Burn 500 to 1,000 calories an hour without setting foot on a treadmill with these dance styles to get you moving.
What other workout lets you incinerate calories while shaking a pair of sticks — in lieu of maracas — to tone your arms? This Latin-inspired dance-workout combines high-energy choreography with toning sequences, making the so-called “fitness party” ideal for both dropping pounds and giving the muscles in your legs and glutes some serious definition. “It’s a great form of cardio, and you can really achieve a long, lean dancer’s physique,” says Zumba instructor Gina Grant. Gyms and dance studios around the country offer Zumba classes, or pop in a DVD or video game to use at home on your Nintendo Wii, Xbox or PlayStation.
Belly dancing has a reputation for theatrics and seduction, but its rhythmic isolations of the hips, abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms and back make for a surprisingly low-impact workout. “It uses all the core muscles of the body with minimal effort on the joints, so it’s perfect for people of all ages or those who have sports-related injuries,” according to Zinia Rahman, instructor at NYC Belly Dance. Belly dancing is also a great way to strengthen the muscles in your back, minimizing lower back pain, she says. To get started, all you need is some music and a scarf to tie around your hips. “Stand comfortably in front of a mirror and move your hips, shoulders, arms and chest in as many different ways as possible, one by one,” Rahman says. “Just relax and shimmy!” Look for a class at your local gym or dance studio or pop in a DVD.
A sort of classy strip tease, burlesque will help you shed pounds as you shed clothes. While you’re busy strutting your stuff, there’s a lot of ab work hidden in those bumps and grinds, says Michelle L’amour, a burlesque teacher in Chicago. Dancing in modest heels also awakens muscles in your legs you didn’t know you had, and it doesn’t end when you kick off your shoes. “That’s when we put on our ‘air pumps,’” L’amour says, and the class walks on its toes for an intense calf workout. Many dance studios and gyms offer burlesque fitness or you can order a DVD. Use your best judgment if you’re a beginner, L’amour advises. “If there’s a lot of head whipping and falling to the floor, it can potentially lead to injuries,” she says. If a move seems too abrasive on your neck or joints, don’t be afraid to leave it out of your routine and focus on the fun parts instead. “Believe it or not, shimmying is great cardio!” L’amour says.
Take up ballet and you’ll work on cardio, strength training and endurance all at once, says New York instructor Martha Chapman. Sustained, graceful movements build muscle strength and stamina, while fast-paced jumps and leaps provide calorie-burning cardio. The stereotypical ballet dancer has long, lean limbs, yet ballet’s best-kept secret is that it’s also the key to a chiseled stomach and sculpted back, Chapman says. “You notice a dancer’s arms and legs moving, but all of that is supported by abdominal and back strength,” Chapman says. As a byproduct, she says, “Your back may not hurt as much if you have a desk job!” Most dance studios offer adult beginner classes and plenty of gyms offer ballet-inspired workouts that focus on flexibility and muscle work.
This traditional folk dance from India was originally performed to celebrate the harvest and other community milestones, but turns out it’s also a killer cardio workout, says Holly Halmo, a bhangra instructor in New York. As a beginner, you’ll learn bhangra’s two signature moves: the shrug, which tones your shoulders and upper back, and “horse feet,” a hop and raise of the knee that gives your backside some serious lift. As you dance to a two-sided drum called a dhol (or bhangra remixes of American pop songs) you’ll improve your balance, which naturally tones your entire midsection. Halmo recommends checking out the extensive assortment of bhangra DVDs available online if you can’t find a class nearby.
Liven up your fitness routine with some Latin flare and you’re sure to pick up newfound strength and stamina — and maybe even a date for Friday night! Quick step sequences sculpt your legs and derriere, while holding flirtatious postures strengthens your upper body. Resistance against your dance partner deepens muscle tone, and the fast rhythms keep you (literally) on your toes. You burn more calories per class because it’s such an energetic dance. Added bonus: “It’s a great alternative to the gym because it’s so social.”
A staple of West African cultural heritage, African dance incorporates stretching, strengthening and cardio, according to Morel Mouflet of the Djoniba dance studio in New York. The style and tempo are based on where the dance originated, but most African dance forms involve jumps, legwork and hip action — all great for your gluts and thighs — set to powerful drum beats. You can find classes at a local dance studio and many gyms offer African dance-inspired aerobics. Mouflet’s studio also offers a DVD of its own West African dance fitness fusion. What makes African dance so unique? According to Mouflet, it’s the live percussion that accompanies most classes. “When the drums are pounding you forget you’re working out,” he says. “You can’t get that when you go to the gym.”
A great way for anyone to get fit, ballroom dancing is particularly suited to getting you moving if you’re older or out of shape, according to Steve Chen, owner of Manhattan Ballroom Dance in New York City. In addition to covering a lot of ground as you move across the dance floor (read: good cardio), ballroom dancing is full of twists and turns and angled postures that improve your balance and firm up your core. Chen says a group class is ideal for beginners, but if you can’t take a class, he suggests using YouTube as a learning tool.
Hip hop combines elements from studio jazz (the kind you see performed on stage) and street styles, according to New York City-based instructor Matt Lopez. Typical moves include popping (flexing and releasing the shoulder, neck or hips on cue), locking (striking-a-pose) and breakdancing (this is where it can get acrobatic). Many of the movements are done on bent knees, which means you’re basically in a sustained squat for most of your hip hop class. Your thighs and backside will thank you. The next step: Show off your new moves — and fabulous dancer’s body — at your next party.
The tap dancing we see on stage is said to have evolved from a mix of the Irish jig and a West African dance called the gioube when the two cultures met in early colonial America. In tap dancing you beat out syncopated rhythms with your feet, which are amplified by the metal taps on the bottom of your shoes. All that fancy footwork is one of the best fat-burning dance workouts around. “It’s good for your heart, stamina, general strength and balance,” says Tony Waag, artistic director at the American Tap Dance Foundation. Plus, Waag adds, keeping track of all of those ball-change combinations is great for your memory and coordination. Not ready to shuffle off to class just yet? Get started at home: “Just make some noise with your feet,” Waag says. “Copy any rhythm you hear by clapping with the use of your feet.” You’ll get your heart rate up — and the number on the scale down — in no time.