Friday, January 13, 2017

Dance your way to better health By Elizabeth Richards

Winter can be tough in Maine. With frigid temperatures outside it’s easy to hole up in the house, reading a good book or binge watching Netflix. This can lead to lethargy and the “winter blahs.” The best way to keep the blues at bay is to get plenty of exercise, but if you aren’t a cold weather enthusiast finding interesting indoor options can be a challenge.

Dancing could be the perfect solution. Dancing can be a solo activity or one you share with a partner. There are many forms of dance, which makes it more likely that you’ll be able to find a style you enjoy. Whether heading out to a nightclub to move your body free style, signing up for a class, or finding a more formal ballroom setting to enjoy with a partner, dancing just might be the perfect “pick-me-up” for a cold winter evening.

One great thing about dancing is that it doesn’t often feel like as much work as some forms of exercise. Debra Roy, owner of Maine Ballroom Dance in Portland, said, “The word exercise makes me not want to do something – like going to the gym. But dancing, when it’s structured like ballroom dance, is great exercise where you don’t even know you’re exercising.”  Dancing uses different muscles than you would be likely to use working at the gym, on an elliptical or other cardio machine, she added.

Dancing uses your whole body, including your brain, Roy said. “Dancing involves more than one person. It is two people communicating nonverbally. You have to think in order to be able to do that.”  This means you are exercising not only your body, but your brain as well. Roy noted that recent studies have shown that dance, especially tango, can improve balance and strength in people with neurological disorders including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Not only does ballroom dance get you moving but it’s a great way to spend quality time with your friends or a partner. In our electronic age, it can be tough to focus in on the person you are with, but when you are partner dancing you simply have no choice. If you aren’t paying attention to your partner’s cues, you won’t be able to get around the dance floor. It’s a lesson in patience, understanding, and communication along with a great way to raise your heart rate. Partner dancing is one of the best activities for reconnecting.

There are so many styles of dance that it’s easy to find one that fits your style. Not into Tango?  Try Swing. Don’t like the slow stuff? Go for Salsa or Samba. It’s all great exercise, and great fun. And if you don’t have a partner and don’t relish the idea of hitting a ballroom class alone, try something like line dancing, tap or jazz for adults.

There are different types of dancers as well, said Roy. Social dancers just want to learn a few steps and get out there and have fun. Competitive dancers, or those interested in taking medal tests to assess their skill level, will work hard at the technique that makes their dancing better. “Dancing isn’t as easy as it looks if it’s done with correct technique,” she said.

So where can you go to get started?  If you are looking to dance on your own, no partner needed, there are a couple of options right in Windham and Raymond.
Windham/Raymond Adult Education is a great place to start. Currently, there are three sessions of line dancing among their enrichment offerings.

Center Stage Performing Arts ( in Raymond offers a variety of classes for adults, including tap, hip hop, ballet and jazz.
Other area studios offer a variety of partner classes and opportunities for social dancing and practice. 

Maine Ballroom Dance ( is host to social ballroom dances on the first and third Saturday of each month, as well as regular ballroom dance classes throughout the week.

Porttango ( has regular Wednesday evening Tango practice at Maine Ballroom Dance, as well as other Argentine Tango classes and events.

The Portland Swing Project ( holds weekly swing dances at Maine Ballroom Dance on Thursday evenings, and offers a variety of classes and other events.

Maplewood Dance Center ( offers ballroom dancing on Wednesday evenings, starting with a lesson at 7 p.m. Maplewood also holds social dances on select Saturdays.

Avant Dance & Event Center ( offers a variety of social opportunities throughout each month, including ballroom and salsa events, and a full range of classes each week.

Aquarius Ballroom Dance Studios ( has dance parties every Saturday evening, as well as a variety of classes.

These are just a few of the options available for getting out there and getting yourself moving. Don’t let winter weather keep you down – feel the beat and move your feet on the dance floor!

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