Dancing can be rhythmic, dramatic and sexy. It also gives one heck of a workout. Just check out the hard bodies on ABC TV's "Dancing with the Stars," whose third season premieres tonight.
But reality TV isn't the only place that highlights dancing. Gyms increasingly offer dance classes, from ballroom to belly dancing. That's because dancing gets the heart pumping, meaning an 150-pound woman can burn nearly 160 calories after dancing for just 30 minutes. And not only is it fun, it's less repetitive than cycling or running.
"All the movements are different, as opposed to a treadmill or elliptical machine where you repeat the same movement," said Dr. Beth Shubin Stein, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. "So you use and build up different groups of muscles."
Dance is also a weight-bearing exercise, which means it might help preserve bone density and prevent bone loss later in life.
Tricky dance steps also require balance, which can be especially beneficial to older people who need to maintain their balance and agility. A small study done in 2005 suggests that dance could improve balance and reduce the risk of falls.
Dance also requires focus and coordination, which can be mentally stimulating, said Jenny Susser, a sports psychologist the Hospital for Special Surgery.
That stimulation, she said, can make us feel good, which has been demonstrated in studies of dancing's effect on breast cancer survivors, who've reported that dancing made them feel better about their bodies and possibly improved their quality of life.
"Dance is a win-win scenario," said Dr. Robert Gotlin, director of the Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Center at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. Dance takes your mind off exercise, so you can have something fun to do in an aerobic atmosphere, while getting in shape and increasing your endurance."
As with any new exercise, it's important not to try any acrobatic spins or dips without proper training. As with most forms of exercise, going beyond your limits can be dangerous, fitness experts caution.
But don't let that stop you. Many people find that dance classes do more than help them get in shape. They might bring you a new and improved social life, too, because people in a class dance together, while many people working out in gyms are plugged into their own tunes or reading a magazine.
"The likelihood of forming bonds and friendships with fellow [dance] classmates is high -- much higher than [with] the random person next to you on the treadmill," Susser said.