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Don't Be a Square -- Dance!

Do-Si-Do Fitness

'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 osteoporosis.

 

"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 normal aging."

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 worldwide.

 

"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 Elvis Presley.

 

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 dancing."

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.

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