I recently read an article questioning whether ballet was a good form of exercise. The article was specifically referring to children and whether it is a good place to take your child for aerobic exercise. To sum up the article, their conclusion was that in ballet there is a lot of standing around and therefore other forms of dance such as hip hop would be a better choice.
As someone who is not only a dancer but someone loves health and fitness I feel the issue is not as simple as that. I have taught all forms of dance my whole adult life and I also have worked as a personal trainer. I know a lot about the body and how it works.
To say that exercise is just about cardio and burning calories is misinformation. Yes you might burn more calories in a high energy class such as hip hop. This depends however on the instructor and how they structure their class. I try to keep my kids moving in my ballet classes so there is not a lot of standing around. My preschool classes don’t even use the barre. Also in hip hop if a lot of time is spent learning choreography there won’t be as much cardio either. I think some people think that all dance classes are like a Zumba class where you are learning simple combinations and moving all the time. This is not always the case.
When I take ballet class I don’t go to burn calories or get a cardio workout. In the jumping portion of the class I will get my breath going but that part is short. I go to class for many reasons. They are to: 1) Improve my skills 2) Keep the muscles and flexibility needed to dance in shape 3) Improve my overall health 4) Have Fun!
Cardiovascular exercise is exercise that raises your heart rate and keeps it elevated for a specific amount of time. A ballet class may or may not accomplish this. It depends on the instructor and what the class is working on. However, like I said earlier the benefits of ballet dancing are more than just cardio. If you are looking at ballet for the benefits of exercise there are benefits that a ballet class has that will help you improve even if the class is not cardio heavy.
How a ballet class can contribute to your overall physical health:
- Improve Muscle Strength
Part of good overall health depends on building muscle. Muscle keeps your alignment strong which helps prevent injuries. Muscle also burns calories so the more muscle you have the more calories you can burn! Ballet is great for muscle building. Arms are in use much of the class. Legs need to be strong to jump or hold balancing positions. The adagio portion of a ballet class is very difficult. Either at the barre or in center adagio exercises require very slow movements usually balancing on one leg with the other extended. This requires a lot of strength!
Part of exercise is muscle building. They say ballet dancers are stronger than football players! If you look at a ballerina’s legs you can’t help but notice the definition. Building muscle will help in your cardiovascular health because it keeps your body strong enough to perform cardio activities and it contributes to burning calories.
I always feel like I worked my body at the end of class. I maybe didn’t raise my heart rate for a consistent 20-30 minutes but I definitely know I worked my muscles!
- Increased Fluidity and Grace
Graceful dancing is beautiful to look at. Learning to dance with grace takes a lot of relaxation in the neck, shoulders and other joints. Learning which parts of the body need to work and which ones need to relax is so helpful in dance and in life. Moving freely can help relieve anxiety and tension and will ultimately help prevent injuries while performing an activity.
- Excellent Body Awareness
Dance classes are the best place to learn good body awareness. Ballet is at the top of the list. It is not as common to hear teachers talk about good posture in a hip hop class. It does exist but it depends on the teacher. Ballet class is where you will hear teachers talk about standing tall, shoulders down, feet pointed, etc. at almost every class. Students are made to be fully aware of every single part of their body to perform a step correctly.
If you do not take dance you are probably not taught good body use. In most every sport I, or my children, have been a part of I have rarely heard a coach or teacher talk about how to most effectively use the body to improve skills. They are simply shown the skills or exercises and expected to copy. This is why most adults have back or hip pain. Nobody showed them how to use their body to prevent bad habits and injuries.
I go to the gym often and see so many people exercising with poor posture. I even see personal trainers working with individuals and not correcting their posture while they are exercising. It is just an injury waiting to happen!
As a recreational dance teacher I know most of my students are not going to become dancers. However I know that I can teach them good body habits, if not for dance for their future, in whatever they do. This is extremely important to me. I am constantly reminding my students to sit or stand up straight, to use their whole bodies when dancing and pointing out the little things such as how fingers and toes need to be with each movement. I am on a mission to help their bodies feel good as they grow up!
We could go into how dancers can also injure themselves by overusing their bodies or if they are not taught correct technique or interpret it incorrectly, but that is another article. We are simple talking about ballet as a form of recreational exercise.
So in conclusion the biggest benefit that I see from a ballet class is being able to recognize how to use your body so that when you do any exercise you will get all the benefits from that activity. You will also be less likely to injure yourself. Maybe the biggest benefit is that because you are aware of how to use your body you will be more likely to try activities that will help keep you in shape. You are confident being in motion! That is so important!
So when I hear someone say that ballet is not a good form of exercise I am disappointed. I know the benefits of a ballet class and how it has helped me. It helps me when I go for a run and when I lift weights. If I had never learned good dance technique it would be a completely different story.
No you won’t lose weight only taking a ballet class. However if that is what you want from a class, a hip hop class might burn a few more calories but good health is so much more. Like they say, it is a combination of exercise and healthy eating habits on a regular basis.
But as someone interested in health and who likes to encourage people to move, if you want a dance class to be a part of your fitness routine, great! Take hip hop, tap or ballet as a supplement to other activities. Whatever makes you happy and want to move is what matters!