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African dance offers health and fitness benefits

By Christie Melhorn, September 13 2016 —

In a room vibrating from the pounding of drums, the thundering of feet and spontaneous calls of excitement, it’s impossible not to get pumped up. For eight years, I have taken West African dance classes in Calgary that continually challenge and nourish me.

As busy students, it is important that we take time to physically and mentally nurture ourselves. And from my experiences, I have learned that traditional dances can offer just that.

In Calgary’s studios, West African dance classes last anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half, giving you a substantial blast of cardio. Up to two different dances — one slow and one fast — are explored in this time. The dynamic, high intensity movements will keep your heart rate in flux, which, according to the Journal of Obesity, burns more fat than carrying yourself at a consistent pace. As such an intense form of cardio, African dance can also boost your mood with a generous surge of endorphins. You’ll definitely earn those quick water breaks throughout class.

While West African dance offers a full-body workout, your lower body is especially utilized.

Most of the choreography demands you to stay low to the ground in a stance called “happy booty.” Your goal is to keep your knees bent over your toes with you glutes pushed back — which means you are technically squatting for an hour without even realizing it. The next day, your booty may not be so happy, but you will be satisfied from the soreness of such a thorough workout.

Thankfully, your booty does not do all the work. Your mind is equally engaged in West African dance as you learn and memorize diverse patterns of movement. An article by the Harvard Neuroscience Institute explains that this aspect of dance enhances your hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness.

It can also bolster your long-term memory, visual recognition and decision-making skills. Upon returning to an abandoned stack of flashcards after a West African class, I am almost always quicker to interpret the material and focus longer.

As with any form of exercise, one of the major benefits of West African dance is its ability to melt stress away. As you roll your
spine at the beginning and end of class, it’s as if the stress stored in your body unravels and falls right off of you.

If you are willing to try it out, FreeHouse Dance, Decidedly Jazz, Danceworks and Pulse all offer classes. During seasonal sessions, drop-in rates range from $18–$28. While this might be a little steep for a student budget, you can take a sample class for free or pay between $2–$5 during promotional periods.

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