Diabetes Self-Management Articles

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So You Think You Can’t Dance?

by Sheila A. Ward, PhD, MPH

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson tapping his way up and down the stairs. Ginger Rogers gliding across the big screen in high heels. Gene Kelly singing and swinging in the rain. These may be some of the first images that come to mind when you think of dancing. Perhaps you’ve never pictured yourself as a dancer, but the fact is that you don’t have to have Bill’s fancy footwork, Ginger’s grace, or Gene’s rhythm to have a whole lot of fun and enjoy the very real health benefits of dancing.

A dance a day keeps the doctor away
As someone with diabetes, you’re most likely aware of the many plusses of physical activity, such as increased insulin sensitivity, a stronger heart, and improved cholesterol levels. Even the brain appears to be positively affected by exercise: At any age, exercise acts as a mood booster, and physically active seniors have been shown in research studies to perform better on mental tasks and to have a decreased risk of Alzheimer disease.

But the benefits of dancing don’t end there. For one thing, dancing is a weight-bearing activity (in which the body works against gravity), which means it helps strengthen the bones. Dancing may also help to strengthen abdominal and thigh muscles and improve balance, posture, and coordination. This may, in turn, reduce the risk of falling. Additionally, stretching, which is a part of some dance classes, can enhance the range of motion in some joints.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of dance, however, is that it’s fun. Dancing often offers the opportunity for socializing and making friends, it’s accompanied by music (also a mood booster), and it gives you the chance to feel like a star sashaying your way across the floor.

There are numerous ways to participate in dance. You can take dance classes, attend social dances, and, in some communities, join a dance troupe, company, or club that practices and performs together.

Styles of dance
There are many different forms of dance, and most styles will have a beginner-level class that introduces the basic moves and techniques of the style. However, the basic ingredients of a dance class will differ depending on the style of dance you choose. For instance, lessons in folk dancing and social dancing may consist of just a short warm-up followed by learning a few steps or a combination of steps. Lessons in performance-style dances such as jazz dance, ballet, and modern dance, on the other hand, may include a warm-up, an across-the-floor (a series of traveling steps that go from one end of the dance floor to the other), a combination (a short series of dance moves or steps, which may grow into a larger routine over the course of the dance sessions), and a cooldown.

In either case, the warm-up is meant to prepare the body for physical activity by gradually increasing blood flow to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that will be used for the class. It may include a series of stretches and flexibility exercises or a short review of previously taught steps. The cooldown, which typically uses gentle movements and stretches similar to those of the warm-up, is designed to safely return the body to its resting state and reduce muscle cramping and soreness.

Different dances feature different types of movement and use different types of music. You may have to try a few styles to find one that suits you. Or you may find you enjoy many styles of dance. Here are just a few of the options:

African. African dance is distinguished by rhythmic body movements, the use of all parts of the body (not just the arms and legs), and a somewhat forward-bending posture, rather than the upright posture of, say, a ballet dancer. Most African dance steps are performed with the feet and knees facing forward, rather than being angled outward, as in some other dance styles. Percussion often dominates the music for African dance, and dance studios sometimes hire drummers to accompany classes and rehearsals.

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Also in this article:
Chair and Wheelchair Dancing



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Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.



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