Shall we dance?

Shall we dance?
As a matter of policy, Nimisha Jain does not schedule meetings or calls post 7 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. She needs to be at a suburban dance studio by 7.30 pm, get out of her formal office wear and slip into comfy leggings and a T-shirt. Nimisha is no Shakira — not yet, anyway — but ever since she joined a belly dancing class last year, she’s a changed person.

“I joined the class on a whim,” reveals the Mumbai-based public relations professional. However, within the first week, she noticed how she was “less snappy” and “in a better frame of mind for the most part”. “Honestly, I didn’t expect it to last beyond the honeymoon phase. But it’s almost a year since I started and the effect is the same — if not better,” says the 42-year-old mother of two boisterous boys.

There are numerous scientific studies that establish the health benefits of dancing. From improving cognitive and fine motor performance to aiding weight loss and better heart health, putting on those dancing shoes can have incredible effects on your body, mind and soul. And increasingly, time-starved professionals are taking to dance as a way to cope with stress.

Mind-body connect

What makes dancing more effective than ‘gymming’? For Gaurav Mathur, it’s the kick that comes from learning a new skill. “I love working out, but dancing is something else! Although the endorphin rush is similar, you need more concentration to move your body to the rhythm. It’s like meditation — only a lot more fun,” says the Delhi-based entrepreneur, who has taken to hip-hop dancing.

At the end of a stressful day, what most people crave for is some ‘me’ time to recharge their batteries and find a safe outlet for all those pent-up emotions. And, perhaps, an opportunity to establish a deeper body-mind connect. Yet, we are too busy ticking things off on our to-do lists, planning for tomorrow and regretting the events of yesterday. Where is the time to dance?

Divya Ranjith was stuck in the same rut, until one day she stumbled upon a classical dance class on her way home after dropping her toddler at school. “The memories came rushing in and I succumbed,” says the Bengaluru-based software engineer. Bharatanatyam classes and stage performances were an integral part of Divya’s growing up years, but once her engineering course came into the picture, her studies took precedence.

Now, after all these years, the sheer act of attending a dance class for an hour, leaving behind domestic and work stress, is refreshing. “This is my second innings and I want to excel…this time, not for anyone’s approval, but for the sole purpose of nourishing my soul,” avers the 30-year-old working mom.

An interesting study published in the journal of Complementary Therapies in Medicine claims that dancing the tango can reduce stress as effectively as other alternative therapies such as mindfulness meditation. The researchers recruited 100 men and women, in the age group of 18 to 80 years, with self-reported stress, anxiety and depression. Participants were then randomly assigned to one of three groups: tango dance, mindfulness meditation, or a combination of both. The results were quite fascinating. While both the tango and meditation groups reported lower levels of depression, only the tango group reported lower levels of stress and anxiety.

Two left feet?

Contrary to popular perception, everybody can dance. Of course, some are better dancers. But this isn’t a competition, is it? The idea behind these dance classes is to help ease the tension in the body that often gets stored up in the muscles and glands. Better flexibility and muscle coordination are added advantages.

“Most of us have no adrenaline rush in our day-to-day lives. A dance class offers a chance to get out of our routine, without any pressure,” explains Aastha Gulati, co-founder of Nivesaa, a dance and fitness studio in Bengaluru.

For those who are self-conscious, Aastha suggests starting with Bollywood freestyle or salsa classes. “Dancing has nothing to do with age, weight, or even masculinity. It’s all about technique,” insists the dancer and teacher, who is glad to see more and more Indian men taking to the dance floor.

In many countries, dance or movement therapy is becoming a popular approach to stress management. In India, although there has been an increase in the number of dance therapy institutes over the last decade, it’s still at a very nascent stage.

Take your pick

It’s important to choose a dance form that suits you. Depending on your personal taste and fitness levels, you can pick a fast or slow style.

If you have ever learnt a classical dance form — say Bharatanatyam or Kathak — as a youngster, it may be a good idea to revive the interest.

Contemporary dancing is likely to be more enjoyable for adventurous souls.

Impressed by the finesse and grace of ballroom dances? Try the tango, cha-cha, or foxtrot. For a spicier style, go in for salsa or bachata.

In case you are also looking to shed some kilos, dance-fitness classes like Zumba or Zumbalates (Zumba plus Pilates) offer the perfect bet.

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