Strictly going dancing a great way to keep in shape

“Get out and shake your booty - It’s good for the body, the mind and the spirit. We were born to dance”. Arlene Harristakes lessons from the experts

Danny Mac and  Oti Mabuse, Strictly Come Dancing. Photo credit should read: Guy Levy/BBC/PA Wire

Danny Mac and Oti Mabuse, Strictly Come Dancing. Photo credit should read: Guy Levy/BBC/PA Wire


To quote the Nolan sisters, “I’m in the mood for dancing” - perhaps not right at this minute, but I do revel in the opportunity for an energetic boogie or even a slow shuffle around a dance floor on occasion.

Dancing makes you feel good both physically and emotionally and as many of the past contestants of Strictly Come Dancing will attest, it also helps with weight loss and keeping fit.

Since it first hit our screens in 2004, the glamorous ballroom and Latin dancing competition has captivated viewers of all ages. The combination of make-up, sequins, beautiful dresses and tight trousers with (sometimes) effortlessly graceful footwork is hard to resist and if the TV ratings are anything to go by, we are all hooked.

Philippa Donnelan, director of CoisCeim Dance Theatre’s “Broadreach” programme says the show has done wonders for raising the popularity of dance as a means of keeping fit.

“There is no doubt that TV programmes such as Strictly have an impact on generating and building public awareness,” she says. “What is particularly noticeable is that people, particularly the older generation (mainly women) now view dance, as an important form of exercise, as much as walking. In Dublin, over the past 10 years there has been a steady increase in the number of dance classes now taking place for people over 50.

“It’s recognised that dancing is beneficial because it works on many different levels; on a purely physical level, it helps maintain such things as coordination, muscular strength and aerobic stamina.

“And as a creative art form, dance enables people to express, communicate and convey feelings, thoughts and ideas within both the private and public domain. Socially, dance in all its guises is a great leveller - offering opportunity for people from a wide demographic to come together to meet, interact and share.”

Tristan McManus from Bray kept Irish Strictly fans glued to TV last year while Laura Whitmore was the most recent competitor flying the Irish flag. Although the 31-year-old presenter (also from Bray) and her professional partner Giovanni Pernice were voted off at the beginning of November, she spent many weeks gracing our screens with her polished routines and impressive co-ordination.

“It’s such a great opportunity to be part of this and make so many friends and I’ve really enjoyed my time with Giovanni and learning so much,” Whitmore said of her participation in the show. “It was kind of like being back at school again which was really nice and refreshing, it’s been brilliant and to even get this far, I’m so proud of myself.”

Loretta Yurick is the co-artistic director of the Dance Theatre of Ireland. She believes that the reason Laura and her fellow dancers on Strictly looked like they were having fun, is because for the most part they were. She says that because of this, dancing is one of the best ways of keeping fit - both mentally and physically.

“Dance is pleasurable, so people are more likely to stay with it,” she says. “It is a social activity, combating isolation and has been shown to increase participation in other activities.

“Dance activates multiple centres of the brain; creative, emotional, cognitive, neuromuscular, musical, imagination and it utilises muscle groups throughout the entire body. It also promotes balance and balance-confidence and increased mobility.

“Learning movement sequences also exercises cognitive functioning, while improvisation and creative partnering fires quick decision-making, which is good for neuroplasticity.”

Tango, Foxtrot or Jive, ballroom dancing is a wonderful way to stay supple. It can also help people to lose weight. While celebrities have learned some fancy footwork over the past 12 years on Strictly, many have also left the show much lighter than they started.

Lisa Riley (of Emmerdale fame) lost a staggering 8 stone which was kick-started by dancing, reality TV star Mark Wright lost over a stone, Nancy Del’Ollio (ex-girlfriend of Sven Goran-Eriksson) shed several stones. Britain’s former shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Labour Party’s Ed Balls has given reaching the December 11th final his best gangnam-style shot while also dropping a stone.

Owen Cosgrave, director of says moving to the music is simply a great way of working out.

“Dance classes work both our body and mind, helping us to lose calories - sometimes up to 500 per hour in some dance types,” he says. “Dancing is great for toning all of our major muscle groups and increasing our strength cardio vascular.

“Moving from the sofa to a dance class for the first time may seem challenging, but it’s the best investment you’ll ever make and you’ll never look back.”

And as well as all of the health benefits, Loretta Yurick says dancing can also change people’s lives.

“Dance is much more than a way to exercise or stay fit; lives are transformed through dancing and we (as teachers) are effecting change in the ways the mainstream healthcare system approaches health and well-being. We are pushing the envelope in a number of health-related dynamic partnerships - with older people, with people with Parkinson’s disease, with people living with dementia and most recently with people living with lung conditions like COPD.”

Ballroom dancing, as seen on Strictly, is normally associated with older people who have perhaps had past experience, but there is no upper or lower age limit and the Dublin-based teacher says anyone can learn.

“People 65 and older may have danced as a regular pastime when they were younger as it was a hugely popular activity,” says Yurick. “But we would say that it’s never too late to learn and while it does take a lot of courage to try something you might not have done before, we are very welcoming, the studio is a friendly space, we take an affirming attitude in working with everyone (whatever their age) we focus on people’s abilities and work to expand their own sense of what they can do.

“If someone says ‘I can’t do that’; we say ‘Yet’. Most of all, we do our best to make it fun; people have a chance to be creatively expressive and this is something participants tell us they really enjoy.”

Philippa Donnelan of Cois Ceim agrees and says while the dancing we see on TV is stunning to watch, there is no harm in tripping over your toes every once in a while.

“Perhaps it’s a little passé to say it’s never too late to start dancing, but there is much truth in that expression,” she says. “I would encourage people to try something new, a little different and just give it a go. The class we run is drop-in and open to people of all ages and abilities.

“People can come along when it is convenient - they can dance at their own pace, stop when they want and practice when they wish - and yes we laugh a lot when we forget the steps or go left instead of right - so in short, it’s great fun.”

Louise Keating, lecturer in physiotherapy, RCSI and chartered physiotherapist, spent many years working as chief medical officer and physiotherapist for the cast of Riverdance, so is well aware of the benefits of dancing. She says not only is it a fantastic way to keep fit, it is also much kinder to your body than other sports.

“Dancing is a low risk ‘sport’ in comparison to team sports regarding the likelihood of developing an injury,” she says. “For example in ballet the incidence of injury is 4.4 per 1,000 hours of dance. This compares well to other sports - such as 10 injuries per 1,000 hours for recreational runners or basketball players and 50-60 per 1,000 hours of match play in GAA (football and hurling).

“It is also done at the dancer’s / choreographer’s pace, but can really target cardiovascular endurance if the heart rate of the dancer is sufficiently elevated during dance.”

However, the expert says injuries can happen and has advice on how to avoid them.

“Dancers are more likely to experience overuse such as patellofemoral (knee) pain or Achilles tendinopathy rather than acute injuries like ankle sprain or calf muscle strain,” she says.

“Overuse injuries happen over time rather than in a single moment (like an ankle sprain) and therefore there are warning signs to watch out for and act upon. A screen with a chartered physiotherapist can identify what risks a dancer may have for developing injury and also diagnose injury.”

Dr David Carey is the director of psychology at City Colleges and Dean of the College of Progressive Education. He says not only is waltzing with Matilda a great way to stay in shape, it is also hugely beneficial for emotional health.

“There is a mounting body of evidence that physical exercise is as effective in reducing stress, anxiety and depression as medication,” he says. “So what sort of exercise is best? The answer is simple: the form of exercise you enjoy most is the best - so this means that dance is a wonderful form of exercise. Music bypasses the thinking parts of the brain and goes right to the emotional brain centres. Movement and dance are joyful. Rhythm and movement are healing. They stimulate the release of endorphins, our natural calming chemicals.”

Carey says that being sociable is the best way to combat ageing and nothing could be more social than dancing.

“We have a social brain and it craves interaction with other people,” he says. “For older people, who often are marginalised in society, there is no better form of release from worry and stress than dancing and interacting with other. When we dance we move our bodies in a step-wise sequence and it is naturally calming. We dance in our feet, not in our heads.

“So my advice to people of all ages is to get out and shake your booty - It’s good for the body, the mind and the spirit. We were born to dance. Go do it.”

The Strictly Final is on Saturday December 17th, 6.35pm, BBC One, with results show at 9pm.

Where to dance...

Waltz, Foxtrot , quickstep and even the old-fashioned Viennese Waltz, whatever you fancy, has classes for everyone in various venues around Dublin - even something for those who prefer a little Hip Hop. 01 8273040

Strictly Come Dancing wannabes can brush up on their fancy footwork at - the Ballroom and Latin American Dance Company offers public and private lessons for all abilities. 021 454 2512

Ballroom, Latin or Contemporary. and be put through your paces. 087 99 33 070

Ballet, contemporary or street dance. Sackville Place Dublin. 01 878 0558.

Ballroom, swing, jive and rock-and-roll in Limerick and Clare 086 381 1065

Well-Dance for seniors. Ballroom classes on Tuesday and Wednesday 11am -12:30pm at Dance Theatre of Ireland, Bloomfield’s Centre, Dun Laoghaire - 01 2803455

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