop caring what people think!
    I was at prom last night, where everyone else is butt humping, and started dancing ridiculously. I wasn't trying to show off, or be good. I also did not dance sexually once, because I'm a role model and sh*t. I hated all of the music, too, but that didn't stop me.
    I even went up on the dance floor once when everyone else had left (it was a Chris Brown song) and started doing my stupid dances. I got applause and everyone came back. Not to mention how many times I was told that I'm awesome and brave and hilarious. Plus about 12 high fives. People love to laugh.

    Don't worry about dancing well or looking good when you dance. Go crazy and make a fool of yourself!

  27. I've danced for 15 years and I love it! I think it's a great way to exercise, I also go to the gym and run but dancing is by far the best!


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