If television mimicked the real world, Americans tuning into such popular television shows as “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing With the Stars” wouldn’t think twice about jumping onto Mary Murphy’s Hot Tamale Train or heating it up Latin-style with ballroom dancer’s bad boy Maksim Chmerkovskiy or the lovely Chelsie Hightower.
Dream no more: The popularity of these shows has already set an entire railroad system in motion at a local dance studio near you. Whether you want to pack ballroom heels, hip-hop sneakers, tap shoes, ballerina flats, a belly dance costume or even the hula hoop, fun dance classes are just around the corner.
With so many dance techniques to choose from, it’s only a matter of time before you too can reap the benefits of feeling more energized and looking fit and toned. Dancing could even help you shed some extra pounds before the upcoming holiday season.
To help you find your own dance style that doesn’t break the bank, ACE has consulted four acclaimed dance instructors to talk about their varied professional and coaching careers, client profile, and the ubiquitous health benefits one can reap from dancing at any age.
Jennifer Curry, Principal Ballerina of the California Ballet Company/Certified Pilates Instructor
At age 40, Curry is still dancing strong.
The principal ballerina for the California Ballet Company attributes her longevity as a professional dancer to her secret weapon—Pilates.
Pilates teaches awareness of breath and alignment of the spine, and aims to strengthen the deep torso muscles.
“It’s been a tough journey,” said Curry about her 30-year career path at the San Diego-based ballet company.
“For the body, it becomes more challenging to keep up with performance and class routines, but Pilates helped me sustain my career,” said Curry, and added “I have better technique and better performances, because it gave me so much more core strength.”
Curry’s day begins in the morning with about two to five hours of ballet practice and continues with up to five hours of Pilates training and instruction, sometimes until 9 p.m. She offers private lessons at the Body Alchemist Pilates studio in San Diego. Her clients range from middle-aged working professionals to professional dancers. Curry charges $70 for a 60-minute private lesson; $26 a person for group sessions; and $35 per person for semi-private lessons.
By popular demand, the California Ballet School, part of the California Ballet Company, also recently expanded its classical ballet training to offer a wider and more diverse curriculum.
“Lately with the dance infusion in pop culture, more people are getting interested in hip hop, jazz, tap and lyrical (fusing contemporary, modern and ballet),” Curry said.
The finalists of “So You Think You Can Dance” have all trained extensively in these techniques.
See the California Ballet School for a class schedule. Additionally, for dance education information at the local, state and national levels, check out the National Dance Education Organization.
Curry said she is also excited about the heightened interest by high school students.
“It’s becoming more cool,” she said, noting an upsurge in the numbers of high school dance departments and arts programs. Meanwhile, the “Dancing with the Stars” series has bolstered interest in ballroom dancing among adults.
But you don’t have to be a rising TV star or a youngster to start formal dance training, including in classical ballet, Curry said.
“Anybody at any age can get started,” Curry said.
“Dance keeps you looking young and feeling young at heart.”
Curry is living proof that this is true.
Tesha Marie Jacobson, U.S. Latin Dance Champion and Ballroom Dance Instructor
Tesha Marie Jacobson left behind a successful career as an internationally acclaimed ballroom dancer to coach professional and aspiring ballroom dancers and amateur dancers.
She agrees with Curry that dance shows have bolstered interest in ballroom dancing.
“People want to learn ballroom dancing for wedding parties and I also got a lot more younger people involved,” noted Jacobson. She began dancing at the tender age of 11 after watching a friend in a dance class.
Certainly, the earlier one starts formal dance training, the better the chances for a professional career. Hence, it’s nice to see more studios pop up with kids in mind, she said.
Compared to Europeans, who enroll children at a young age in ballroom dance classes to learn about etiquette and classical dance, American children prefer dancing ballet or tap. But as more TV shows feature 20-somethings or younger partnering up to dance a Viennese waltz or Quickstep, the greater the “hip factor.”
“So You Think You Can Dance” has brought to light that ballroom and Latin dancing is a real art form that they have to train in,” Jacobson said.
Partner dancing isn’t merely a full body workout; it trains the mind as well.
“Having taught at so many levels, you learn how to dance and control your muscles while using your mind to control muscle action and to create timing,” Jacobson said.
During formal competitions, partners sometimes dance up to five hours at a time.
Ladies dance in heels and are so graceful on their feet that their heavy costumes appear weightless. Jacobson used to soak and rub her feet for hours to find relief. She didn’t recognize until late in her career that adding weight-lifting for strength and yoga for stretching can help significantly with injury prevention and overall performance.
“Since getting my ACE certification (in May as a Group Fitness Instructor) I know how muscles function and how the body works as I’m getting people ready for competition,” Jacobson said. “I can pinpoint which muscles are working and make that movement happen.”
And men, if you think partner dancing isn’t a good workout, consider Jacobson’s boyfriend.
A non-trained dancer, Jacobson said her boyfriend swears he gets a better cardio workout Latin dancing than playing basketball.
For local chapters on ballroom dancing visit USA Dance.
Valentina Martin, Hoop Dance Instructor and Owner of “Unity Hoops”
Valentina “Unity” Martin started belly dancing at the age of 12 with her mother.
It wasn’t until 2007, when she met San Diego’s Jennifer Quest, aka “HoopCharmer” at the annual Burning Man event, an underground arts festival held in Nevada, that Martin became hooked on “hooping.”
Hooping or hoop dance uses a hula hoop, but these are not to be confused with the primordial version of hula hoops from the 1950s.
These handmade rainbow-colored hoops are offered in a variety of sizes, weights and can be accessorized with LED lights and even fire for more advanced performers. Dancers use the hoop on virtually every part of their body, starting with basic moves around the waist and progressing to movements around the arms, legs and up and down the entire body. The single prevailing element is the dancer’s happiness.
Still an underground dance, Martin would love nothing more than to make hooping mainstream.
Her dance troupe “Hoop Unit” books life performances at multiple venues and events. But Martin loves the idea of teaching hooping to students who she vows will get a great workout along the way.
Martin teaches 60-minute hoop dance classes at the Point Loma Dance Studio and at University of California, San Diego recreation. Drop in fees are $12 per person or $40 for five classes at the studio. Most students are between 18-40 years old and female, but everyone is welcome to hoop.
Class starts with a warm-up or basic hooping around the waist, working the abdominal muscles, followed by walking and turning with the hoop and moving the hoop around the hands, feet and legs.
“I also teach them how to hoop on shoulders and around the body in an expressive way,” Martin said. Advanced students learn even more tricks. Every class is taught with fun, upbeat music.
Martin said many people don’t realize that hooping is a solid aerobic workout.
“It increases flexibility in your back, is low-impact and you can definitely feel it in your stomach, arms, legs, and glutes,” Martin added. It’s a sure way to tone your body.
Martin sells her hoop creations online. Every hoop is handmade, collapsible and colorful. Prices range from $30-$50. Visit unityhoops.com for more detailed information or YouTube for a video demonstration of these portable hoops.
To locate hooping instructors in your area, the best place to start is the international website hooping.org. Another valuable resource is hulahooping.meetup.com to find “meetup” groups all over the world focused on hooping.
Leilainia Penix, Belly Dancer and Instructor; “Shimmy Sisters”
Leilainia grew up belly dancing with her mother and sister.
“My mother was a belly dancer,” said Penix. “It’s part of my culture and I grew up with it.”
It wasn’t until 2002 that Penix started looking at belly dance as a business. She formed her own entertainment company dubbed Nomad Artz Co.
Penix performs solo and with her sister under the name “Shimmy Sisters.”
She also teaches belly dance, crediting singers Beyonce and Shakira for bringing belly dance into the mainstream through their videos and stage performances.
“One thing that is great about belly dancing is that you can start at any point of your life,” Penix said. “You can be out of shape or overweight (it doesn’t matter). It is one of those dances that you can grow with and that grows with you.”
Penix teaches belly dance at the California Ballet School, Pure Fitness and at Bamboo Yoga in San Diego to a variety of students of all ages.
“People come to lose weight and to have fun,” she said. Some students look at belly dance as a hobby, yet others strive to become performers and to join Penix on stage.
Penix describes belly dance as an internal dance that allows you to view your body as beautiful regardless of shape or seize. She said belly dancers can achieve tranquility and meditative qualities that are similar to practicing Tai Chi and qigong.
“You will have a more peaceful relationship with your body and will feel more energized,” she said.
She defies the stereotype of belly dance as being sexual and reserved for entertaining men.
“Belly dancing isn’t about that,” she said. “It’s about finding a connection from within yourself and women dancing together. As people learn more about it, it broadens their awareness of the art.”
Among the many health benefits of belly dancing are improved core balance and coordination, increased flexibility and strength, enhanced physical appearance and posture. It can help tone the arms, abs, obliques, legs and the back. One hour of belly dance can burn up to 400 calories.
See Leilainia.com for classes and more information. For a list of various ballet dance classes by city and state, check out us.bellydanceclasses.net.
Marion Webb is the managing editor for the American Council on Exercise and an ACE-certified Personal Trainer. For specific fitness-related story ideas or comments, please e-mail her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.