Looks like it's time to dust off those ballet slippers.

By Julia Malacoff
October 31, 2017
Photo: Shutterstock

If you keep up with fitness trends, you know that cardio-dance has been killing it for the past few years. Even before that, Zumba established itself as a go-to workout for exercisers who love to get down on the dance floor. Dance workouts like these became fast favorites because they provide a high-intensity sweat session that requires little dance skill and zero previous experience, meaning everyone can do them. But the freshest take on the trend is decidedly more technical, although still beginner-friendly. Dance studios offering traditional dance classes like ballet, tap, jazz, and modern to adults are popping up all over the country, and they only seem to be growing in popularity. Here's why.

The Dance Revival

While it's true that there have been studios that offer traditional dance classes to adults for many years, they were often geared toward professional dancers. Those that offered beginner classes were few and far between until recently. "The growing interest in adult dance classes has been continuing to rise in recent years, and adult dance classes are definitely an exercise trend to jump on," says Nancina Bucci, owner of Starstruck Dance Studio in Sterling, NJ. What's behind their recent popularity? "We feel that dance is the secret to feeling great at any age, and the type of workout one gets from dancing is unlike most others," Bucci says. "Our adult dancers are choosing dance classes over other exercise fitness classes for the many benefits that dance provides to both the mind and body."

And while studios dedicated to dance classes for adults do exist (like Dance 101 in Atlanta), many traditional dance studios for children and teens have gotten in on the trend, adding classes geared toward adults. "Honestly, people simply asked for them," says Kristina Keener Ivy, executive director of Top Billing Entertainment Performance Academy in Glendora, CA. "I think people are looking for different and fun ways to be active."

The Fitness Benefits

If you're wondering what fitness benefits these types of classes offer, the list is long. "In ballet, you develop core strength, discipline, technique, grace, coordination, poise, musicality, flexibility, and awareness of the body and how it all works together," says Melanie Keen, owner and artistic director of The Dance Arts Studio in Mt. Pleasant, SC. Many of these benefits extend to other types of dance, too, like jazz and modern. "Dance gives you a balanced way to stay healthy, toned, strong, and lean all while enjoying your workout," says Maria Bai, the artistic director and founder of Central Park Dance Studio in Scarsdale, NY. "Dance includes cardiovascular activity as well as muscle-toning movement," which means that your bases are covered with just one workout. Plus, she points out that by its very nature, dance strengthens all parts of your upper and lower body. "These movements also improve flexibility over time," Bai says. (FYI, here are six good reasons you need to stretch.)

Another upside is that for many people, traditional dance classes serve as a distraction from the difficulty of the workout they provide, making it easier to get your head in the game and keep it there. "A lot of people find exercising hard," says Kerri Pomerenke, co-owner and cofounder of Dance Fit Flow in Kansas City, MO. "Motivation is hard. Consistency is hard. But in dancing, you're not focused on doing 'one more rep' or 'five more minutes' of anything; instead, you're working on your timing, execution, and style of the choreography." In other words, your body is constantly moving, but you're not thinking about muscle groups and your heart rate, she says. You're just having fun.

The Mental Benefits

Even better, it's not just fitness perks that you can look forward to if you decide to give dance classes a go. "There are also social benefits," says Lauren Boyd, co-owner and cofounder of Dance Fit Flow. Let's face it, making friends as an adult is hard (and usually awkward). "But in class, women are socializing and finding other people who are also interested in continuing their passion for dance, or meeting others who want to learn a new skill." Boyd says she also hears clients say they have improved memory (remembering combinations can be a challenge!), reduced stress, and a newfound deeper mind-body connection.

Bai says she sees this mind-body phenomenon with adult students at her studio, as well. "In general, people are aware of many of these physical benefits, but what many don't realize is how incredibly beneficial dance is for the mind. The focus, memorization, and mental strategies it requires to execute even a single movement or position is tremendous. All of these exercises enhance mental activity tenfold and greatly improve the ability to multitask," she adds. Aside from anecdotal evidence of this, Bai points to a landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003, which found elderly participants who danced frequently (meaning several days each week) had a 75 percent lower risk of developing dementia. Notably, dancing was the only physical activity found to have an effect that offered protection against dementia. "I truly believe studying dance as an adult is one of the best workouts for the mind, body, and soul," Bai says.

Know Before You Go

One misconception that sometimes keeps people away from ballet, tap, and jazz classes and pushes them toward Zumba or dance cardio is the idea that traditional dance classes are only for dance professionals. Rest assured, this is not the case-even at studios that offer classes for professional dancers. "Among our most experienced students we have celebrities currently performing on Broadway and in reputable dance companies," Bai explains. "In the middle of this span, we have many adult students who studied dance as a child or as a young adult and have found their way back into class. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are approximately 25 to 30 percent of our adult students who have never danced before. These students are looking for a healthy and fun way to work out, and what better way than through a form of art!"

Some of the most common questions for first-timers, according to Boyd, are "What should I wear?" and "Which class should I take?" Most studios will have information about what to wear to each class along with class descriptions on their website, and if they don't, you can always call the studio to find out what they recommend. "For most dance classes, if you dress like you're going to a yoga class, you can't go wrong," Boyd adds. As for what style of dance to try, most studios are happy to provide a recommendation based on your level. And if you need a little more inspo to get your butt to the studio, check out this badass ballerina who is out to squash dancer stereotypes.