An Overview of Dance Fitness
Fitness enthusiasts have been burning up the dance floor for years, rockin’ off the calories to the sound of heart-pumping tunes and easy-to-master choreography. To stay fresh with the times, though, dance fitness instructors constantly adapt their choreography and develop new classes, often inspired by popular dance styles ranging from hip-hop and Latin dance to ballroom and ballet.
One of the best things about dance fitness classes is that they’re accessible to almost all fitness levels. They also provide an easy and fun way for people to get active. Just don’t assume all dance fitness classes are the same.
What Is Dance Fitness?
First and foremost, dance fitness stands out from technical or traditional dance in that technique and intricate choreography aren’t the focus. Participants don’t spend weeks or months perfecting a single routine in anticipation of a show or recital; rather, they show up, work up a sweat while doing their best to follow an instructor, and leave feeling good about their workout.
Most dance fitness classes have a focus on cardiovascular exercise. Instructors plan easy-to-follow choreography that keeps participants moving in an effort to raise their heart rates. This style of cardio dance is the type that’s been known to take over the world. Zumba, Jazzercise, LaBlast, Hip Hop Abs, TurboJam, and Bokwa all fall in this category.
That said, there are slower-paced dance fitness classes that focus on different elements of physical fitness. For instance, barre classes work to improve balance, coordination, core strength, and flexibility while also enhancing strength of smaller, stabilizing muscles. Likewise, pole dancing helps improve flexibility, and dance-styles that meld dance with yoga or martial arts (like Yoga Trance Dance or Nia) bring a mind-body element to dance-focused workouts.
If you like to dance and you’re looking for a fun way to enhance your physical fitness, there’s bound to be a dance-based option that’s right for you.
6 Things to Know About Dance Fitness
The beauty of dance fitness classes is that they really are inclusive and, in most cases, they can be easily modified. Aside from people with major injuries or health concerns (if that’s you, you should consult your doctor before starting an exercise program), most can comfortably join dance fitness classes and feel good about the experience.
1. There Are Four Broad Categories of Dance Fitness
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different styles of dance workouts before trying them out.
For instance, Nicole LaBonde, the creator of the CABARRET dance class, which is described as “sassy cardio, burlesque-inspired dance,” relayed an experience about a new student. The woman showed up for a class in which they were using a post-modern jukebox version of the song “Wiggle.” Labonde admits, “It’s a dirty song, for sure—but hilariously so, especially when done in a jazz style.” After the class, LaBonde received an email from this student stating she was “so uncomfortable with the lyrics of the song and the movements you made me do.” LaBonde, of course, felt terrible the student felt uncomfortable, but the dance style was clearly advertised on her website.
It’s important to understand some classes are more adventurous (or even risqué) than others—and purposely so. Choose the style that’s best for you.
Cardio Dance: These classes may include hip-swaying and chest pops, but their pace is fast and their intent is to make you break a sweat (nothing further). Cardio dance classes are often based on certain styles or forms of dance. For instance, Zumba is based loosely on Latin dance; Bokwa on African dance; Doonya on Bollywood dance; LaBlast on ballroom dance; Jazzercise on jazz dance; Kerboomka on club-style dance; and Broadway Bodies on Broadway dance. You may find you prefer one form or another, but their intents are more or less the same—to improve your cardiovascular fitness.
Barre Workouts: Barre workouts are ballet-inspired routines that incorporate elements of yoga, Pilates, and strength training with light weights. Posture and proper form are a primary focus as instructors lead students through moves that challenge balance, stability, and core strength. High repetitions, small, isolating “pulses,” and slow movements contribute to the often-cited “muscle shakes” and “burnout” associated with the routines. The workouts are generally low-impact and moderate-intensity, offering a modest cardiovascular benefit. Where they really shine is in their focus on flexibility and core strength, making them an excellent cross-training option for runners, cyclists, and heavy lifters. Popular workouts include Physique 57, Barre3, The Bar Method, Pop Physique, and Pure Barre.
Mind-Body Dance: Mind-body dance typically incorporates elements of yoga, tai chi, or martial arts into a flowing routine. These workouts offer combined benefits ranging from improved cardiovascular health to enhanced flexibility and reduced stress. Classes are typically low-impact and low- to moderate-intensity, perfect for beginners looking for a way to ease into exercise. Prime examples include Nia and Yoga Trance Dance.
Sensual Dance: Sensual dance classes are a little more sexual and include everything from belly dancing to pole dancing. Some options, such as burlesque-style or striptease classes, tend to have a stronger focus on raising your heart rate (and the heart rate of those around you), while pole and aerial classes increase their focus on total body strength and flexibility.
2. Most Dance Fitness Classes Are Appropriate for All Levels, Unless Otherwise Noted
Generally speaking, most dance classes are low-impact, which means one foot is always in contact with the ground. Because participants don’t have to worry about running, jumping, or other high-intensity, high-impact exercises, classes are less likely to cause injury or lead to excessive soreness. Plus, choreography is easily modifiable by simply using smaller movements; you don’t have to swing your arms as forcefully or take large, exaggerated steps, for example. And on the flip side, you can intensify a workout by adding steps and exaggerating your movements. Most classes are friendly for all fitness levels.
That said, some forms of dance—particularly specialized dance classes, such as pole fitness and barre classes—do offer varying skill levels and intensities. Be sure to ask your gym or studio if there are class levels you should consider before attending.
3. It’s a Good Idea to Add Cross-Training to a Dance Fitness Routine
Dance workouts are excellent for improving certain areas of fitness, but they don’t do it all. There are five components of fitness—muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, and body composition—that you should train in equal measures. Since most dance classes aren’t equipped to target all of these, it’s a good idea to supplement your preferred workout with cross-training routines. Here are a few examples:
If you participate in a cardio-focused dance class like Zumba, try cross-training with strength training and stretching to work on muscular strength and flexibility.
If you participate in a flexibility- and muscular-endurance class like barre, try cross-training with kickboxing or boot camps to improve cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength.
4. Not All Instructors Are Created Equal—Feel Free to Shop Around
As is always the case, some instructors are better than others. They may provide better feedback, model better form, or have better class-management skills. And some may actually be better qualified, boasting more certifications and greater experience. Do your research on instructors (most gyms and studios offer bios for their coaches), then take the time to try a few classes. Your best experience will come when you fall in love with the workout and the instructor.
5. It’s a Good Idea to Ask About Apparel and Accessories Before You Go
To participate in most dance fitness classes, all you need is comfortable athletic clothes and a pair of sneakers. That said, it’s important to ask about studio-specific rules and guidelines about apparel and gear. For instance, most barre studios require participants to go barefoot during class or to bring a pair of studio socks with special grips on the soles. Similarly, pole classes suggest participants wear short, tight-fitting shorts and ask that dancers avoid applying lotion before class; bare skin is better for gripping the pole.
6. Home-Based Workouts Are a Great Option if Money or Time Are Barriers
Studio classes can be pricey, and they may not always work with your schedule. The good news is, online workout platforms and DVDs are excellent options for incorporating dance fitness at home. There are a few noticeable limitations, as most people don’t have ballet barres or poles at their houses. But if you’re looking for a straightforward cardio dance class, or a barre routine that uses a chair in place of the barre, there are lots of high-quality options available.