Does the thought of having to move and groove or — gasp! — “shake it” during a workout routine make your heart start pounding? Sure, rhythm might not be an attribute you’d use to describe yourself, but that doesn’t mean you have to hide out from every instructor who asks you to move those hips.
Dancing to music can do more than just burn those calories. Studies have shown that it can make you happier, boost brainpower and improve the activity of your most vital organs. Plus, it’s one of the oldest exercise routines in history, so cardio dance has to be doing something right. Even if you have trouble mastering the two-step, here’s how to add a little shake and shimmy to your workout — and why it’s totally worth it.
How to prepare
While it’s probably best not to go out drinking until the wee hours of the morning the night before you’re ready to do the mambo number five, you can still excel in your cardio dance on a little less fuel than usual. The music and movement trigger your body’s release of endorphins, which can help offset a tired body and mind.
But since most dance classes are 30 to 60 minutes of nonstop motion, be sure to eat a hearty snack that will keep you energized throughout the class, and stay away from overly filling meals. Otherwise, you’ll spend the bulk of their class trying to keep that food from coming back up!
What to wear
Even if it’s 80 degrees outside, leave your gym shorts at home. No one wants to flash their neighbor with an open-legged move or a bend down to the floor. Think comfortable, breathable fabrics that are a little longer for a bit more coverage. (Down to your knees or ankles is most appropriate for these types of movements.) And make sure the material is nice and fitted, since you don’t want to have to pull up your pants the whole time. Any fitted or loose top should work well, so long as it’s breathable and comfortable to move around in. Some dancers like to rock just a sports bra, but that’s totally up to you and your comfort level. One thing to know for sure, you will be sweating a lot, so make sure your fabric helps manage the moisture.
What to bring
Don’t be fooled by the lack of running, sprinting or ab crunches that might be advertised in the class description. Nonstop moving means water is a must for cardio dance classes of all kinds. If possible, bring one that has a sport top so you easily grab and sip in a matter of seconds.
You can wear simple running or athletic shoes, though studio shoes that are more lightweight may be easier to move around in. While most studios offer complimentary towels, bring your own. Cardio dance tends to create a ton of sweat, and you don’t want to wipe down your face with your shirt.
When to arrive
Get to class at least 10 minutes early to leave time to ask the instructor about the movements you’re going to be doing. Have bad knees? An aching back? Address these concerns before the music starts pumping, so the instructor can provide you with modified movements that will apply less pressure on your bad joints.
What to expect
How things will go down once the music starts bumping really depends on what type of class you take. Cardio dance covers a wide range of subcategories, from hip-swerving Shakira moves to doing the “mashed potatoes” to 1950s tunes.
Most classes that advertise “dance” in the name will be a combination of short choreographed sequences that you will build upon throughout the class, and may end in ab work or strength-training of some sort. Afraid you won’t be able to nail any of the moves? The best thing about exercise dance classes is that most people aren’t pros. They’re young professionals like you who want to have a little fun while sweating off some calories. If you’re concerned with the level you’re taking, call the studio and ask what they offer for beginners.
What to do next
Even though you’re not lifting weights or clocking miles, cooling down after your dance class is just as important as stretching is beforehand. The first thing you should do is focus on slowing down your breathing by taking in air through your nose and out through your mouth slowly. Your instructor will likely take you through a five-minute cool-down involving stretching your limbs and torso.
Remember to drink a lot of water the rest of the evening to rehydrate what you’ve lost by sweating during class. If you’re feeling cramped and stiff the next day, not to worry. Your body’s likely not used to using these muscle groups and will adjust over time. Simply wait a few days and sub in some restorative yoga or light Pilates before you get back out on the dance floor.