Dance for fitness

From hip-hop to the foxtrot, dance fever is sweeping the nation, fuelled by popular TV shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and Britain's Got Talent.

Dance is the UK’s fastest growing art form. More than 4.8 million people regularly attend community dance groups each year in England alone. 

Whether you like to jump or jive, tap or tango, shake your belly or your booty, dancing is one of the most enjoyable ways to get some exercise.

Regular dancing is great for losing weight, maintaining strong bones, improving posture and muscle strength, increasing balance and co-ordination and beating stress. 

One of the best things about dancing is that while you’re having fun moving to music and meeting new people, you’re getting all the health benefits of a good workout. 

This guide will help you get started in dancing, including wheelchair dancing, introduce you to some popular dance styles taught in the UK and help you find a dance class in your area.

How many calories a 60kg (9.5 stone) person burns in 30 minutes:

  • aerobic dancing: 195 calories
  • fast walking (4 miles per hour): 150 calories
  • running (6 miles per hour): 300 calories
  • swimming (slow crawl): 240 calories
  • cycling (12-14 miles per hour): 240 calories
  • tennis (singles): 240 calories

Source: At least five a week, Department of Health, 2004

Before you start

Most accredited dance schools hold beginners courses and welcome people with disabilities. Schools are friendly and a great way to socialise. If you don’t want to go on your own, get a friend to go with you. 

Classes can cost as little as £5-10 for a 90-minute session. If the first class you try falls short of your expectations, don't be put off. It's worth trying a few different classes until you find the right one for you. 

Wear comfortable clothing that gives you freedom of movement, and shoes appropriate to the dance style. Some classes – such as ballet, tap or jazz – may require specialist footwear, depending on your level. Avoid wearing jewellery – such as earrings, rings and necklaces – which can scratch you or get caught in clothing. 

Find a dance class

  • The easiest way to get into dancing is to contact a dance agency in your region on the Dance UK website, to find dance classes near you.
  • Find your nearest school or teacher accredited by the Council for Dance Education and Training (CDET), the national standards body of the professional dance industry.
  • Find a class near you on the Exercise Movement & Dance Partnership website. Enter your postcode at the top of the page and get information on times, dates, location and more. 
  • Dance Near You has a database of 1,000-plus dance classes of all levels run by dance teachers, dance schools and studios located across the UK.
  • Search Youth Dance England's youth dance directory to find youth dance groups and companies, school teachers and dance events near you.
  • London Dance, set up by the Arts Council England and Sadler's Wells Theatre, has a directory of dance classes offered across London. 
  • If you can't wait to get your dancing shoes on, visit Change4Life's Let's dance section for free online dance routines, games and ideas for all the family.
  • To get into wheelchair dancing and find classes near you, contact the Wheelchair Dance Sport Association.

 

Dance styles

Not sure which dance style you'd like to try? Below is a quick guide to some most popular dance styles taught throughout the UK. 

Ceroc
Ceroc is a simplified version of jive and quite similar to swing but without the complicated footwork. Ceroc, short for the French phrase "C'est rock", evolved from jive, which was introduced by American GIs stationed in France during the Second World War. It's fun and easy to learn, which explains why it’s the largest and fastest growing partner dance in the UK. 

For more information, including classes near you, visit Ceroc

Street dance 
Street dance describes urban dance styles that evolved in the street, school yards and nightclubs, including hip-hop, popping, locking, krumping and breaking. These dances are practised competitively as well as being an art form and a form of physical exercise.

For more information, including classes near you, visit Streetdance UK.

Ballet
The first ballet school, the Académie Royale de Danse, was established in France in 1661. Today there are three main forms of ballet: classical, neoclassical and contemporary. Ballet’s conventional steps, grace and fluidity of movement are a great foundation for dance in general.

For more information, including classes near you, visit the Royal Academy of Dance or the British Ballet Organization.

Contemporary 
Unlike dances such as ballet, contemporary dance is not associated with specific techniques. In contemporary dance, people attempt to explore the natural energy and emotions of their bodies to produce dances that are often very personal.

For more information, including classes near you, contact your regional dance agency on the Dance UK website.

Salsa
Salsa dancing is a fun and flirtatious form of partner dancing, fusing steamy Afro-Caribbean and Latin styles into simple and lively movements. The word “salsa” is Spanish for “sauce” (usually hot and spicy), which is an appropriate description for a dance that is energetic, passionate and sexy. The basic steps are easy to learn and you’ll salsa your way across the dance floor before you know it. 

For more information, including classes near you, visit Salsa Jive UK.

Ballroom 
Ballroom dancing has made a comeback in recent years, partly thanks to TV shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and Strictly Dance Fever. There are many styles of ballroom dancing from around the world, such as the waltz, tango and foxtrot, and each has specific step patterns. It is essential for both partners, the leader as well as the follower, to know the steps so they can dance together. 

For more information, including classes near you, visit the British Dance Council.

Zumba 
Zumba is a popular fitness programme inspired by Latin dance. The word "Zumba" comes from a Colombian word that means to move fast and have fun. Using upbeat Latin music together with cardiovascular exercise, Zumba is aerobic dancing that is great fun and easy to learn.

For more information, including classes near you, visit Zumba Fitness.

Flamenco
From Andalucia in Spain, this is the dance of swirling skirts, castanets and breathtakingly fast heel stomping. Flamenco’s musical and dance traditions are centuries old, blending gypsy, Moorish and Andalucian influences. Flamenco is a solo dance characterised by hand clapping, percussive footwork and intricate hand, arm and body movements.

For more information, including classes near you, visit the Spanish Dance Society.

Tap
Tap dance uses shoes with small metal plates on the soles to make the dance itself part of the music. Tap evolved in America and had its roots in African dance, Irish dance and clog dancing. Tap is as popular today as it was in the heyday of the great Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly musicals, and companies like Tap Dogs demonstrate how contemporary it can be. 

For more information, including classes near you, visit the tap section on the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) website.

Bollywood 
Bollywood dancing stems from the Indian film industry and is now popular throughout the world. It is known for being upbeat and often helping to tell a story or show emotions. Bollywood dance blends classical Indian dance forms, with its intricate hand gestures and footwork, with modern western styles, including hip-hop and jazz.

For more information, including classes near you, visit the South Asian Dance Alliance

Modern jazz
Jazz dancing is energetic and fun, consisting of unique moves, fancy footwork, big leaps and quick turns. Jazz dance evolved alongside jazz music and was popularised in ballrooms across the US by the big bands of the swing era. Jazz dance offers a full body workout, developing dance ability, flexibility, strength and rhythm.

For more information, including classes near you, contact your regional dance agency on the Dance UK website.

Wheelchair dancing
BBC3's Dancing on Wheels has done wonders for the sport of wheelchair dancing and has raised its profile as a recreational activity. Wheelchair dancing is open to people of all abilities, including mixed ability dance partners. From the ballroom to the street – not forgetting ballet, and group dances like Gangnam or line dancing  nothing is off limits for those wheels of steel.

For more information and to find a class near you, visit the Wheelchair Dance Sport Association.


Page last reviewed: 30/06/2014

Next review due: 30/06/2016

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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

TwosStepUp said on 27 August 2013

I am very surprised that you did not mention folk dancing. Most -- or is it all? --- countries have their own form of dancing. From the UK we have English, Playford, Morris, Scottish country dancing, and Irish Set dancing. These are all common. You do not have to look far to find a variety of other styles: Greek, Israeli, French, Hungarian ... . Some styles and groups specialise in performance dancing, but this is unusual and most groups have a weekly social dance and a Saturday dance from time to time for special occasions. If you are new to any form of dancing then I suggest that you do go to a class and allow yourself several months --- even a year --- to learn. A little searching on the internet will reveal many possibilities.

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Georgiinaa11 said on 22 January 2013

I tried a class a few weeks ago called Swirve - I hadn't heard of it before!? It is honestly the most amazing way to keep fit! I was reluctant to go at first because I have two left feet however the steps are so easy but I still built up a sweat by dancing. I got things wrong but everone in the class was there for a good time and it was so much fun! I now go twice a week and I can honestly say I'm addicted - whats more I have lost weight by dancing along and have definately gained confidence! :)

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jberg said on 03 May 2012

Although I do already work out in at home, in the form of aerobics to fitness dvds, I'm going to be embarking on a completely new fitness style class for me, and that will be Zumba, I've never done it before, so I'll be interested to see how the choreography works.

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