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Dancing For Weight Loss

Dancing for Weight Loss and Hip Hop Abs

By Steve Edwards
From the Million Dollar Body Club - Join Today and Workout to Win!

Shaun T and Hip Hop DancersWhen 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 dancing.

"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.

That's entertainment!

Ballroom DancersDancers 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 MTV.

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

Fit Women Doing CrunchesIn 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 training

Home Workout WomenFunctional 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 stances—which 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

Jumping Aerobics ClassWhile 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 over—similar 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

Shaun T DancingAll 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 dance."

Core function is vital for all movement in sports, including dance—but 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.

Shaun T and FriendHip 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 abs.

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.

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