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So You Think You Can’t Dance?

by Sheila A. Ward, PhD, MPH

Ballet. Although contemporary styles of ballet may borrow elements from other types of dance, traditional ballet is characterized by an erect body position, precise movements, and use of classical music. For most steps, the legs are rotated outward at the hips, causing the knees and feet to turn outward. In ballet classes, at least some of the exercises are done while holding onto the ballet bar. This can be a good way to increase strength safely for people with balance problems.

Ballroom. Ballroom dance originated in European court dances, but today it reflects African-American and Latin-American influences, as well. Styles of ballroom dance include waltz, foxtrot, tango, cha-cha, swing, and others. With very few exceptions, all of these are danced with a partner. At the beginner level, ballroom dance may not offer much of an aerobic workout, but when the steps and styling of a dance are mastered, any one of them can be quite vigorous.

Belly. Belly dancing originated in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures. True to its name, one of the main areas of focus of this dance style is the stomach, but other body parts, such as the hips, back, and arms, are also used. This dance is sometimes accompanied by the playing of zills, or finger cymbals worn by the dancer.

Hip-hop. Hip-hop dance is one of the main elements of hip-hop culture, which originated in New York City in the 1970’s. Various styles of dance, including hip-hop dancing and break dancing, are done to hip-hop music. While certain forms of hip-hop dancing can include acrobatic moves such as cartwheels and headspins (spinning while balanced on the head), basic hip-hop dance moves can be performed even by beginning dancers.

Line. Line dancing is often done to country music, but there are also swing-style dances and folk dances that are done in line formations rather than with a partner. Dancers may be arranged in straight lines or other patterns, and, typically, all the dancers do the same moves or steps at the same time.

Modern. Modern dance was developed as a response to (or rebellion against) the rigid rules of ballet, such as the use of turned-out hips as a primary position. However, modern dance is not without its own rules. The various pioneers of modern dance established their own sets of skills, techniques, and principles of movement for their style of dance. What is taught in a beginning modern dance class, then, will depend largely on the training and focus of the instructor. In some cases, improvisation will be an important part of the class.

Square. Square dancing has its roots in the dances of New England settlers and immigrants. In this type of social dance, each person takes a partner, and groups of four couples face one another to form a square. When the music starts, a caller calls out the steps for the dancers to perform.

Sword. Sword dancing, a ceremonial type of dance found in many cultures, typically involves the use of an unsharpened dance sword or similar object to depict fights or rituals.

Tap. Tap dancing is derived from various influences, including African and Irish dance. It involves creating rhythms with shoes that are specially outfitted with taps, or thin metal plates, affixed to the heel and toe areas.

Footwear and foot care
The type of shoes you wear for dancing will depend on the type of dance you decide to pursue — shoes for ballroom dancing, for instance, often have high heels (at least for women) to keep the center of gravity forward, while shoes for hip-hop dancing are generally flat-soled sneakers. In spite of these differences, there are some general rules that can be used for choosing a suitable pair of dancing shoes. First, make sure the shoes don’t pinch your toes — but also make sure that there’s not so much room in the front of the shoe that your foot slides from side to side. The heel should be snug enough to prevent your heel from slipping out when you move. Leather shoes will conform to the foot better than shoes made from synthetic materials and will allow some sweat to evaporate, keeping the foot drier. When purchasing shoes (and periodically thereafter), feel inside for torn lining, lumpy insoles, prominent seams, or any other features that may irritate the feet. Shoes with these characteristics should not be purchased (or should be thrown away if they are your current shoes).

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Also in this article:
Chair and Wheelchair Dancing



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