Dance to Improve Your Health and Strength by Mike Brown
Dancing and Bodybuilding
There are two very simple reasons for learning how to dance as you attempt to improve upon the way you look.
The first concerns the nerves that trigger the muscles. If only the muscles and not the nerves going to the muscles are developed, the end result, in many cases, is a bodybuilder who appears stiff when he walks. Most barbell or dumbbell movements are fairly limited in movement and application. You simply will not develop the ability to "move like a cat" by restricting yourself to a limited range of movement with a limited number of exercises.
For those of you familiar with electrical theory, consider this: volts (electrical pressure) times amps (electrical speed) equals watts, or electrical power. Nerves send electrical impulses to the muscles.
If we equate muscular strength to volts and nerves to amps, you can easily see that failing to develop your "amps" potential will affect your ability to produce power. You develop this "amps" potential by learning to dance and then practicing the myriad of moves you learn.
The second simple reason for learning how to dance is self-evident: aerobic exercise. Any experienced body-builder knows that cardiovascular exercise is a necessity in order to gain muscular size, improve circulation, and prevent injury.
Most bodybuilders use treadmills in the gym for this purpose. Have you ever noticed that someone who is clumsy when he gets on a treadmill is still clumsy when he (or she) gets off that treadmill after hundreds of serious hours on it, two years later?
Dancing vs. the Treadmill
A thought came to me one day as I was on the treadmill. Treadmills are boring. Treadmills, while they are of some benefit to your circulation, do less than nothing for your overall body coordination or ability to "move with power." In some cases, you get shin splints. An open track isn't much better. It is my own opinion that "running around in circles" is what describes training on a track.
Experiences I had had and things I had heard began to come back to me. Joe Louis had taken tap dancing. Walter Payton had taken ballet. The common denominator was that they both had taken dancing.
Any type of aerobic exercise had to be better than the treadmill. Tap dancing didn't seem like that great an idea and prancing around on my tiptoes with a bunch of people in tights was most definitely out of the question.
What I signed up for was swing. It was a mental strain but it wasn't boring. By mental strain, I mean trying to memorize and apply movements that were completely alien to me. At first I felt clumsy and awkward. Of course, I suspect that was because I was clumsy and awkward. As I progressed the instructors showed me the subtle ways to shift my bodyweight, foot positioning, and communicating leads to a partner (a live weight, if you will, the hardest thing to control). Mindful of the adage that misery loves company, I also signed up my twenty-year-old trainee, John. The first result John noticed about taking swing lessons was that the girls he knew were really impressed with his new ability on the dance floor.
After a few lessons I went to one of my favorite chiropractors, David Trybus, who used to train with the Barabian Brothers. He asked me, "What's new?" I told him that I had been taking swing lessons. He responded that he gets quite a few people in his practice trying to learn swing with complaints similar to mine.
"You mean this isn't the usual lifting injury I come in with?" I asked him.
"No, the problems you have this time have nothing to do with lifting weights."
What this meant was that my usual lifting injuries had been eliminated. The new injuries would also be eliminated once all the other normally unused muscles became acclimated. The fat around my waist and "love handles" also started disappearing.
Other things began to surface. I noticed that the days I didn't drink a sufficient amount of water I would lose my balance on a man's quick right hand turn (a 360º clockwise rotation). I recently heard that for every twenty minutes of aerobic exercise, a person needs to consume 8 ounces of water. Dehydration causes dizziness.
At some point in taking swing lessons I developed the ability to actually keep time with my body to the music. This may seem irrelevant to strength training, but consider this. Several years ago a book titled Superlearning was published. The premise of Superlearning is that your memory improves when you listen to baroque music. People were learning up to 3,000 words of a foreign language in a single day with the techniques described in the book. The obvious question is, since a strength athlete must have powers of concentration in order to set records, is there some correlation with music?
A number of years ago Acres USA, an organic farming publication, ran a series of articles showing the correlation between the singing of birds and the growth of plants. The thesis was that the vibratory notes in the birds singing created a series of vibrations conducive to plant growth.
Years ago an old man in Arizona, who taught me how to build the Lakhovsky Multiple Wave Oscillator, told me that his mentor had taught him there were only two secrets to the universe: frequency and vibration. His mentor had been Nikola Tesla.
In the last ten years some people have tried to show that children with brain disorders can benefit from dolphin therapy (swimming with dolphins). The theory is that the vibrations from the dolphins affect the brain waves of the child they "play" with. This has been written off as nonsense by the medical profession, which hasn't been able to do anything to help the children with these disorders.
Five months after I began taking lessons in swing dancing, I gave a seminar in North Carolina. I walk around a lot and gesticulate often during seminar presentations. A friend of mine, who specializes in a form of deep muscle massage, commented to my seminar promoter that my movements were much more smooth and fluid than before. Other people noticed the same thing.
As one of my instructors pointed out to me when I mentioned this, learning to dance is merely relearning to walk.
Enhance Your Athletic Ability
Dancing, in addition to helping you look good while you move, even off the dance floor, will help enhance your athletic ability. Let us give you an example.
Sugar Ray Robinson, who won 175 fights, 109 by knockout, and lost 19 in 25 years (1940-1965), is considered by many to be the best fighter who ever stepped into the ring. During the Depression, when he was twelve, Robinson lived in Harlem with his mother and honed his footwork by dancing for change along Broadway. On December 18, 1952 Robinson announced his retirement from the ring to try a career in show business as a tap dancer. He announced his return to the ring on October 20, 1954.
The great John Grimek was also quite a dancer. For those of you too young to remember who John Grimek was, he won several Mr. America titles back in the 1940s and 1950s, and was also a national weightlifting champion.
There are certain dances that will help specific athletes more than others. For instance, any of the smooth dances (tango, waltz, foxtrot) are great dances for any sport with a substantial amount of running involved. This is because of the way you take the forward steps in those dances. You reach forward with the heel but you immediately transfer the weight back to your toes. As you take each step you try to keep a good bend in the knees so you have a good push with the back foot to take a long stride. It's like slow motion running. By learning to take strides like this it will increase speed because of the weight staying forward. You can't run as fast if your weight is on your heels. Putting your weight on your heels makes you feel heavier and not able to move as quickly.
These types of movements also help develop and tone the thigh biceps, or hamstrings.
Most weightlifters are completely unaware of the relationship between the hamstrings and the lower back. When the hamstrings in one leg tighten or shorten, they pull one side of the hips down. Once the hips are tilted, the spine goes to one side. When the spine goes to one side, the lower back often "goes out."
You might think you could properly exercise your hamstrings on a leg-curl machine. You can exercise your hamstrings on a leg-curl machine, but the muscle fibers you engage are limited with a machine that allows you to exercise the muscles from only one angle. When you use the leg-curl machine, certain muscle fibers become stronger than other fibers. The stronger fibers take over while the weaker fibers rest. Your muscles are actually deconditioning from not accessing the full scope of the muscle.
Cha-cha and rumba are good to teach precision in movement because of the hip motion and the footwork involved. In learning how to do the slow and quick movements of the hip motion, control is accomplished. As you roll the hip from each weight change, you use what is called staccato movement. This is where you have what looks like a pause in the movement. In actuality, however, the hip motion never stops. The feet are what slow down. In cha-cha, for instance, the rhythm of the movements are slow, slow, slow, quick, quick. On the quick, quick movements you want to exaggerate the faster movements as you go into the slow movements. It looks like you almost stop because of the exaggeration. Being able to do this correctly takes much time and dedication. As intricate as the technique is, even attempting to master it will help in any sport.
Swing is probably the most vigorous of the dances. Most people do not think of swing as a ballroom dance, but it is. It is also one of the easiest to learn.
Swing is excellent for developing the abdominals and external obliques (the large muscles on the side of the body, between the lowest rib and the hip). Movements like toe-heel swivels and "the wheel" are much more vigorous exercises than "crunches" and side twists with a stick.
Of course, doing the wheel or toe-heel swivels also requires some fancy footwork. Practicing this fancy footwork, in swing and other dances, is what improves your poise, posture, balance, coordination, speed, and timing.
The cost for lessons? Very little. Regardless, are you going to put a price tag on your body?
Mike Brown in the Gym
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This page was updated on 25 May 2009