TikTok has taught us many things: how salads can become more popular than celebrities, the historical accuracy of Bridgerton costumes and that nothing catches on faster than a dance. There’s something about watching people move joyfully to some juicy tune that just makes you want to get off your butt and do the same dancing workouts. What’s uncanny is how long you’re bouncing around before you realise your quads hurt. “You don’t even notice that you are doing jumping jacks and jump squats and whatever it might be because you’re so focused on the enjoyment of the song,” says Kirsten Johnson, former dancer and founder of the Find Balance Kindly workout app, a series of dance-inspired functional workouts.
And right there lies the beauty of dancing workouts: you’ll be working hard without even knowing it, all while having the time of your life.
If joy – and sticking to a workout, any workout – is what you’re after, dancing could be the key. But there’s a caveat: just swaying along for hours like a dandelion in the wind isn’t going to cut it. Not least because swaying around indicates that you’re not having much fun at all. We’ve dug around to find what you should be doing instead.
Dance ‘till you drop
As a teenager, professional dancer Kelly Ernstzen danced constantly. In the hallways between classes, in the bathroom, while chatting to friends. It’s no wonder, then, that she was incredibly fit and slim. “You enjoy it so much that you don’t think about how tired you’re getting,” she says. Now that she’s in her thirties and dancing professionally, she’s realised just how fit her dancing has kept her fit for so long. Science backs it up: a Los Angeles study found that just 20 minutes of hard dancing is also the equivalent of running for 20 minutes but is a more balanced workout, engaging the core, upper and lower body all at once.
“A Los Angeles study found that just 20 minutes of hard dancing is also the equivalent of running for 20 minutes but is a more balanced workout, engaging the core, upper and lower body all at once.”
But in order or gain the benefits, you’d need to be going hard. That means dancing to a faster song and using more vigorous movements than say, simply bobbing your head. While you can take your pick of the kinds of dances you’d like to try (there are many), know that each kind affects your body in different ways.
Ballerinas have long, slim lines because they’re lifting their legs and arms constantly, working against gravity. As a student, Kelly needed to study various forms of dancing – and felt the different muscle groups from class to class. “African dancing is much more grounded, so I felt like my legs – or the bottom half of my body – were developing much faster,” she says. “My upper body and my core were developing much more when I was doing contemporary [dance]. And with hip-hop, it’s more cardio-based, fast, keeping with the rhythm and the tempo.”
Boost your brain
A study in the journal found that when dance class participants were at just 60% of their maximum heart rate, cognitive function improved. That’s because dance class is a little more than jumping up and down to Drake on a Friday night – there’s choreography to learn. And since dancing incorporates your entire body, you need to pay attention to cross-body movements, coordinating the left side of your body to move in sync with your right (like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time). Research has found that dance promotes brain plasticity – that is, it’s as much a workout for your brain as it is for your body. The results are exciting: because of the cross-body movement, the connection between the hemispheres of your brain is strengthened. Think: improved balance, memory and attention.
“Research has found that dance promotes brain plasticity – that is, it’s as much a workout for your brain as it is for your body.”
There’s more. Grooving can even ward off dementia by as much as 76% – greater than the effects of doing crossword puzzles four days a week, according to a study of seniors by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Shake it off
“We are too busy being active and enjoying ourselves to feel the aches and pains,” is the title of one Cape Town-based study on the effects of dancing. Investigating the effects of dancing on women between the ages of 60 to 80, researchers found that participants did not subscribe to the typical belief that mental capacity and physical endurance start to decline when a woman hits 60. They just didn’t see it that way. Makes sense, since dance is its own kind of therapy, capable of alleviating depression, increasing mindfulness and boosting self-esteem.
For Johnson, the biggest shift she’s seen is in her clients’ mindset. “My biggest objective with any client is that they change the way they see exercise,” she says. “On bad days in the past, clients would always say, ‘I’m having a bad day, I don’t feel well and therefore, I’m going to cancel my session,’ whereas now I notice they say, ‘I’ve had a really bad day, I really need to work out today.’”
“My biggest objective with any client is that they change the way they see exercise”
Kirsten Johnson, dancer and instructor
For Ernstzen, what’s great is seeing how her students start feeling more confident. “I think besides all the physical aspects of it, once you start dancing, you kind of get to learn about your body a bit more,” she says. “I think you just get a little bit more in tune with your body. And you start appreciating what your body can do more.”
So where to begin? Pick the right kind of music and start jamming. It can not only chisel your bod and mind, but make you feel so good, too. And when you’ve got only one body to work with, shouldn’t you appreciate it as joyfully as you can?
Dancing workout apps
Steezy has a plethora of dance classes of different styles to choose from, including ballet, contemporary, hip hop and salsa.
Try out something new with FitOn, which has not only regular workouts but dance routines, too.
Why not try one of the many viral TikTok dances? Play the clip back at half-speed so you can learn slowly.