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Let’s Dance

From salsa and swing to tango and two-step, Tulsa is brimming with dancing opportunities that can help you stay flexible, reduce stress, lose weight, make friends and possibly find love.

Article
Gina Conroy
Photos
Courtesy
Posted
August 29, 2017

It’s hard to believe it’s been 12 years since Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance debuted in 2005. Since then, dance studios across the nation have seen an increase in adults wanting to learn to ballroom dance. Even though these shows have coaxed some people off the couch, others remain content to stay idle and watch others enjoy the fun and health benefits of dancing.

Could it be they actually think they can’t dance? Or perhaps, they don’t know where they can dance like the stars?

Jon Hamilton, owner and instructor at Allstar Ballroom Dance Company, says shows like DWTS have inspired people to follow their passion to learn how to dance and express themselves to the music. However, the most common excuse people have for their reluctance to dance has to do with their lack of confidence and knowledge of what to do.

“I once sat down next to one of our guests at a party and simply asked, ‘Are you having fun?’ They weren’t and I responded, ‘Well, it’s only fun if you know what you’re doing!’ Shortly after, he and his wife decided to take up lessons and now attend amateur competitions regularly,” Hamilton says.

Felix Rubio started taking lessons so he’d be able to dance with confidence with his daughter-in-law at his son’s wedding.

“I was very nervous starting out, but that turned to determination that I was going to learn, at minimum, basic dance steps,” says Rubio. “Every lesson was an eye-opening experience. I gained confidence and enjoyed the camaraderie with my instructor. The interaction and her extraordinary patience are the main reasons I continue to take lessons.”

Hannah Helscel, the president of The Oklahoma Swing Syndicate, started swing dancing when she was 14. “It was a fun thing to do with a group of friends,” says Helscel. “I used to go once a month with my older siblings and was hooked.”

While all kinds of dancing have benefits, the unique partnership in ballroom and social dancing has some unique advantages.

Helscel says the benefits of partnership dancing are tremendous. “When I moved from Dallas to Tulsa, I immediately had a network of 20 acquaintances who now are like family,” she says. She not only landed a job in Tulsa through her dancing network, but she got a husband as well.

If you’re still sitting on the edge of your seat debating whether social dancing is for you, consider these other benefits for your body, mind, spirit and social life.

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Overall health
Wanda Gimlin started dancing when she was 80, while in physical therapy for balance and leg atrophy. “My body was not in good shape,” says Gimlin. “I had a curved back for caring for my mom and husband, so my dance instructor worked on stacking my frame and planting my feet for balance.” Not only did she find dancing improved her balance and strengthened her legs, but it helped control her blood sugar, lowered her blood pressure, gave her increased stamina, and strengthened her core.

In addition, when Gimlin began dancing, she was under treatment for Lyme disease and was just diagnosed with severe dementia. Dancing not only helped work her body, but her brain as well. “It was challenging getting started on the dance floor,” says Gimlin. “The disorders I had involved the muscle and joints, but my pain was relieved when I started to dance.”

Now at 85, Gimlin takes lessons several times a week. Dancing has been wonderful for her body, mind and spirit. “I love it,” says Gimlin. “When I started, I just knew a little swing from when it was done back in the day. But I found other styles I love.”

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Weight loss and toning
Since dancing is exercise and can burn up to 400 calories an hour, it should top your list as an effective way to lose and maintain weight. Add in the other benefits of muscle strength, toning and flexibility, and you have a well-rounded workout routine in one activity that’s fun.

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Anti-aging
Not only does dancing improve circulation and expand, lung capacity, but it retards the aging process. By keeping joints lubricated, dancing lowers the risk of arthritis and osteoporosis, and improves balance, posture and coordination. It sharpens the mind as well as staving off memory loss.

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Sharpens the mind
Dancing not only requires physical activity, but mental agility as well. In partner dancing, the lead must decide what they want to do and then communicate it through body language to their follow, who must interpret and carry out that communication. All this happens in a split second. Much brain power is used to problem solve in a three-minute dance, and no two dances are ever the same. Multiply that by dancing with different partners for two hours, and not only do you have a challenging workout for your body, but for your mind as well.

In fact, dance is such a powerful mental exercise that certain studies, including the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, have shown it to be the leading prevention of the disease. These older adults who had the most gray matter in the crucial areas for memory and cognition burned the most calories during exercise and were 50 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s within the next five years.

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Pain relief
Though it might be a challenge to convince someone battling chronic pain to get off the couch and dance, according to several studies and reports, endorphins released during dance can be more powerful painkillers than traditional medication. These endorphins are similar to morphine because they affect the receptors in your brain, reducing your perception of pain.

When chronic illness interfered with Dee Hara’s dream of becoming a human rights lawyer, she started taking ballroom dance lessons as a way to cope with her illness. Dancing not only eased her coping but also led to her getting her life back.

“Dance helps me forget the pain,” says Hara. In addition to dancing, Hara is teaching and using her love of dance to inspire others to embrace and enjoy a better quality of life through dance, just like her.

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Self-expression
Not only is dancing great for the body and mind, it’s good for the soul. If your job has you stuck behind a desk or doing manual labor, dancing is a creative outlet that helps reduce stress while allowing you self-expression.

“In my heart I’ve been dancing forever,” says Nedra Smith, an instructor at Allstar Ballroom Dance Company. “As a child, I always wanted to dance, but wasn’t able to.” In 1998, she began ballroom dancing in shows, and found a teacher who gave her lessons. She continued learning and got a new partner who later became her son-in-law.

“Dance proved to myself who I could be; and that is true confidence,” says Chris Ransdell. “Now dance isn’t something I do, it’s something that became a part of who I am.”

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Meet new friends
John Murray started dancing at 57 when two “gorgeous” women invited him out to dance. “I was broken-hearted because I didn’t know how to dance, so I didn’t go.” After taking a group lesson, he signed up for private lessons. Ten years later, Murray is still dancing because of the social atmosphere. “The camaraderie and friendships you develop in a healthy atmosphere are wonderful,” he says.

Though it’s not easy to venture out to a social dance alone, you can take comfort in the fact most people at dances don’t have a dance partner. Social dancing encourages people to meet each other through dancing and allows both men and women to ask for a dance. And if you show up week after week, that person who you danced with last week can become a good friend.

“Whenever I travel I always look for a place to dance, and whenever I get there I have an immediate bond and connection with them,” says Helscel. “We may not speak the same language, but on the floor, we both know how to communicate.”

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Overcome shyness
The social dance scene is a great place to conquer your fear of social situations because most everyone is there to dance. From the seasoned professional to the novice dancer, people are secretly hoping you will ask them to dance. Unless you’re a complete klutz or too handsy or rough — which is a big turn-off in the social dance scene — the chances someone will turn you down for a dance are minimal.

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Improves self confidence
When you feel better physically and mentally, you become more comfortable in your own skin, and that will show in the way you carry yourself.

Before Danielle Henderson taught dancing, she was a student. “I experienced massive growth in my own self-confidence on and off the dance floor,” says Henderson. And she has witnessed similar transformations in many students over the years. “I find they walk a little taller, hold their heads higher, feel sexier, are more comfortable in their own skin and have an easier time talking with new people.”

Whether the romance lasts the length of the song or a lifetime, dancing brings couples together.
‍Whether the romance lasts the length of the song or a lifetime, dancing brings couples together.

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Inner peace
Music and dancing have the power to change your mood and chase away depression and anxiety. That’s because endorphins that produce the feeling of well-being and euphoria are released while listening to music and dancing.

“When I walk into a dance and the lights go down and the music goes on, my whole world changes,” says Murray. “Something switches on the inside. I forget where I work and my family.”

While traditional exercise like running or aerobics releases endorphins, according to a study by Psychology Today, those who enrolled in a waltz class not only improved their health but were happier than those who ran or cycled. The study concluded that while dancing may not provide the calorie burn of some traditional exercises, it may release more endorphins, producing better overall health.

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Help unifies race and culture
Dancing helps different people and cultures connect in ways that are difficult in regular social interaction. “Swing dancing was birthed during the peak of segregation at the Savoy Ballroom in New York City,” says Gina Bradford, whose nonprofit Vintage Swing Movement focuses on preserving the music, culture and dance of the swing era for the next generation. “Swing music and dance crossed every color line and united a nation.” Bradford says it is that same spirit of dance that can break down barriers.

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Romantic connections
Whether the romance lasts the length of the song or a lifetime, dancing brings couples together. Because social dancing relies heavily on the nonverbal communication between the two dancers, the couple needs to rely on connection and trust, two essential elements in any type of relationship.

“Dancing is a unique alternative to dinner and a movie. It’s a trip to the gym, only a lot more fun,” says Linda Keller, who met her husband at a dance.

“In our relationship, dance acts as a reboot,” says Trish Zielinski, who met her husband at a Halloween dance. “When life gets hairy, and static enters our relationship, we go dancing and we return to our in-love state. Getting in sync physically soon translates to syncing up emotionally. It’s wonderful therapy.”

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Physical touch
Experts recommend touching 13 times a day, and when people dance in partnership, their need for physical touch is fulfilled. Dancing in partnership, a couple achieves and exceeds that goal in less than an hour.

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LOCATOR

Allstar Ballroom Dance Company
6038 S. Sheridan Road | Tulsa

American Legion Post 1
Ballroom Dancers of Tulsa
1120 E. 8th St. | Tulsa

Boots & Diamonds Saloon
8190 S. Memorial Dr. | Tulsa

Chimera
Swing Out Downtown
212 N. Main St. | Tulsa

The Clubhouse / Tulsa Swingdance Club
2735 S. Memorial Drive | Tulsa

The Dance Place
3308 W. 42nd Place | Tulsa

Infinity Dance Academy
8112 S. Memorial Drive | Tulsa

Strictly Ballroom
6926 S. Lewis Ave. | Tulsa

Studio 7 Fitness
812 E. 6th St. | Tulsa

Tulsa Ballroom Dance Academy
8303 E. 111th St. | Bixby