Ballroom dancing may not be the most obvious way to get, and keep, fit but as Marielle Suddarth finds as she talks to Shalene Archer, it’s an interesting and effective alternative to going to the gym.
“I think there are very, very few other (physical) activities that can hit you intellectually, emotionally, and socially,” says Shalene Archer, Nashville local, whose name is commonplace in the ballroom dance community worldwide. Having been ballroom dancing since 1992, and competing professionally since 1993, Shalene is a 3-time U.S. National American Smooth Champion, as well as World Smooth Champion, to name just a few of her titles.
Ballroom dance may not be your first thought when considering ways to improve your health, even with the increased media attention in recent years, but the comprehensive benefits of ballroom dancing are
as impressive as Shalene’s list of championship titles. These benefits range from increased brain function, physical benefits, and improved mental health. Not many activities can claim such an impressive “trifecta”, as Shalene says, and rightly so!
One of Shalene’s students is autistic and is a prime example of how powerful ballroom dance can be. Working with this particular student has been a “hugely rewarding and life changing experience for him AND for me,” says Shalene. When he first started lessons he was uncomfortable with touch, unable to engage in conversation, and struggled with sensory overload. Six years later he has learned all the International Standard dances, says Shalene, and “goes to competitions; an environment where people are screaming, yelling, there is loud music, and he LOVES it!”
Shalene’s firsthand experience is not the only account of neurobehavioral and neurological improvements attributed to ballroom dancing. The dance style has such a beneficial effect on brain health that it is now being used to treat individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Ballroom has also been proven to be the only physical activity that lowers risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s study in 2012. Dr. Katzman states that those engaging in ballroom dance are “more resistant to the effects of dementia as a result of having greater cognitive reserve and increased complexity of neural synapses.” Essentially, our brain rewires neural pathways as needed, and if we fail to challenge ourselves in this area, we become more susceptible to neurological problems as we age.
The physical effects of ballroom dance are apparent when speaking with a professional ballroom dancer like Shalene! Dancers are known for superior mobility, stamina, and lean muscle mass, and ballroom dancers are no exception. In a typical week Shalene personally averages around 10-12 lessons a day, 4 days a week, so she doesn’t require much more additional activity to maintain her level of fitness. Shalene does incorporate an Orange Theory workout about once a week, due to the volume and frequency of her dancing she has to be extra cautious regarding joint health, so she enjoys the low impact quality of their workouts. She also swears by stretching, “If you have limited time one of the most important things you can do is stretch, the body loves it, and most people don’t take enough time to do that and so that’s something that I definitely try to do everyday. I stretch and do abdominal exercises!” Competition weeks are a different story for Shalene. “When I go to the competitions I dance three or four days, a LOT. So that can mean starting at eight o’clock in the morning and going to eleven o’clock at night, with little breaks in there, but it’s a little bit like a marathon three times in a row!”
How does she do it? Shalene is very mindful of the quality of food she eats as well as her supplements. “I do try to think of food as my fuel – that helped me to get a healthier relationship with food.” Shalene commented on the fact that many professional dancers look at food in an unhealthy light, more as a threat then as fuel for your day! Regularly Shalene eats a lot of salads, vegetables, and proteins, and aims to follow the 80/20 principal. “I do try to also treat myself… 80 % of the time you’re making good choices, and 20% of the time you’re living life, and then you don’t feel like you’re constantly depriving yourself.” So after every competition, Shalene’s kids are very excited not only to see her, but because they know they’re all taking a trip to Krispy Kreme that weekend for Shalene’s favorite glazed donuts!
Supplementation also plays a large role in Shalene’s everyday performance and helps her to remain injury free. Her preferred brand is AdvoCare, an Informed Choice option popular among athletes today. Her regimen includes protein shakes, amino acids, arginine, collagen, and BioCharge, a multivitamin that aids in recovery. With these additions, Shalene says, “I feel like I’m living my day more, instead of just surviving my day, and that’s great!”
For those who feel like they are just surviving their day, ballroom dance can help improve stress levels, anxiety, depression, and many other areas. The New York based non-profit, Dancing Classrooms, discovered that their youth ballroom classes not only improve the physical fitness and mental capacity of the underprivileged youth they serve, but it also greatly improves social skills, stress management, and depression. In addition to the endorphin release you get from physical activity, “you simply cannot think about the stressors in your life when you are trying to figure out which foot goes where, and so you are forced into a situation where all your other cares kind of disappear for that amount of time,” Shalene notes. The social aspect of ballroom dance also helps individuals of all ages escape isolation, in a world where we can be over-connected electronically, but simultaneously lonely.
To learn more about ballroom dancing in Nashville and explore the classes available contact Nashville Ballroom & Co.