So You Think You Can't Dance?

Families, Food and Fitness November 11, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF
Dance isn’t just art and entertainment. It is a way to be active and maintain fitness.

Author: Anne Lindsay, M.S., ACSM-HFS, Exercise Physiology, University of Nevada Reno, University Nevada Cooperative Extension

Anyone can be a dancer, including former NFL Quarterback Kurt Warner, teenage activist Bristol Palin and TV’s favorite Mom from the 1970’s hit show The Brady Bunch! ABC’s Dancing with the Stars has taken dancing to a whole new level as we watch our favorite celebrities transform into ballroom, salsa and tango dance performers.

Since early black and white films like Singing in the Rain (1952), television, musicals and movies have popularized dance as an art form, entertainment, or hobby. Movies like Saturday Night Fever (1977), Footloose (1984) and Dirty Dancing (1987) featured dancing as fashionable and something everyone wanted to do. Michael Jackson stunned the world with his Moon Walk (1983) and popularized hip hop, breakdancing and other forms of street dance that still exist today.

But dance isn’t just art and entertainment. It is a way to be active and maintain fitness. Dancing is a great way to make fitness fun and not drudgery while still building stamina and maintaining muscular strength. Dancing can be performed at various levels of exercise ranging from 4 METS (energy expenditure in metabolic equivalent) which is similar to walking a dog, golfing, or very light bicycling; or it can be performed at more moderate or vigorous intensities, around 9 METS, which is comparable to running a 10-12 minute mile, playing basketball or swimming. It just depends how much energy you want to expend and for how long.

Health clubs offer aerobic dance, hip-hop classes and step aerobics that incorporate choreography and rhythmic movements with dance club music to create a fun atmosphere for exercisers. Trendy dance fitness programs like Zumba combine Latin and international music with dance styles from Salsa, Merengue, Mambo and Reggaeton to make exercising enjoyable.

Take caution, however, when attending high-energy dance fitness classes as they are generally also high impact and can be strenuous on your bones and joints.


Remember to:


  • Consult with your physician – especially if you have health conditions or are over 50 years of age;
  • Wear good workout shoes – worn down shoes provide little support;
  • Check your instructor’s qualifications and certifications – since classes are often taught in large groups of varying fitness levels, proper technique and form instruction can be compromised or even overlooked;
  • Exercise at your own pace - start easy and build up.

One way to alter your level of intensity is to incorporate or eliminate use of the arms. Dancing with just your legs and no arm movement requires much less energy than using the whole body. So add arm movements for a more intense workout. If you get tired while performing dances, drop the arm movements and just move the lower body.

To incorporate dance in the home with your family, turn on your favorite music and freestyle dance or learn simple dances that you can do with your children, such as those found in the All 4 Kids program which uses music to engage children in hip hop, country line dance and salsa. Children perform movements that are fun and build self-confidence, but dance can also contribute to their overall health and well-being. Dance music, video and movements can be found on YouTube or on the eXtension website.

"All 4 Kids" Dance Videos:

Video - "All 4 Kids" Boogie Oogie Slide
Video - "All 4 Kids" Pack It Up
Video - "All 4 Kids" Ven Conmigo

Whatever genre of music you like and style of dance you enjoy, whatever your fitness level, or whether you enjoy clubs, fitness centers, or staying at home, dance is a great way to shape up. You don’t have to be a dancer, you just need to get up and move!



For more information:

2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

American Council on Exercise (ACE)




More Articles

Move More Everyday Introductory Article



Connect with us

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest


This is where you can find research-based information from America's land-grant universities enabled by



This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.