Dance is as good for you as sport, according to new research. Alison Brace on how you can get moving
Ever since Strictly Come Dancing graced our television screens it seems we Brits are rekindling our love affair with dancing. Whether it's the cha-cha-cha, hip hop, leroc, pole dancing or the Highland fling, dance is the fastest growing of all the art forms, with nearly five million people taking part in a dance activity each year.
New research, backed by the Depart-ment of Health, shows for the first time that dancing is as beneficial to our fitness and general health as mainstream sport.
The study, by Hampshire Dance and Laban, Europe's top dance conservatoire, looked at the fitness of 226 adolescents as they undertook eight weeks of creative dance classes.
It was the first project in the UK to determine through scientific methodology how dance affects physiological and psychological wellbeing.
Researchers used a range of tests to measure lung capacity, hamstring flexibility, aerobic capacity as well as the self-esteem of the youngsters.
Results show that the scores on all fronts over the 10-week course increased markedly, particularly for girls.
Edel Quin, dance science researcher at Laban, says: "Anecdotally, anybody involved in dance knows and feels the benefits of dancing on a daily basis.
"But this project shows, using robust scientific evidence, that dance is a viable alternative to sport."
There is little doubt that planned future research by the conservatoire, which is based in south-east London, will show similar results when it looks at the effect of dance on older people.
So even if you feel you've got two left feet and that your dance skills are best kept to within one foot of your handbag on a crowded dance floor, remember dance is an all-round pick-me-up.
And if it's a fear of fancy footwork that stops you from signing up for classes, worry not. Creative dance, such as 5Rhythms, could be for you.
This dance practice, devised by Gabrielle Roth, a New York-based dancer, is not only about freeing up your body, but also your inner self, through five phases of something called "the wave".
Angela Lord, a teacher at a further education college in Glasgow, feels that 5Rhythms changed her life. "I was hooked from my first class," says Angela, who has been going to classes for eight years. But she feels 5Rs should perhaps carry a health warning.
"It is a physical practice that reaches far beyond the physical. At one level, it is a great and a fun way of working out and meeting people; at another, it is a potentially life-changing physical and spiritual practice.
If you are not prepared for major upheavals in your life, don't do this."
Adele Reynolds started 5Rhythm dancing five years ago and was so bowled over by it that she gave up her 20-year career as a primary teacher to teach similar techniques to young children.
"I was one of those girls who was so useless at ballet," says Adele from Kinross in Scotland. "I had the most horrendous time - teachers would say 'you've got kipper feet'.
"By the time I was a teenager I was totally inhibited dancewise. I stood against walls in discos. I find 5Rhythms totally inspiring, so free and uninhibited. It gives me an incredible sense of wellbeing. Physically and emotionally, I have no hang-ups when I'm dancing."
So if you like music, movement and nothing more than to throw yourself around with gay abandon, what's stopping you? Trip the light fantastic to discover a fitter, happier you
Dance Science Research Report by Edel Quin, Emma Redding and Lucy Frazer: www.hampshiredance.org.ukdocuments.
For 5Rhythms classes in Scotland contact Iona Sellars email@example.com or call 0141 587 7573.
In the London area contact Sue Rickards at info@acalltodance or call 0845 458 8251. More information can also be found at www.acalltodance.com.
THE BENEFITS OF DANCE
* Healthier heart and lungs
* Stronger muscles and bones
* Reduced risk of osteoporosis
* Better co-ordination, agility and flexibility
* Improved balance and spatial awareness
* Increased physical confidence
* Improved mental functioning
* Increased energy expenditure can help counteract unwanted weight gain.
Source: Dance and Health: The Benefits of Dance for All Ages published by the Arts Council. See www.artscouncil.org.uk.