Tap Toeing to a Healthier Life
No matter what our age, we are all capable of a “looney-gooney dance.” Put on music with a good beat and even the smallest baby will start to move. With the popularity of shows like "Dancing with the Stars," it should come as no surprise that more and more children — as well as adults — are strapping on their dancing shoes and tap toeing into a healthier life.
The Benefits of Dance
Dancing offers children a chance to socialize with their peers, to strengthen bones and muscles without injury to joints, to tone the entire body, to improve posture, to increase flexibility and to build confidence. Best of all, it’s fun.
Many do not realize that dancing can burn as many calories as walking, swimming or riding a bicycle. During a half hour of sustained dancing, you can burn between 200 and 400 calories. One factor used to determine how many calories burned is the distance danced by the dancer. In one study, square dancers wore pedometers and were amazed to discover that by night’s end, each had traveled more than five miles.
"Dance teaches children how to express themselves," says Jessica Dixon, mother of 1-year-old Ashlynn and a dance instructor at Capitol Academy of the Arts in New Holland.
Dixon also teaches dance as part of the ministry offered at Praise Community Church in York.
“Dance gives children an outlet, something fun to do while at the same time giving them exercise,” she says.
And she should know. She has been dancing since the age of 3 and has studied various dance types, including ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical and modern at Greater Dover Dance Academy.
“Classes range from 1 to 1 hours and when kids take multiple dance classes, they are staying active for hours,” says Dixon. “Dance is cardiovascular because it keeps the dancer’s heart rate elevated for an extended period of time while also working on toning muscles.”
Preschool-aged children learn to channel their energy and to develop their attention span, balance and coordination through dance. And, most of all, they’re getting exercise, something that is sorely needed as more and more children struggle with obesity.
411 On Obesity
In the past 20 years, the percentage of overweight children has grown to epidemic proportions. Technology is partly to blame. Kids lead more sedentary lives, some spending multiple hours a week in front of a TV or a computer. Because of this lifestyle, it’s possible that we are raising the first generation of children who won’t live as long as their parents’ generation due to poor nutrition and physical inactivity.
On the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web page (www.cdc.gov), they report that the prevalence of overweight children ages 6 to 11 more than doubled, going from 7 percent in 1980 to 18.8 percent in 2004. The rate among adolescents ages 12 to 19 more that tripled, increasing from 5 percent to 17 percent.
The health implications associated with being overweight are serious. Obesity can lead to heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and social and psychological problems.
Some of the most recent data estimates that nearly 176,000 people aged 20 and younger currently have diabetes. Some reports suggest that type 2 diabetes is more frequently diagnosed in children and teens, however the CDC states that more data is needed to accurately monitor these increments.
The best way to predict if a child will become obese is to look at the size of the parents. However, this indicator works only until the child is 2 or 3. By age 5, a child’s body mass index — or BMI — becomes the best predictor of
future obesity. In other words, when your child reaches kindergarten, there is no such thing as “baby fat.” Barring significant lifestyle changes, an overweight 5-year-old becomes an overweight adult.
Leading an active lifestyle that incorporates 30 minutes of continuous movement into your child’s schedule, at least a few times a week, can radically change these statistics.
Tweens and Teens
Many older children may be hesitant to jump head first into a ballet class because of peer pressure or lack of confidence. However, walk past any arcade and there will most likely be a gaggle of kids around the DanceDanceRevolution game.
DanceDanceRevolution, or DDR, is a unique dancing video game. Designed to make players get up and move, the game uses a step-controlled platform instead of the traditional hand controller. DanceDance- Revolution features hundreds of popular songs and specially designed foot step movements, which the player “dances” along to.
In 2006, the town of Charleston, West Virginia, a state plagued by the ever-growing obesity problem, piloted a DDR workout program in their schools. More than 80 kids participated in a survey that used DDR and diet changes to shed excess poundage. Since starting the program, administrators are now installing DDR games into all of West Virginia’s 157 middle schools and expect to place them in even more public schools over the next three years.
DDR tends to appeal to the teen/tween age group who want their exercise to be fun, as well as physically beneficial. Plus, the added competition factor — as well as advancing to that next level — encourages players to push on. Many versions of DanceDanceRevolution are available for use at home on popular video game consoles.
Get Wiggling, Get Movin’
Shawn Masucci of Mount Wolf has two daughters who have taken dance since the tender age of 2 at the Greater York Center for Dance Education.
“Dance teaches discipline,” says Masucci. “You build strength and endurance. You learn stretching, as well as breathing techniques. It is a wonderful way to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and my daughters absolutely love it.”
Besides the health benefits of dance, kids learn confidence and team work. There are many opportunities to “show off” hard work at recitals, cheer dances and hip hop shows. Masucci’s youngest daughter, Courtney, who is now 5, recently preformed in her second Nutcracker recital at the Strand Capitol Performing Arts Center in York. Her oldest daughter, Ashley, nearly 10, is excelling in hip hop class and cheer dance.
Encourage your child to explore the many opportunities available through dance — jazz, tap, ballet, hip hip or DanceDance-Revolution.
“Fighting childhood obesity is all about keeping kids active — getting them away from the TV, computer and video games,” says Dixon. “Dance is a fun way to do that.”
Wendy Garman is a stay-at-home mother of three who lives in York County with her husband, Tom.