Don't Be a Square -- Dance!
'If You Can Walk, You Can Square Dance' continued...
"Any weight-bearing exercise, including square dancing, is
a major benefit as one ages," he says. Weight-bearing exercise improves
bone health and thus may help stave off the brittle-bone disease
"Square dancing also helps you with the feeling of where
you are in space and with coordination, and this may reduce falls and chances
for fractures," says Maharam. "Regular square dancing may boost
endurance, and being able to tolerate longer bouts of moving faster may result
in improved cardiac function as the heart, a muscle, can become more efficient
if trained. Square dancing can be considered a type of cross training, which
helps to offset the muscle loss and strength loss typically associated with
A Social Form of Exercise
The physical benefits of square dancing are impressive, to be
sure, but don't discount the social payoff, says Jerry Reed of Coca, Fla.
"The primary benefit [of square dancing] is the social
interaction between people," says Reed, executive director of CALLERLAB,
the international association of square-dance callers, with 2,000 members
"Most of the activities that people do these days are
individual, such as golfing, tennis, and bowling," he says. "Square
dancing is kind of unique in that it involves touching hands -- we turn, we
swing, and that seems to bring us closer together."
And the touching in itself can be beneficial to health,
according to studies conducted at the Touch Research Institute in Miami, which
showed that regular touching can reduce stress and depression and enhance
immune system function.
What to Expect
"A typical evening is about two hours long and in that time
we dance six 'tips,' " Reed says.
A tip includes a "hash calling" -- where the caller
calls out some moves, which the dancers execute in smooth, choreographed
routines -- and a "singing call," which can include all types of
square-dance moves timed to fit popular songs. On any given evening, dancers
will twirl across the floor to the music of John Denver's "Take Me Home,
Country Road," the Bee Gee's "Stayin' Alive," Donna Summer's
"She Works Hard for the Money," as well as songs by the Beatles and
Reed calls about four dances a week. Today's square dancing is
hipper than what most people see in movies, he says, and more therapeutic than
you might think.
"It takes your mind off of the day-to-day problems," he
says. "All those other worries and thoughts disappear when you are
Ready to Sashay Your Way to Fitness?
You say you're tempted, but not sure if you've got what it
takes? Don't underestimate yourself, says Reed.
"Square dancing is not as complex as it looks, he says.
"We just learn one move at a time and go from there."
So what's stopping you from joining in all the fun? Square
dance clubs are popping up all across the world, and they want you. Ask at your
local community center or check your local Yellow Pages for information on
square dancing clubs and events in your neighborhood.