A blog by runners. For runners.

Social dancing as cross-training for runners

Social dancing for cross-trainingSocial dancing is a term that encompasses lots of different partner dances – including the salsa, zouk, bachata, tango, and swing. Usually you take a course, where you learn steps, positions, movements and combinations. And then you take those skills onto the dance floor at socials – basically large rooms with a bar and a dance floor, which is where the real dancing happens.

Why is it great?
Social dancing is one of the most universally enjoyable activities that someone could pick as a hobby. In a world where we often struggle to make meaningful social connections, dancing offers a welcome reprieve – an oasis of pressure-free, fun social interaction. You connect with a lot of different people, for a required length of just one song, and you don’t even have to talk, if you don’t want to – you communicate through dance. It’s a revival of a lost pastime that used to bring people together for centuries, and it’s incredibly valuable – as well as lots of fun and a great workout, to boot.

Yes, you can do it!
A common misconception about social dances is that you have to be a naturally-gifted dancer to participate. But the reality is even the most uncoordinated person, even one who couldn’t survive three minutes at a nightclub, can easily shine on the dance floor as long as they have learned the techniques.

That’s because these consist of a framework – a set of basic steps, complemented by a set of rules for directions and their appropriate responses. Once you learn these, all you need is practice and an attitude of learning and exploring and you can dance with anyone.

Another common misconception is that you need to have a partner that will learn the dance with you. This is not true – in fact, the whole point of a social dance is to practice with as many different people as possible. In most classes, you will switch dance partners every few minutes. It is very important to not learn the dance with just one person, because then you will only be able to dance well with them.

Does it really count as cross-training?
It might sound ridiculous that a dance that can be performed by anyone from the age of seven to 97 could be a good workout for a runner, but dancing can be useful as a supplement to your training. Here’s why:

  • Socializing. Runners tend to be solitary creatures, but it can be both useful and enjoyable to practice a partnered form of exercise. Reminding your brain and body that exercise can be enjoyable, varied, and energizing can help prevent you from burning out on running, whether through overtraining or too many repetitive workouts.
  • Lateral movements. Running is linear, as are many other forms of cross-training such as biking and swimming. Yet it can be hugely beneficial to runners to train the body in lateral movements, helping to prevent injury and increase balance and speed. Dancing is one of the best ways to practice moving in many different directions (and doesn’t require you to do boring drills).
  • Core strengthening. The lateral movements, the speed, the spins, and the step patterns of basically all social dances require you to use your core to remain light on your feet and maintain a good connection with your dance partner. Having good balance and core strength will help you run more efficiently.
  • Cardio. It may not look too strenuous when you’re watching it, but when you’re three dances in on a crowded dance floor, you’ll definitely be feeling the workout. Dancing is fast-paced and keeps your body and mind occupied, so it’s a great way to exercise without really noticing that you are.
  • Mobility and flexibility. Runners’ joints take a beating, and the more flexibility and mobility we develop, the less prone we are to injuries and problems down the road. Social dancing helps to develop these over time.
  • Fun. If you’re a seasoned runner, learning this new skill can help you rediscover the joy of making visible, fast progress in an atmosphere of growth and support. Not to mention it’s a great party trick.

Social dancing is exploding in popularity around the world, so it should be easy for you to find a beginner’s course in whatever kind of dancing you want to try. Give it a go this fall and you can dance your way through the cold months ahead.

Written by Varia Makagonova.