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?

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