Taking to the dance floor for fun, fitness and health

ACROSS Perth on any given day older people are taking part in all kinds of dance from ballroom to ballet, square dance and Zumba. It’s an exercise which has lasting mental and physical benefits, as well as the pleasure of social interaction and making friendships.

According to Adam and Linda Penn who run Top Hat Enterprises, several medical studies suggest that dancing is the best form of exercise.

“In its many different forms, dance can assist to preserve agility and strength and ward off many of our most feared and disabling conditions of getting older,” Linda said. “Ballroom, Latin and sequence dancing have been noted in numerous studies, along with many anecdotal observations, to have health and wellbeing benefits, that are simply astounding.

The Penns say the practice of learning new and different sequences or routines that need to be committed to memory, can help create new pathways in the brain, keeping it active and, in some ways, creative, effectively exercising and strengthening it.

Add to this the actual physical activity of taking part in dance, and particularly the advantage of cardio exercise which helps with circulation and breathing.

“Dancing requires movement of the dancer to music, in time to the beat or rhythm and, in some cases to the melody,” Linda said. “This is a daunting task for some but when we add the challenge of a partner, with whom you must work and compromise to achieve the desired end, this can lead to many fabulous benefits. While disagreements and sometimes arguments can happen, the fun and laughter often seen is priceless.”

The Penns say exercise can become more difficult as people age and bodies do not work as well as they did. Ballroom dancing is flexible enough to suit anyone taking part, from the high energy of Latin to the gentle and graceful movement of ballroom and New Vogue-sequence dance.

It covers cardio, muscle strength (weight bearing exercise), mind-body coordination, brain activity, balance exercises and social interaction which is why dance has been cited in many Australian and overseas studies as the best form of exercise for older people.

“Whether you look at it from a solo stance or in the case of line dancing, Zumba, Prime Movers, simply boogying in your living room, or you take the leap to learn or take part with a partner, the delight and freedom of moving to music, holding someone special in your arms and creating flight and rhythm is a sensation and feeling you can only know if you dance.”

Jenny Clare, of Jus’ Dance, who runs dance classes for all ages, said dance offered the chance to meet new people and  have fun with others learning dance steps.

“It is co-ordinated exercise to music which is good for dementia and other degenerative diseases,” she said. “People also improve their social skills by interacting with others and meeting new friends. They can also encourage others to take part in activities outside dancing.”

Steve Lockwood, of the Square Dance Society WA, said many people were looking to  square dance for fitness as well as fun and friendship.

“They keep hearing they should walk more to exercise their body and stimulate their mind but they want something that also keeps them happy. Square dancing does this and much more. It’s like a breath of fresh air as a way of warding off many bad habits such as hibernating in front of the television.

“Square dancing is all about walking and moving to the instructions of a caller. People start with simple easy-to-follow moves and gradually introduce more challenging ones. Before they know it they have mastered many interesting dance routines.

“All the square dance moves are in English so you can square dance anywhere in the world… why not dance your way around the world?”

Mr Lockwood advises watching  YouTube videos by searching ‘Square Dance Keeps You Young,’ or ‘Square Dance ABC’ or why not try square dancing at one of the local clubs. These venues are listed on national web pages www.squaredance.org.au. Both singles and partners are welcome.

For more information call Steve on 9243 1200 or 0419 900 441 or free call 1800 643 277.

For the ballet inclined, WA Ballet offers Ballet Basics, a five-week course for people who want to enjoy ballet. No experience is needed and during the course those taking part will build on previously learnt content.

The company also offers 20 classes a week catering for adults of all levels and abilities.

Visit waballet.com.au/learn/adult-dance-classes. The company also has Open Friday when the public can view classes at the WA Ballet Centre in Maylands. For more information: info@wa ballet.com.au

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Josephine Allison started her career in journalism at 18 as a cadet on the Geraldton Guardian newspaper. She realised her ambition to work on a daily newspaper when she later joined The West Australian where she spent almost 34 years covering everything from police courts to parliament, general news, the arts and real estate. After moving on from The West, she worked on several government short-term media contracts and part-time at a newspaper in Midland before joining Have a Go News in 2012. These days she enjoys writing about interesting people from various fields, often unsung heroes who have helped make WA a better place.