Probably one of the biggest reasons that pushed me into dance was the realisation that exercise is extremely boring and unpleasant. I’d been telling myself I was too old to learn dance since primary school age, but really I think it just took me a while to learn how to handle the state of not already knowing how to do something. So I decided I might as well just toughen up and try it.
Dance is a lovely thing I like to call ‘incidental fitness’. You end up concentrating so much on learning the steps that you don’t really realise you’ve been working your body that hard until you emerge at the end of the class covered in sweat. But dance also leaves you in a great mood. It’s probably a combination of endorphins, the excitement of seeing yourself improve, and the general creativity among friends. Fitness and happiness are both essential contributors to better health.
But I was also surprised by how much it improved my perception of my body. I actually spend a fair bit of time feeling terrible about my appearance. But even on my worst days, dancing makes me feel like I’m okay. There have even been moments during classes that made me feel, for the first time in a while, that I could actually be beautiful. Regardless of their weight, gender, age, etc., everyone finds their own unique grace and allure.
Since the beginning of last year I’ve been sampling dance classes. So if you might be interested, here is a quick run-down of a few popular styles.
Irish Dancing is the happiest dance ever. It’s about community, friendship and love. It’s simultaneously powerful and elegant, as well as wild and fast. I pretty much feel like a deer when I do it, and male Irish dancers remind me of stags. When you get into hard-shoe, you can really make the floor thunder beneath your feet. The dance is limited within its emotional range because it’s pretty much impossible to leap and skip in a sad way. It also rarely uses arm movement, which can feel a little rigid sometimes, but the complexity of the footwork makes up for it. This is also one of those dances that looks way more complicated than it is to actually do, so you’ll start to look like you’re good at it quite quickly. It’s very high impact and it will make your calves mega buff.
Ballet doesn’t feel as strict as it sometimes looks. Granted, any dance will feel more rigid when you start trying to perfect advanced technique and take it super seriously, but ballet can actually make you feel free. It’s fairly hard to get the technique perfect as a beginner; despite that, you can still look and feel pretty graceful from the start. The feet turnout takes a bit of getting used to. Ballet is perhaps not a very natural or instinctive way of dancing but it seems to be about transcendental strength, grace and nobility.
Contemporary blew my mind a bit. There isn’t much repetition or many patterns to follow and all of the steps kind of merge together. It’s very free and expressive – you can show a lot of emotions with it, though it’s generally got a bit of an angsty, passionate vibe. It looks great in ensemble or solo. One of its strongest principles is actually about efficient use of energy. Instead of controlling movement all the way, you relax your muscles completely whenever you can use gravity instead. That’s what gives contemporary that loose appearance. If you’re looking for structure I would look elsewhere, but a lot of people enjoy the simplicity of the movements and free expression.
Salsa is one of the few couples’ dances I tried. The trouble with couple dances is that you can’t practice without a partner, and you need to work as a team rather than just focusing on learning your moves on your own. But this can be a great benefit to some; you’re always in it together with your partner, you can learn from each other and laugh together. The steps and movements for this dance come more instinctively and naturally to me than any other, though everyone finds that certain dances suit them better. Salsa is really about flirting and showing off – in the best way possible. It’s fast, sexy and vivacious.
Belly dancing is surprisingly disciplined for something so exotic and sensuous. If trying all these dances at once was like trying to learn multiple languages at once, belly dancing was like adding sign language to the mix. While most dances balance movements within the body and show reactions all the way through the form, belly dancing emphasises isolation of body parts. Ideally, if you move your hips, no other part of your body should move with them. It’s a really interesting skill to learn and it looks pretty cool. Also, I never thought I’d be proud of any part of my body that jiggled when I wiggled, but this dance really makes you love your lady lumps. It’s low-impact but gently works your core, as well as your legs and arms. You also get to wear a coin scarf around your waist so that the chinking sounds help you refine your movement. Despite what you might expect, guys can do it too – look up videos online; they’re pretty amazing.
Hiphop makes an interesting combination of loose and controlled movements. It uses some body parts in isolation and makes some big slamming motions as well as almost robotically smooth moves. It gives you stacks of confidence and is a great release for anger and attitude. It seems to usually be about showing off and proving your point; it’s fairly masculine and has a lot of wide stances and posturing, but it does rock the hips and curves too.
Illness and negative perception of your body often results in perceiving your body as an obstacle. Learning how to dance gives you freedom of spontaneous self-expression that acknowledges your whole identity: mind, heart and body. Dance is the undeniable reminder of the implicit strength and beauty that lies in all of us.