Thursday, December 26, 2013

Fred Astaire Gives Back, The Wounded Warrior Project

Fred Astaire is an incredible company to be a part of. The array of activities we offer range from social dancing all the way to regional/national competition. As we look back, we realize that these opportunities to dance wouldn’t be possible without the great country we live in. Every day there are soldiers and other military personal that fight to protect our country, and the freedoms it allows us.  Realizing this we have found a way to give back to our veterans. Fred Astaire Illinois has partnered with The Wounded Warrior Project to bring dance into the lives of soldiers who thought they may never dance again. Our team of instructors have been working with Edward Hines V.A Hospital, teaching group classes at their Blind Center, and Spinal Cord Injury/ Disorders Services.

Our staff from left to right: Amy, Samantha, Meghan, Ty, Alan, and Chris

The feedback from the veterans has been overwhelmingly positive! Dancing has seemed out of reach for these veterans after the traumas they have encountered. One woman said “it’s so nice to put this cane down and just dance”.  We have already been asked back for next year and will continue to give back, to those that have already given so much to us. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Dancing Your Way to Better Health!

Dancing Your Way to Better Health

Ballroom Dancing May Help Mind, Body, and Spirit
WebMD Feature

Tangos, waltzes, sambas, and foxtrots are gliding across America's TV sets on the hit ballroom dance show, Dancing with the Stars.

Do you tap along with the beat as you watch? Or shimmy during the commercial breaks? This may be one time when health experts won't fret if you follow in the footsteps of prime-time TV. Ballroom dancing could help the mind and body, they say.

Shall We Dance?

You're not likely to practice for hours with a world-class dance partner as on the show. But you also won't face live national TV and the judges' barbs.

Will you get a good workout? What about those two left feet? And how can "twinkle toes" benefit your brain?

WebMD posed those questions to science, dance, and fitness pros. Here's their spin on ballroom dancing's health perks.

Is It Exercise?

The TV show's contestants are often winded after their routines. One dancer from last season said he lost 15 pounds.

How typical is that? It depends on the type of dancing and your skill level, says exercise physiologist Catherine Cram, MS, of Comprehensive Fitness Consulting in Middleton, Wis.

"Once someone gets to the point where they're getting their heart rate up, they're actually getting a terrific workout," says Cram.

Dance is a weight-bearing activity, which builds bones. It's also "wonderful" for your upper body and strength, says Cram.

Would-be dancers should consult their doctors first, especially if they have any health problems, says Cram.

Calorie Check

How many calories will you burn? That depends on your body and how vigorously you dance.

Dance is a "moderate activity," say the USDA's physical activity guidelines. Adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily, according to the guidelines.

It can be easier to stick to that with fun activities, says Cram.

Muscles Worked

New ballroom dancers may feel muscles they didn't know they had. That often happens with a new activity, says Ken Richards, spokesman for USA Dance, the national governing body of DanceSport -- the competitive version of ballroom dancing.

Ballroom dancing often means moving backward, especially for women, says Richards, a professional ballroom dancing veteran.

"If you're dancing the foxtrot, you're taking long, sweeping steps backwards. That's very different than walking forward on a treadmill or taking a jog around the neighborhood," he says.

Ballroom dancing works the backs of the thighs and buttock muscles differently from many other types of exercise, says Richards.

Core Experience

The legs and arms often do the flashy dance moves. But they're sunk without a strong body core.

The "core" muscles -- the abs and back -- are also used in Pilates, says Janice Byer. A lifelong dancer, Byer is group exercise director of The Courthouse Athletic Club in Oakland, Calif. Byer and her husband (whom she met through dancing) are avid swing dancers.

The Dancing Brain

How might ballroom dancing help the brain? Verghese outlines three possibilities:

  • Increased blood flow to the brain from the physical exercise
  • Less stress, depression, and loneliness from dancing's social aspect
  • Mental challenges (memorizing steps, working with your partner)

"Dance, in many ways, is a complex activity. It's not just purely physical," says Verghese.

Check Your Ego at the Door

Here's some advice for beginners from New York dance therapist Jane Wilson Cathcart, LMSW, ADTR, CMA:

  • Look for a good teacher who emphasizes what you can do, not your limits.
  • Don't be a perfectionist about it.
  • Don't worry about your size. Dance is for everyone.
  • Get into the music, as well as the movement.

"Take in all the good feedback you're getting and give your inner judge a couple of dollars to go to the movies," says Cathcart.

"We are usually our own worst critic," says Cathcart. "Think of how many other times your critical judge has limited you from doing something."

New skills can bring confidence. At parties and social events, dancers may head to the dance floor feeling good about themselves without a martini's encouragement, Richards jokes.

"Lay the pathwork of positivity through it," says Cathcart. "The coolest dance begins with one step. The rest will follow."

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dancing Makes You Smarter!

Use It or Lose It: Dancing Makes You Smarter
Richard Powers

For centuries, dance manuals and other writings have lauded the health benefits of dancing, usually as physical exercise.  More recently we've seen research on further health benefits of dancing, such as stress reduction and increased serotonin level, with its sense of well-being.

Most recently we've heard of another benefit:  Frequent dancing apparently makes us smarter.

A major study added to the growing evidence that stimulating one's mind by dancing can ward off Alzheimer's disease and other dementia, much as physical exercise can keep the body fit.  Dancing also increases cognitive acuity at all ages.

You may have heard about the New England Journal of Medicine report on the effects of recreational activities on mental acuity in aging.   Here it is in a nutshell.

The 21-year study of senior citizens, 75 and older, was led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, funded by the National Institute on Aging, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Their method for objectively measuring mental acuity in aging was to monitor rates of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

The study wanted to see if any physical or cognitive recreational activities influenced mental acuity.  They discovered that some activities had a significant beneficial effect.  Other activities had none.

They studied cognitive activities such as reading books, writing for pleasure, doing crossword puzzles, playing cards and playing musical instruments.  And they studied physical activities like playing tennis or golf, swimming, bicycling, dancing, walking for exercise and doing housework.

One of the surprises of the study was that almost none of the physical activities appeared to offer any protection against dementia.  There can be cardiovascular benefits of course, but the focus of this study was the mind.

There was one important exception:  the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing.

Reading - 35% reduced risk of dementia

Bicycling and swimming - 0%

Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week - 47%

Playing golf - 0%

Dancing frequently - 76%.   That was the greatest risk reduction of any activity studied, cognitive or physical.
 We immediately ask two questions:

  • Why is dancing better than other activities for improving mental capabilities?

  • Does this mean all kinds of dancing, or is one kind of dancing better than another?

    That's where this particular study falls short.  It doesn't answer these questions as a stand-alone study.  Fortunately, it isn't a stand-alone study.  It's one of many studies, over decades, which have shown that we increase our mental capacity by exercising our cognitive processes.  Intelligence: Use it or lose it.  And it's the other studies which fill in the gaps in this one.  Looking at all of these studies together lets us understand the bigger picture.

    The essence of intelligence is making decisions.  The best advice, when it comes to improving your mental acuity, is to involve yourself in activities which require split-second rapid-fire decision making, as opposed to rote memory (retracing the same well-worn paths), or just working on your physical style.

    One way to do that is to learn something new.  Not just dancing, but anything new.  Don't worry about the probability that you'll never use it in the future.  Take a class to challenge your mind.  It will stimulate the connectivity of your brain by generating the need for new pathways.  Difficult classes are better for you, as they will create a greater need for new neural pathways.

    Then take a dance class, which can be even more effective.  Dancing integrates several brain functions at once — kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional — further increasing your neural connectivity.