by Sam Shilmover
14 October 2006

Are you looking for an alternative to going to the gym?  Want an activity that you can do with your entire family?  Want to make some new friends?  Why not give Modern Square Dancing a try? We all know that exercise is good for you.  Running, aerobics, jazzercising, weight lifting, event sports (basketball and tennis) all seem to be hard work.  Isn't there a form of exercise that is also fun and doesn't seem like hard work? Yes there is - it's called Square Dancing.

Modern Western Square Dancing may be just the activity you have been missing. According to a 1994 Mayo Clinic Health Letter :

"Dancing can burn as many calories as walking, swimming or riding a bicycle. During a half-hour of dancing you can burn between 200 and 400 calories. One factor that determines how many calories you’ll expend is the distance you travel. In, one study, researchers attached pedometers to square dancers and found that each person covered five miles in a single evening. Regular exercise can lead to a slower heart rate, lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol profile. Experts typically recommend 30 - 40 minutes of continuous activity three or four times a week. Dancing may not provide all the conditioning you need, but it can help. The degree of cardiovascular conditioning depends on how vigorously you dance, how long you dance continuously, and how regularly you do it. The side-to-side movements of many dances strengthens your weight bearing bones (tibia, fibula and femur) and can help prevent or slow loss of bone mass (osteoporosis). If you’re recovering from heart or knee surgery, movement may be part of your rehabilitation. Dancing is a positive alternative to aerobic dancing or jogging. And finally, Square Dancing contains a social component that solitary fitness endeavors don’t. It gives you an opportunity to develop strong social ties that contribute to self-esteem and a positive outlook."

Square Dancing will add ten years to your life, a surprising study shows:

Dr. Aaron Blackburn states "It’s clear that square dancing is the perfect exercise. It combines all positive aspects of intense physical exercise with none of the negative elements." Dr. Blackburn said square dancing is a low impact activity requiring constant movement and quick directional changes that help keep the body in shape. The study was based on their physical examination which indicated that both female and male square dancers could expect to live well into their 80's. Square dance movements raise heart rates like many good aerobic exercises should. All the quick changes of direction loosen and tone up the muscles--but not so severally as to cause injury. In square dancing, when you’re not moving, you’re clapping hands and tapping your feet, which all contributes to long-term fitness. "You don’t see a lot of 55 year old basketball players, but that’s just the age when square dancers are hitting their peak", Dr. Blackburn said.

Good for Body and Mind according to WebMD (article published july 9, 2001):

With all its moving, twisting, and turning, square dancing provides more than the daily dose of heart- and bone-healthy physical activity. Remembering all the calls -- from "dosado" to 'allemande' -- keeps the mind sharp, potentially staving off age-related memory loss, experts say. And the companionship that regular square dancing offers is an antidote to depression and loneliness, a statement confirmed by square dancing advocates everywhere.

Square dancing is a mental and physical challenge. It is dancing and it is thinking. The goal is to work with the others in your square. Moving in rhythm to the music keeps you physically fit. Reacting to the calls keeps you on your toes. No one knows what move will be called next. Experienced square dance callers teach you the moves and the names of the calls that you dance. You practice these moves until they feel as natural as walking. Then your caller combines the basic moves and steps into whole dance patterns. You (and the others in your square) simply follow the calls. Each arm turn brings a surprise, and as the pattern concludes, all the moves bring you back to your partner. The combination of dance figures is almost endless.

Square Dancing is for people of all ages who are ready to socially interact, it is said that “Square Dancing is Friendship set to Music”.  People of all ages square dance finding it a fun social activity where there are no prizes, no points, no wreathes of laurel, no winners or losers, just a feeling of self-satisfaction and well being. It is intended for everyone to have a good time without the stress of competition.  Dancing contains a social component that solitary fitness endeavors don’t. It gives you an opportunity to develop strong social ties, which contribute to self-esteem and a positive outlook.   Besides the actual square dancing, dancers learn teamwork (yet there are no teams), cooperation, tolerance and patience.  Let’s face it these are all attributes we all could use a little more in our lives.

A side benefit of Square Dancing is while you're dancing you RELAX, mentally and physically, and completely forget any troubles that may have been plaguing you (bad day at the office, etc.). This pastime is a perfect way to forget your troubles, it is virtually impossible to think of anything else while you square dance. Because of the mental requirements of this activity, dancers forget about the day-to-day worries of the world and concentrate their efforts at making it through the dance. 

Though many men avoid dancing in any form, in actuality, square dancing presents very few of the hated elements. Though square dancing is dancing in the sense of partners, trappings, and music, it's actually like precision drill stepping performed with partners. Instead of a drill sergeant, there is a "Caller" who sings directions set to the music of popular songs. Following the Callers directions, the dancer's moves are all coordinated. In square dancing, the dancers responsibility is to simply follow the "calls" and be where they are supposed to be at the moment they are supposed to be there. Novices can walk there; energetic dancers can boogie there - according to your mood at the moment.

Come learn to Square Dance. If you can walk you can learn to Square Dance. With most dance forms you have to learn to place your feet in specific arrangements - you have to learn to walk in a different way which is un-natural. This is not so with square dancing. Square dancing is based upon walking in defined directions for defined distances. Which is exactly what walking is. And as walking is one of the most natural things we do - square dancing becomes so easy to learn.

Square Dancing is good clean fun and generally safe, and people of all ages are involved. An evening of this entertainment is inexpensive. You'll find yourself interacting with everyone from teenagers to the elderly... and you'll find you all have something in common.


Articles from the Internet

For Physical & Mental Exercise, Plus Sociability. Try Western Square Dancing. It's Friendship Set To Music

Do-Sa-Do: Square Dancing and Mindfulness  by Maya Talisman Frost

What is a Square Dancer

Don't Be a Square -- Dance!  Do-Si-Do Fitness   By Denise Mann  WebMD Feature

Learn To Square Dance!

A Brief History Of Square Dancing

Contributing Factors   by Jeff Garbutt

Prevention Magazine mentions Square Dancing as a healthy activity  by Bob Knowles

Dance for the Health of it!  from January 1994 Mayo Clinic Health Letter

Fun with Fitness   Square Up, Slim Down and Promenade the Pounds Away    By Diane Gustwiller; Defiance, Ohio

Dancing will add ten years to your life!

Square Dancing:  The Historical Geography of an American Folk Custom Richard M. MacKinnon  Allan Hancock College    Santa Maria, California

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Last updated October 17, 2006
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