We are quickly approaching the fitness industry’s most profitable time of year. You know, that time of year when we cover our Euro-slim leather belts with puffy, wool turtleneck sweaters because Martha Stewart’s recipes have infiltrated all the holiday dessert tables from Halloween to Valentine’s Day.

No worries! Instead of relying upon the old (and lacklustre) standby–the Stairmaster–to wage war on eggnog thigh residue, follow in the weightless footsteps of Fred and Ginger; go dancing! Kick up those heels, put on an elastic waist skirt, and dance the night away. Dancing burns calories; dancing is social; and you learn all sorts of new information while you’re dancing without even realizing it!

Burn baby Burn

There are so many dance classes offered in many major city centers, you could learn a new step from a different part of the world every night of the week if you so desired. Some dance forms where classes are in full attendance around North America include: African, Ballet, Ballroom (dance sport), Chinese, Hip-hop, Jazz, Middle Eastern, Modern, Spanish, South Asian, and Tap. For those in smaller rural areas, there are many dance classes offered at local dance studios and community colleges. Many nightclubs offer classes in dance styles that have developed major followings in popular culture such as salsa, swing, merengue, samba, and Argentine tango. Fitness clubs also offer cardio funk and stretch classes whose content is derived from dance’s movement vocabulary. In all of these dance classes, you use every muscle from the neck downward while learning and executing steps.

In most cases, dance classes follow regimented organization. The body’s warm up starts by paying special attention to the feet, ankles, knees and hips. Even though in most Western dance forms shoes are worn, it is imperative to warm up and stretch the feet. There are 26 bones in each foot surrounded by ligaments and 4 layers of intrinsic muscles on the under-surface. That’s an amazing architecture! If we don’t take care of our ankles and feet, we will be unable to locomote around the room; thus the removal of all those rum balls will be impaired!

After having warmed up, the instructor gives the class exercises, and then the class concludes with a combination (several movement phrases linked together to form a mini-performance piece). From a purely physiological standpoint, exercises performed throughout class are structured to work towards achieving total body fitness because they develop the major components of fitness: cardiorespiratory capacity, muscular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, skill, as well as the acquisition of balance, co-ordination, and muscular symmetry.

Dance is more than solely the physical body sweat factor though; dancing is communicative and intellectually stimulating as well as being a creative outlet and reflective of the cultures in which we live. All that in one 32-count phrase, and/or 1 hour of instruction!

In most traditions, the last section of the class is the pinnacle, as most students are thoroughly warm, therefore their range of motion is at its least limited (i.e., you can “go for it”). There is nothing as liberating as dancing and sweating and expressing yourself all while music envelops you! Some instructors, especially in African or Latin dance classes, even provide live music. It’s no wonder the title song to the hit 80′s dance movie Flashdance was, “What a Feeling!”