From tango to tap and Bollywood to ballet, dance classes have seen a major boom over recent years, none more so than right here in Brum. It’s all about having fun – and getting fit – says Tango Oso’s Diane Parkes
While the resurgence in ballroom and Latin can be linked to the success of television series Strictly Come Dancing, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Across Birmingham, the range of classes is immense from fitness-based dance and Zumba, through urban, hip-hop and contemporary into internationally inspired Cuban salsa, Argentine tango and Spanish flamenco.
The message from instructors is that you don’t need to be a Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers to take to the floor – and nobody will be awarding you zero points. What’s more, dance is a great way to exercise. Involving all of the body, dancing can be fat-burning, muscle-building and brain-tuning while also helping reduce stress.
Dancing exercises the heart and lungs, providing a cardiovascular workout which can help reduce blood pressure which in turn helps stave off health issues such as stroke and heart disease. In speeding up, slowing down, turning and partnering, dancers are exercising different muscles, joints and ligaments thereby increasing muscle strength, balance and coordination.
BODY AND MIND
Many classes involve members learning set patterns of steps or movements in time to music, requiring us to work our brains, helping us retain cognitive skills and memory. Furthermore, dance brings people together to enjoy a leisure activity, helping build social skills and confidence and staving off isolation.
“Dance has the power to inspire people, transforming lives, communities and places,” says Becky Bailey, head of participation and learning at FABRIC, the new strategic dance development organisation formed by the merger of Dance4 and DanceXchange.
Based in Birmingham’s Hippodrome building and Nottingham, FABRIC offers an extensive programme of recreational dance classes. “Dance is fun. It is a great way to come together in a shared activity with other people which helps people build confidence and friendships – many of which continue outside the dance class,” says Becky.
And FABRIC has been instrumental in bringing dancing to the streets of Birmingham. It is the producer of Birmingham International Dance Festival which has presented several mass participation events across the city over previous years, encouraging people of all backgrounds to give dance a go.
For example, last year’s BIDF included Sense by Critical Mass22 which was an inclusive dance participation project bringing together young people, with and without disabilities, from across the West Midlands. And the festival also featured Tappin’ In, by Stephanie Ridings in association with Lou Lomas, which brought people together from across the region for the city’s biggest tap lesson and mass ‘shim sham’, a dance known as the national anthem of tap.
Becky explains: “Events like these encourage as many people as possible to take part in dance – and experience its health and wellbeing benefits.” Like most forms of exercise, dancing raises levels of the hormone serotonin, which in turn reduces stress, aiding sleep, digestion and general wellbeing. According to the British Heart Foundation, quoting an Australian study, dancers were found to have a 46 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular death and researchers believed this was due not just to the physical benefits but also to the relaxation and wellbeing which dancers experience.
Birmingham-based Tango Oso are encouraging people to give dance a go by launching a month of taster classes in Digbeth this summer (see box). And founder David Acunzo is convinced that once people try tango and feel its benefits, they will be smitten.
“Argentine tango is a great activity for an active and healthy lifestyle for all ages,” David says. “It’s known as a ‘walking’ dance so accessible to many. It gets your body moving to music at your own pace, bringing self-awareness and connection to your body and that of your dance partner’s whilst enhancing coordination skills and posture alignment. It engages your mind as you learn new skills, problem solve and experience the dance differently each time you dance reflecting the creativity you can bring, no matter your age or experience.”
David says research has revealed the benefits of dancing to both mind and body.
“It has been shown through studies that dancing, but tango in particular, has benefits for those with Parkinson’s disease by reducing the severity of motor symptoms including freezing and improving balance and endurance.
“A major benefit towards a healthy lifestyle is that tango is social, so you have the opportunity to connect with a diverse community where you bond over many aspects of the dance and other interests, bringing chances to meet new and regular friendly faces. It’s an ideal activity to come along on your own, with a group of friends and as a couple.”