Think exercise, and ballroom dancing doesn't exactly waltz into mind. But as regular readers of this column know, I've said many times that the definition of physical activity encompasses more than going to the gym or playing a sport.
The American remake of "Shall We Dance?", which opened this month in theaters, reminds me that when considering fitness activities, we should think outside the box and consider the likes of the box step. John Clark, portrayed in the film by Richard Gere, is first drawn to a dance studio by the sight of a lovely woman. Along the way, he discovers a love for dancing. He struggles, of course, but over time, he gets the basics down. Eventually, Clark finds himself stepping up to a greater challenge, competitive dancing, also known as dancesport.
Make no mistake: Ballroom dancing is athletic. Athletic enough that it's an International Olympic Committee-approved sport waiting in the wings to become a programmed sport. Dance any combination of the rumba, the tango and the waltz for at least 30 minutes a day, and you're burning calories. Keep at it for a few hours, and you're building cardiovascular endurance. You also develop balance, agility and coordination, all components of fitness.
And as in sports, you can't perform at your best during show time ifyou haven't been working at it. In the movie, Link Peterson, played by Stanley Tucci, tells Clark that for every hour of instruction, it's essential to practice on his own for five hours.
By some accounts, Gere is said to have been coached and practiced anywhere from three hours to eight hours a day to make Clark's moves believable on screen.
Bill Rose, 57, knows the rigors of ballroom dancing all too well. Rose and his wife, Diane, also 57, are amateur competitive dancers from Laguna Niguel. The Roses rehearse with their coach two hours a week, but spend 12 to 15 hours every week practicing. Two days a week, they take a break.
Rose says he and his wife are stronger, more flexible and have better endurance than most adults his age, thanks to ballroom dancing.
And then, there's the dancer's powerful, ready-for-action posture. A strong, straight back, an elongated neck and a stable stance primed for movement. No matter what age, proper posture is important. But it's especially critical as we age, because we tend to hunch over as we get older.
"To dance smoothly and lead a partner, you have to be able have more control of your body, and standing straight is part of that," says Rose, president of the Orange County Chapter of the United States Amateur Ballroom Dancers Association.
Some people find dancing intimidating. But there's a dancer in most of us - we just have to find it. If you're thinking about trying it, load up on persistence. You may not enjoy it initially, but that moment will come. Rose gives this advice: "Be patient. At first you won't do it well, but if you continue dancing, the steps will fall into line."
Shall we dance?
(Lisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her at the Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to lliddane(AT)ocregister.com.)
(c) 2004, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.