Dance Health

Get in your Cardio this winter: 4 forms for dancers

Shalil Halil teaching BollyX. Photo courtesy of BollyX.

We know cross-training is important for performing at our best. Doing so requires high cardiovascular capacity, but stop-and-start dance training and rehearsing don’t always build that. Some dancers like to walk and/or run for their cardio workout. That’s not always possible, however, in the dead of winter. Never fear, there are indoor cardio options that can be effective and fun for dancers. They can even enhance physical traits and mental skills important for dancing. Those options include Barre, Spinning, Zumba and BollyX. Read on to learn more!

#1. Meet me at Barre.

Okay, so most dancers are quite familiar with the ballet barre, but Barre as a fitness form is, generally speaking, a whole other animal. Barre began with the idea that if dancers get such a great workout at the ballet barre, can’t anyone? Tara Cowan, certified Barre instructor at Studio U (Boston and Newton, Massachusetts), describes how Barre “has this magical way of transforming bodies, building strength and long, lean muscle”, just like ballet training. On the other hand, anyone — with or without prior dance training — can take a Barre class, Cowan assures.

Tara Cowan teaching Barre. Photo courtesy of Cowan.

Tara Cowan teaching Barre. Photo courtesy of Cowan.

As such, it’s focused more on fitness than on technique. You won’t see the instructor stopping the music and discussing things like turnout and épaulement. Barre classes won’t likely help you to advance those subtler aspects of your technique. But they can help strengthen your feet and ankles, increase your abilities to move quickly but with control, and get a great whole-body workout (including your cardiovascular system — the music and movement don’t stop!). And these classes can be a whole lot of fun! Cowan explains how the music in Barre classes is “fun and upbeat”, so “it’s like one big party at the barre”!

Classes often start in center with warm-ups such as isolations and simple jazz dance phrases. Then to the barre! Some exercises are in turnout, some in parallel. Some with pliés and pulses, some with tendus and other extensions. Some teachers use exercise bands and balls. Arm exercises with small weights, abdominal work and stretching typically round out classes. And there you have it, a fun and comprehensive workout that dancers will feel at home doing!

#2. Back on the bike.

Indoor cycling, or “Spin”, might not be the first thing you see when you picture dancers. But because of the art form’s effects on your body, it’s a great indoor cardio option. Meghan Rozanski Brundage, certified Spin Teacher and teacher at The Handle Bar Spin studios (Boston, Massachusetts), describes how “dancers are extremely flexible, (and) over-stretching an already flexible joint can lead to injury”. Dancers should therefore be cautious when engaging in exercise forms that involve a lot of stretching.

Spin, however, leads to tighter and stronger hips, Rozanski Brundage explains. That can prevent injuries, she adds. Have you ever had a dance teacher, doctor or physical therapist advise you to do more strengthening? That’s not uncommon guidance for dancers. With Spin, you can kill two birds with one stone — doing that strengthening while getting a great cardio workout. You’ll keep moving for the hour, so your heart rate will certainly skyrocket!

Megan Rozanski Brundage motivates her Spin students. Photo courtesy of Rozanski Brundage.

Megan Rozanski Brundage motivates her Spin students. Photo courtesy of Rozanski Brundage.

In addition, much of the motivation for that continuous work comes from high-energy music and instructors pushing you to your full potential. Dancers are definitely familiar with a scene like that! So hop on the bike, keep riding, and see what kind of fun it could be!

#3. Zip along in Zumba!

Zumba Fitness has become a household name by now. The Latin-fusion cardio dance form has people nationwide smiling, sweating and learning infectiously fun new moves. It looks similar to a dance class, minus any stop-and-go. Instructors demonstrate movements and phrases, occasionally throwing out a verbal cue, and students follow. If you choose Zumba, you’ll move and groove to high-energy tunes for the whole class. Be prepared to  feel a good level of challenge, and maybe even laugh!

Why Zumba as an indoor cardio option for dancers? Apart from the great workout, it can hone coordination, add to your movement/choreographic repertoire and enhance your ability to quickly pick up movement nuances through sight. And it can feel just plain feel refreshing! Shira Beth Brenner, Zumba instructor, shares that with Zumba, “dancers get to (literally) let their hair down and get their sass on”. No tight ballerina buns here, literally and metaphorically.

Shira Beth Brenner and her students pose for a group photo after a Zumba class. Photo courtesy of Brenner.

Shira Beth Brenner and her students pose for a group photo after a Zumba class. Photo courtesy of Brenner.

Zumba can be an oasis from the competitiveness that’s all too common in the dance world. Brenner explains how Zumba classes are “judgement- and competition-free zones”, where participants “cheer each other on and lift each other up”. She adds that in Zumba, you can “feel good in your skin, embrace music from around the world, and have a fabulous time”!

#4. Bang it out in BollyX!

Similar to Zumba, BollyX is a cardio dance form inspired by a cultural dance form — the dancing of South Asia (such as Bhangra and Bollywood). Just like a dance class, BollyX class starts with a full-body warm-up, and then into the main chunk of class — alternating periods of high intensity and lower intensity dancing. The rationale behind that is the same as for interval training: alternating intensity levels gives the body an extra healthy level of challenge that optimizes one’s workout. In addition, it all feels more manageable and enjoyable.

How can dancers benefit from BollyX?  Shalil Halil, CEO and Co-Founder of BollyX, describes how BollyX is great for dancers “not only because it’s a great way to stay active, meet people and get in shape but also because Bollywood as a genre of dance is heavily centered on performance elements. Becoming well versed in expression and building the confidence to step out of one’s comfort zone, no matter the environment, is a hugely valuable skill to add to any dancer’s Rolodex.”

BollyX is also a great way to build confidence. “Our mantra is ‘unleash your inner rockstar’,” says Halil. “The whole point is for you to build confidence to face any challenge!”

Your physical stamina and your mentality will be up to par for any rehearsal, performance, audition or master class. Go get ‘em, rockstar!  

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

Photo (top): Shalil Halil teaching BollyX. Photo courtesy of BollyX.

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