By Anagha Madhan from En Avant Magazine July/August 2023
Graceful Fitness: How Dance Sculpts and Strengthens the Body
The world of dance makes the human body into a canvas of artistry and an instrument of expression, while also being a powerhouse of physicality. Dancing is arguably one of the best methods to sculpt your body, toning your body slowly with each session. In this article, part two of our two part series on the Dance of The Mind and Body, we will be delving into the physical marvels of dance.
The Upper Body:
While it is true that most dance forms work the lower body out more, any dance form will most definitely feel like a full body workout, and leave you sweaty but satisfied. One of the first and most crucial things you learn in any dancing style is how to support oneself. As you breathe differently, your torso, abs, and even your chest instinctively contract. Your dance gains dynamism and richness via breathing. You can more easily discern between staccato and prolonged rhythms, as well as between rough and smooth. Most styles of dance benefit from your ability to turn your torso, which strong abs enable. Holding each posture requires you to use these various muscles. Similarly, in styles such as hip-hop, zumba, and ballet, your shoulders and arms also get a good workout as you use them for different movements
The Lower Body:
In dancing, the lower body plays a crucial part as the thighs, calves, and buttocks all become very muscularly active. Although almost all of the muscles in the body are used when dancing, the lower extremities experience the most exertion. It is crucial to prioritise a comprehensive warm-up since inadequate warm-up may increase the risk of injury. The first region to experience toning via dancing is the gluteal muscles, which are the biggest and most powerful muscles in the human body. These muscles play a crucial part in moving the thighs and pushing the body’s trunk. The quadriceps, which are located on the front of the thighs, also experience simultaneous, vigorous activity. This muscle group helps in movement of the thighs and hips as well as the flexion and extension of the leg. It is typical to feel post-workout discomfort in this area after a vigorous dancing practice.
The hamstrings, which are located on the back of the thighs, are also important. These muscles are involved in the knee joint flexion that allows the leg to bend. In conclusion, the lower body muscles, particularly the gluteal muscles, quadriceps, and hamstrings, play a major role in dancing. Their coordinated efforts support dance’s artistic and practical components, highlighting the significance of appropriate warm-up and preparation to reduce any risk of injury.
Dancers’ bodies naturally engage in a broad range of motions as they move through various styles and methods, from elegant extensions to controlled contractions. These exercises focus on certain muscular groups, helping to sculpt and tone them over time. Dance provides a comprehensive approach to body sculpting, whether it’s the core stability needed for balance, the leg strength needed for jumps and leaps, or the arm motions that develop upper body strength.
Beyond Cardio: Dance as An Effective Way to Boost Cardiovascular Health
Dance works wonders in increasing cardiovascular endurance since it increases the breathing and heart rate of the dancer. Over time, the body learns to effectively adapt with such strain and builds up an endurance. Cardiovascular weakness and heart disease are perhaps one of the most prominent causes of death worldwide today; so building such an endurance grows to be increasingly important as each day goes by. Your heart and lungs are able to better supply your body with oxygen thanks to this enhanced endurance. As your body is adequately fed, your mind and muscles can function at a better level for a longer amount of time.
The improvement in cardiovascular health can make it easier for people to engage in a range of physical activities now and in the future. This is the reason why dancing has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular mortality.
Moderate intensity dancing is associated with a decreased chance of dying from cardiovascular disease, according to an Australian study that included data from 48,000 British adults.
Comparing dancers to individuals who danced infrequently or never, researchers discovered that dancers had a 46% decreased risk of cardiovascular mortality. The research also revealed that dancing’s calming effects and social aspects may contribute to its health advantages.
Joint Artistry: Enhancing Flexibility and Balance through Dance
Dance improves flexibility, which expands your range of motion- the amount of mobility you have around a particular joint or body component. When you dance, you will frequently make movements that will put your body’s range of motion to the test. By repeatedly making challenging motions, you may expand your range of motion. However it is important to note that increasing the body’s range of motion must be done gradually; we cannot expect to go into a full split on the first try, we must take it step by step and allow our body to acclimatise with the increased range of motion.
Joints require movement to heal and receive nutrients necessary for healing. The greater your range of motion, the more synovial fluid your joints can deliver, which promotes healing. Dancing challenges your range of motion and strengthens all the muscles around your joints. A weak joint can cause pain and is undesirable, so strengthening the muscles around the joint is crucial.
So how does being flexible help? Apart from being able to move your body in stunning ways, being flexible implies that your muscles, joints, and soft tissues are able to move through an unrestricted, pain-free range of motion, and some studies have shown that this lowers your risk of musculotendinous injuries exponentially; that is, sprains, strains and tears – anything to do with muscles, ligaments and tendons. Being a dancer allows for you to organically challenge the limits of your muscles and joints, which only get smaller as we grow older.
Many professional athletes use dance to improve their balance and flexibility. Some examples include martial artist Anderson Silva, who has a yellow belt in capoeira; his expertise is shown by his stunning footwork, which he trains using dance. Other athletes include Serena Williams, the tennis legend, and Hope Solo, a football player – two sportsmen who occasionally dabble in dance. Kristi Yamaguchi, a renowned figure skater, spent a lot of time dancing while she was practising.
Dance has the unique feature of developing all three types of muscles during movement. The prime movers, which are mainly responsible for creating the movement; the antagonist muscle, which acts as a reaction to the prime muscle movement and opposes it (For example: biceps and triceps) and finally, the stabiliser muscles, which aren’t directly involved in producing the movement, but support the joint so the prime movers can complete whatever required movement. Through the development of the stabilising muscles, dancing enhances balance. Dance motions call for complex changes in body weight, requiring the use of the muscles in the core, legs, and even the tiny stabilising muscles all throughout the body. These muscles develop increased strength and responsiveness via consistent use, laying the groundwork for better balance control.
Dance also improves proprioception, which is the body’s capacity to perceive its location and motion in space. Dance requires precise footwork, direction changes, and spatial awareness, all of which improve proprioceptive sensibility. Dancers are better able to keep their balance by making minor corrections and modifications because of their increased body awareness.
Toning the Tempo: Discovering the Muscle-Building Benefits of Dance
Understanding the fundamentals of a bulky versus a lean physique is the first step in working towards muscular growth. The type of muscle you build has an impact on how your body appears and works.
Lean muscle results in a slender and athletic physique, characterised by a relatively lower body fat percentage. Conversely, bulk muscle development yields a larger and more prominent bodily presence, often accompanied by a pumped and muscular aesthetic. Despite these divergent outward appearances, the underlying anatomical composition of these muscles remains largely similar.
According to the findings of one research, dancers as a whole do not view muscle development as a fitness objective. Instead, they have a somewhat lean body composition and are quite flexible. The research, however, revealed that they gained strength without corresponding increases in muscle size.
Dancers will get stronger and more mobile without necessarily gaining muscle mass; both of these qualities are necessary for dancing. The strategy used often entails restricting volume (numbers of repetitions) and putting an emphasis on movement and joint health (articular mobility). Dance instructors seek to build strong dancers and athletes, not lifters, thus their teaching methods are more similar to those of conditioning coaches than those of strength coaches because of this a dance coach aims to create a resilient movement artist with the best possible balance of strength and flexibility and muscular strength.
Dance is a dynamic prescription for a better, happier, and more harmonious existence, thus it is more than just an art form. The advantages of dancing are as varied as they are profound, ranging from improving physical fitness and boosting mental well-being to developing social relationships and freeing the creative spirit. The benefits are endless, regardless of whether you are an experienced dancer or just taking your first, cautious steps onto the dance floor. So let’s keep in mind that the next time we move to the beat of life, we are not merely dancing but are also gently nourishing our bodies, brains, and souls. Accept the transforming potential of dance, and allow it to continue to improve your life in ways that go beyond performing in front of others.