Dancers are known for their long, lean, and muscular bodies. A lifetime of dancing and proper nutrition might get you there but what can non-dancers do to achieve similar results without years of technical training?
For posture and mobility, yoga and Pilates are excellent. For musculature, resistance training is ideal. For low body fat, a solid nutritional strategy is a better choice than exercise, but walking a lot helps, too.
Creating the look of a dancer is one thing, but a dancer’s body is also characterized by fitness. Should dancers rely on aerobic training or “cardio” for conditioning? Let’s consider the nature of a highly athletic form of dancing to determine whether aerobic exercise should be part of your approach to developing the body of a dancer.
One of the most athletic forms of dance is competitive ballroom and Latin dancing, also known as DanceSport. In international DanceSport competitions, there are five ballroom dances and five Latin dances. Dancers generally specialize in ballroom or Latin, but some dance both (i.e., they compete in all ten dances).
The dances vary in intensity but all are physically demanding. Take a look at the video below. Christopher Hawkins and Joanne Bolton demonstrate the Waltz, the first of the five ballroom dances performed in competition. Although their elegant movement appears effortless at first, a close examination of posture, poise, body rotation, single leg power, and foot strength reveals the incredible athleticism required to perform this dance at the highest level.
In contrast to the Waltz, the intensity of the Quickstep (the fifth dance performed in ballroom competitions) is immediately apparent due to the speed of the dance. In the video below, the top ballroom dancers in the world make it clear that ballroom dancing has little in common with steady state “cardio” performed for 30 or more minutes.
From the Latin program, Jive is the fifth and fastest dance. Here is an example of the Jive in a showdance from Riccardo Cocchi and Yulia Zagoruychenko.
A Dancer’s Body: Anaerobic Fitness
DanceSport is a highly anaerobic endeavor. Anaerobic means the production of energy to perform the activity does not depend on the availability of oxygen. Why does this matter?
For high-intensity, short-duration activities (lasting less then 2 minutes), energy must be produced quickly and the oxidative (aerobic) energy system can not keep up with the energy demand of the activity. This is why extended moderate-intensity “cardio” is poor training for athletes who compete in power sports. Strategies to improve fitness for any sport should be consistent with the nature of the activity. I addressed some of these issues in a previous article.
Given the somewhat brief duration (90-120 seconds; World DanceSport Federation, 2011) and intensity of DanceSport, it can be logically compared to skating or gymnastics, which depend almost entirely on anaerobic energy systems. The data on the energy demands of DanceSport are unfortunately quite limited. Two studies are particularly compelling. I present their summaries below. [Read more…]