People always ask me when I became a dancer and why, and honestly dance is the only activity that stuck. I had a superhero mom that let me try everything: violin lessons, karate, soccer, swimming, you name it my young, single-mom was shuttling me here and there so I could try it. But of all the things I tried, dance was the only constant.
The focus on flexibility allows my body to release and relax my muscles to prevent or alleviate aches and pain. Building endurance and strength over time has fine-tuned all the muscles that support me in doing simple day-to-day activities like carrying heavy groceries or walking long NYC city blocks with much more ease.
And as a young person who battled serious depression and anxiety, dance was the outlet of creative expression and emotional liberation that I needed to thrive. Now, as an adult, dancing brings me the unmatchable joy of exploring the most authentic and vulnerable parts of myself. It paves the way for such moments of clarity in my identity.
So with all that in mind, here are some simple dance based exercises anyone can try so they can experience the benefits of dance.
Small dance is great for non-dancers who are in need of a simple entry point:
- With bare feet, stand pressing the outer edges of your ball and heel into the floor. This should feel like you’re pressing four points of a rectangle at the base of each foot into the ground.
- Letting your breath guide you, allow your body to move and shift as gravity pulls it in different directions.
- Notice without judgment the micro shifts and sways of your body.
You may lean really far forward or wobble and stumble to the side. That’s okay. There’s no right way to do this. It’s a simple exploration and grounding in your body.
I love to start my mornings off with a circular movement flow. It’s a nice reminder to embrace the wobbly and unsteadiness you may wake up with in the morning and use it to find strength (hello, resilience building!).
Here’s how I circular dance:
- I start with both hands up to the sky. Then I bend one knee and allow my arm on the same side to slowly melt me into the floor.
- Once I reach the floor (or as close as I can get to the floor), I slowly drift toward the center and fold over my legs. The more you bend your legs in the middle the more access you have to fully folding over.
- I continue to swing over to the other side and then bend the opposite leg as my arm on that side slowly brings me back up to standing.
- I repeat all that, starting in the other direction.
You can play with pacing — moving more slowly or quickly — to add variation or you can add in an upper body circle, opening up your chest to the ceiling as part of the sequence.
- Start with a bounce of the knees. Let the movement flow through to your limbs and beyond.
- Intensify over time until the shake gets wild. Arms can swing overhead or from side to side. Let yourself go with no judgment!
- You can even do this on your hands and knees with small pulsing releases through your back if doing this all while standing is too much for you.
I love letting out vocal expressions too, using sighs or heavy breath to deepen the release. This one feels a little wacky in the moment but trust me it’s the catharsis we all never knew we needed!
This is one of my fave dance movements! It lets me get silly as I’m releasing. It’s like turning up in the club in your bedroom. By yourself. With zero judgement. Did someone say #Winning.
- Start by standing and circling your hips in one direction, drawing circles on the floor of different sizes.
- Give yourself the challenge of drawing the tiniest circle you possibly could and then the largest circle you possibly can, a la Spongebob bringing it around town.
You can also do this in a seated position, legs crisscrossed, with one heel over the other knee to deepen the stretch to release your glutes in addition to tight hips.
The relevé or heel raise is performed by pressing your toes and the ball of your foot into the floor and lifting your heels off the ground. It’s simple and effective.
Known to increase balance through increased calf strength — which leads to greater ankle mobility and stability to support walking, running, and jumping — heel raises can serve as an afternoon pick-me-up.
Calf us surprised
One other little known perk of increased calf strength is that strong calves are said to be associated with strong hearts. Of course this is all observational as any exercise contributes a healthier life but if you’re feeling a bit down, a little pep to the step might be the move to get your blood flowing.
I love these dance moves because they illustrate my favorite part about dance: approachability. Dance can be complex and intricate and that certainly is a beautiful element of the art form, but at the end of the day, dance is just another language.
Our bodies innately have the capacity to communicate and play and heal through movement no matter how subtle or small the gesture. These moves can take up 5 minutes or an hour of your day. No matter the amount of time you dedicate to moving your body, you are sure to reap a rich reward, if nothing other than a simple smile. Happy dancing everyone!
Candace Taylor is the Chief Inspiration Officer and Instructor at 305 Fitness.