Dancing For Weight
Dancing for Weight Loss and Hip Hop
By Steve Edwards
From the Million Dollar Body Club - Join Today and Workout to
When MTV first aired in the '80s it changed our vision
of what a dancer looked like. What had been the domain of the ballerina or,
perhaps, a well-tailored Fred Astaire floating nimbly around a ballroom was
more or less instantly transformed to the world of Madonna, i.e., scantily
clad, chiseled bodies that moved with power and athleticism. And, all of a
sudden, the word "dancer" became synonymous with "hardbody."
Back when we were still in the
depths of the crunch craze, this depiction probably sold more Ab Lounges, Ab
Rollers, and other types of crunch-based workouts than any advertisement.
Unfortunately, it failed to transform us into a nation of hardbodies because
crunching left out a rather large piece of the proverbial pie. It left out the
"I've never had to do a crunch
or a sit-up," says hip hop dancer Shaun T, who's performed on stage with Mariah
Carey and created with Beachbody his own fitness program,
Hip Hop Abs.
"Dancing, especially hip hop, is very powerful. You work your arms, your legs,
and your core is engaged the entire time."
Let's take a look at how dancing
has changed and ways that it can help you get a stage-worthy body.
Dancers have always been fit. It's just the society hasn't always
had the desire to work that angle. We never saw Fred Astaire with his shirt off
because, most likely, MGM didn't want us thinking he might be able to take on
the action heroes of the day. Back then, guys like Clark Gable or Bogie were
far more apt to show up in ads for Benson & Hedges than 24 Hour Fitness.
Tough guys didn't have to be fit.
Gene Kelly was the first to make
a true attempt to change the public persona of the male dancer. He rolled up
his sleeves, beat people up, and acted more like Jackie Chan than a ballroom
king. To match his athleticism, the women he danced with were allowed more and
more freedom. And once we got a look at Ann Miller's legs, there was no turning
back. Dancers' bodies were hot and audiences wanted to see more of 'em. Enter
Dancing vs. sports science
Dancers looked the way they did
because they danced all day, but sports trainers (and exercise marketers) began
to look for something to get the same body in less time. As usual, there was
some trial and error associated with the research, leading to a lot of public
misconception. The main one being that those MTV-inspired 6-packs were a
function of how strong one's stomach muscles were.
Unfortunately, the ripped
midsection is directly linked to the individual's body fat percentage, not how
strong their core muscles are. This means that you could do ab exercises until
the cows (and everything else) came home and you'd never look like Madonna. But
that didn't stop the major industry of ab gimmicks from flooding the market.
The crunch years
In spite of this, isolation training, or training
individual muscle groups, was all the rage for a couple of decades. Probably
spurred on by Arnold in the iconic bodybuilding movie, Pumping Iron,
people were creating exercises to isolate one muscle at a time and blasting it
into submission. As these exercises trickled away from Muscle Beach and into
the mainstream, the one that stuck more than any other was the crunch.
The crunch is a great isolation
movement. Plus, it's relatively easy and you can work your abdominal muscles to
a state of rigor mortis within minutes. And, actually, it worked pretty well
for bodybuilders. After all, they aren't movement-based athletes. And, since
they spent so much time in the gym, isolating the abs wasn't so bad because
they isolated every muscle group. By skipping that last tidbit, this spawned an
entire industry of quick-fix workout gimmicks promising that you, too, could
look like Arnold or Madonna. But instead of dedicating your entire life to
exercise, these promised similar results in a few minutes of ab isolation.
The rise of functional
Functional training is basically exercising using
movements that you'll encounter in everyday life. Ya know, like dancing. So,
essentially, it has always been around. But functional training as a workout
grew out of physical therapy, which makes sense as more and more people were
landing in PT units because they'd been injured due to isolation training. What
they found was that isolation training was creating muscular imbalances. This
is, essentially, where one muscle group becomes stronger than it's supposed to
be compared to others. When this happens it's easy to get injured.
Functional training focuses on
your core: the middle of your body where virtually all movement begins. A
strong core creates a base to work from. If this base is solid, your chances of
getting injuries decrease greatly. Your core is not just your abs, but all the
muscles that connect to your spine and pelvis. It's essentially all of the
prime mover and stabilizer muscles that you use to stay standing. For this
reason, core exercises often include balance movements. These include using
gadgets like stability balls, boards that wobble, golf balls, soft balls, and
foam rollers, but it also includes simple old-school movements like push-ups,
squats, and yoga stanceswhich are all similar to the various forms of
movements you get when you dance. All of these movements require body awareness
(balance) to keep you from falling over, which is, again, like dancing.
Dance to the music
While functional training was slow, calculated, and
difficult to sell to the masses, dancing was a different issue. For one, you
didn't have to sell it. People dance because it's fun and, thus, will do it
anywhere they can. When the video workout movement came about in the '80s,
dance workouts became commonplace, which made a lot of sense since they were
easy to sell if people thought that they could dance into great shape. The
problem is that they weren't targeted. Fun, yes. Somewhat effective, yes. But
it wasn't creating Madonna clones.
The problem was creating
realistic workouts. Dancers work on specific movements over and
oversimilar to a way that you do when you would try to work on a jump
shot or increase your bench press. The early dance workouts mainly just got you
to move. There was no real emphasis on the true training aspect.
The next wave of dance-related
workouts was hybrid, combining dance with another discipline to create a more
effective workout, such as
Turbo Jam. Its
creator, Chalene Johnson, saw dancing as a catalyst for creating effective
workouts. "You'd see these women at weddings who would dance for hours on end,"
she said. "It wouldn't even cross their minds that they were getting a
'workout.'" From there she used dancing as a base to work from and, bingo, had
a targeted workout that felt like an activity you'd do for fun.
Hip hop: the ripped generation
All forms of dance will make you fit but when hip hop arrived on
the scene the rules changed. As a new art form, the performers could shape it
any way they wanted. Athleticism and aesthetics were at its foundation as
artists attempted to one-up each other in both how they looked and performed.
It became, essentially, like a bodybuilding competition for dancing.
"I've done all types of dancing
from jazz, to modern, to musical theater," says Shaun T. "But nothing comes
close to the athleticism of hip hop. After I quit running track in college, I
began to have problems with my weight, so I began dancing. Hip hop became my
first love because it was so fitness oriented. Because it comes from so many
different areas of dance it's, by far, the most fitness-oriented form of
Core function is vital for all
movement in sports, including dancebut especially hip hop dance. Though
the arms and legs are what you mainly notice in traditional western dancing,
conditioning the foundation is still paramount. But non-western dancing tends
to begin at the core. Belly dancing and hula are probably the two most famous,
but the majority of dances coming from more equatorial regions largely focus on
mastery of the core area.
Hip hop dance is a fusion, a blend of athletic modern
dance moves and traditional non-western dancing that features that core area.
Because all the movements stem from the core, it's probably the most
functionally directed activity you can do for reshaping your midsection. This
is why it's rare when you see a hip hop artist who doesn't show off his or her
Today, you've got a lot of
choices for dance-related exercise programs. All of them will help you dance
better, most of them will help you get fit. But if you want to look like
Beyoncé, consider hip hop.