You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Shall we dance?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 09-06-2014 Pooja Singh

Priyanka Chauhan used to head straight to the gym after work. Five months into this routine, the 24-year-old computer engineer stopped. “Although it helped me lose weight, I got bored of running and counting repetitions,” says the west Delhi resident. “But given my sedentary lifestyle, I couldn’t afford to not do any physical activity,” she adds.

A month later, in January, Chauhan signed up for a bhangra dance class near her house—and hasn’t missed a session since. “It is a completely different energy in the dance classroom and every session gets more fun each time,” says Chauhan, who has lost 15kg in the five months she has been doing bhangra and following a healthy diet, which includes “weekend indulgences”.

Dance is no longer reserved for clubs, parties or weddings; it is now being seen as a fitness routine. “Dance, irrespective of the form, has a natural cardio element to it, and being a fun activity, it keeps people engaged,” says Kajal Desai, co-founder of Doonya, a Bollywood-inspired fitness company in the US. She and Priya Pandya, the other co-founder, were in New Delhi in April for sports brand Reebok’s Live With Fire campaign to highlight dance as a fitness activity. “You can use any form of dance to focus on aspects like cardio, body conditioning and body control,” says Desai. “It is also a good way to build stamina and keep the heart and mind healthy, happy and stress-free.”

Dance is a good way to build stamina and keep the heart and mind healthyResearch corroborates this. A 2008 paper in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure, which studied 130 people with stable symptoms of chronic heart failure condition (weakening of the heart muscle), reported an improvement in the health of participants who stuck to a waltzing regimen of 21 minutes, three times a week, for two months. A year earlier, a study published in The Arts In Psychotherapy journal had maintained that an upbeat dance session was more effective in beating the blues than vigorous exercise or listening to music. “Few activities stimulate the brain the way dancing does,” says New Delhi-based movement therapist and dance educator Tripura Kashyap. “It releases the happy hormones and gives a natural high, in addition to increasing the body’s metabolism and blood flow.”

Small wonder then that dance is becoming popular as an exercise regime. From zumba to belly dancing and jazz, the different forms are finding takers across age groups—and each style has its own benefits. But can dance replace a gym workout? Fitness experts acknowledge the benefits of dance, but several maintain that no workout is complete without weight training.

One, two, three…

The beauty of dance is that there are many forms to choose from, even for fitness purposes. So, bhangra is a good bet for shaping up legs and shoulders. For an all-body workout and stamina building, zumba can be effective.

“Zumba is a Latin-inspired dance-fitness programme that has the goodness of dance and aerobics. While doing it, you groove to high-energy music without stopping, which makes it an exceptionally effective, popular and entertaining form of fitness exercise,” says Arjun Sandhu, co-founder of the Delhi Dance Academy, which offers classes in various dance forms, including zumba, jazz and Bollywood-style, in the Capital.

In fact, 2012 research funded by the American Council on Exercise found that zumba is a better calorie-burner than cardio kickboxing, step aerobics and power yoga. In 1 minute, the study said, zumba burnt an average of 9.5 kcal, power yoga and step aerobics 6 kcal, and cardio kickboxing 8 kcal. “Zumba is the most popular fitness dance form at our academy. Since 2012, we have seen a fivefold increase in zumba participation,” says Sandhu.

Bollywood-style dance may not be the best way to fight flab, however. “Although it focuses on the entire body, with emphasis on the arms, thighs and neck region, the calories burnt are about 300 calories in an hour (see “Drop It With Dance”). Students take time understanding the steps before trying them out, hence the less number of calories. But it is still popular because of the entertainment quotient and is also a good way to stay fit,” says Sandhu.

Dances like the salsa are technical and require dancers to stay on the ball of the foot, resulting in stronger calves. The intense hip motion helps work on the abdomen and obliques. “Power has to be generated from the core muscles and the resistance offered by the partner helps tone the arms,” says Ajaz Shaikh, director of the Baile-de-Salón Ballroom Academy in Mumbai.

If you want to strengthen the abdomen muscles, you can opt for Egyptian belly dancing. “Belly dancing is slowly gaining momentum as a fitness routine. Not only does it improve flexibility and endurance, but it also helps reduce pains during menstruation,” says Nitisha Nanda, a belly-dance instructor with the Banjara School of Dance in New Delhi. This dance form even helped a student of Nanda’s who suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome (Pcos), a hormonal disorder that results in obesity and irregular or no periods. “Because of Pcos, I was gaining weight, particularly around my lower abdomen. But after joining belly dance, my weight was in control and periods were regular,” says the 33-year-old student, who didn’t want to be named. According to a 2011 study published in the Israeli Journal Of Family Practice, belly dancing is “a safe and pleasant form of physical exercise” that helps in weight loss and increases women’s general health.

Beat it

A large segment of those who participate in these fitness-based dance routines are women. “We are seeing an increase in men’s participation but it is still low compared to women’s. Men shy away from dancing, especially zumba and belly dancing, thinking they are only for women. They would rather pump iron in the gym to build muscles,” says Sandhu. “Gym workouts are pure physical exercises, which require labour and strength, and are good for muscle building. There is no connection whatsoever with the mental, spiritual and creative faculties. Also, injury risk is high in gyms. When it comes to cardio-based fitness, dance is unbeatable.”

Not everyone agrees. Bangalore-based fitness expert and author Wanitha Ashok, for instance, says: “To burn calories, the body needs to be in the fat-burning zone, which means a continuous workout of 40-50 minutes. This doesn’t happen in dance, except in the case of zumba, or aerobics.” She adds: “Bhangra can also be helpful, but only when weight training is involved. No workout can be complete without weights.” New Delhi-based Zahid Shafi Dar, head trainer at the Greater Kailash-I branch of Gold’s Gym, an international chain of fitness centres, says: “Many dancers come to us to tone their bodies and increase bone density. Dancing is good for flexibility, body control and agility, but body toning can only happen with weight training.”

According to Bharatinder Singh, sports medicine specialist at the Max Multi Speciality Centre in south Delhi, dance as an exercise can be performed at any age, but the form depends on the person’s fitness level. “Before taking up the class, one should consult the doctor to know his/her health status,” he says. People with knee or back problems should not pick up dancing without a full body check-up, he stresses.

As for those like Chauhan, who get bored with working out at the gym, Ashok has a solution. “Group classes of zumba, aqua aerobics, etc., are a fun way to lose weight and get a toned body.”

More From LiveMint

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon