As an older lindy hopper, I’m very interested in how I can keep dancing for as long as possible. Perhaps some of you are in the same boat. There are lots of articles, studies and blog posts out there on dancing and health, but few focus on lindy hop or swing dancing.
So I decided to ask some people who both lindy hop and work in a fitness/health profession what their views are on the connection between dancing and health. My awesome respondents included:
- Courtney Ronca, Yoga Instructor and lindy hopper for three years living in Mountain View, California
- Nick Williams, Personal trainer and champion lindy hopper for 17 years living in Orange, California
- Rebecca Knebel, Physical therapist and lindy hopper for 2 years living in San Francisco, California
- and Shelby Johnson, Personal trainer, former sports coach and lindy hopper for 4 years living in Dallas, Texas
Overall there was a lot more agreement than disagreement. For the sake of readability I have omitted suggestions that were just repeating what others had mentioned already. And I have edited some of their responses for clarity. With that, here is a selection of their responses to my questions.
Does lindy hop help you be a healthier person, and in what ways?
Courtney: I would have to say YES! From a physical standpoint lindy hop is a great form of exercise. I remember dancing my first really fast song and being winded. I couldn't believe that was even possible, after having been a distance runner for years. That being said, I think Lindy Hop helped me regulate my breathing better.
Rebecca: Yes, lindy hop helps you become a healthier person. Psychologically, physically, spiritually. Physically it helps you by providing a high impact aerobic activity which when done regularly, can help your heart, muscles and bones become stronger.Thus able to fight off disease or injury better.
Shelby: Lindy Hop totally helps you become a healthier person physically as it's an excellent cardiovascular activity that can be aerobic or even anaerobic at times. I've actually worn a heart rate monitor to demonstrate this as an experiment in my blog.
Nick: I don’t consider a night of Lindy Hop to compensate for healthy fitness goals, unless you keep your heart rate up without taking breaks and get nice and sweaty. But you can certainly help burn some unwanted calories.
What are cross training / alternative exercises you recommend that complement lindy hop?
Nick: Flexibility and strength training are sorely missed by social dancers. Activities that would compliment the social dancing are resistance training, yoga, pilates, and anything cardiovascular like running or swimming.
Courtney: Yoga is good, because it helps the joints be more mobile and increase flexibility. When you have a greater range of motion (which you can control), you may be less likely to be injured. Pilates is also good, it helps you get better core control and stability, which in turn help move you and hold you up!
Shelby: I pretty much geek out and obsess over how weight / resistance training helps improve and complement dancing.
Are there diet tips that can help lindy hoppers dance better and longer?
Shelby: Eat nutrient dense foods rich with protein, carbohydrates, healthy dietary fats and vitamins to aid in recovery and help keep muscles energized. I also feel that dancers should take supplements like athletes do to aid in this and drink lots of water. I cover this in my most recent blog post.
Rebecca: Drink lots of water, eat like you are an athlete. Because you are. So some source of protein along with the typical carbs and veggies/fruits and a protein bar or something quick for during or right after your dance. Number one is drink lots of water and avoid drinks high in sugar / caffeine or alcohol. Basically everything fun… because they are dehydrating.
Nick: Avoid going out to eat after a night of social dancing (unless you can keep it healthy), and don’t think that going out dancing will balance out an unhealthy diet or meal… the unhealthy meal will win every time.
Courtney: It is my opinion that a healthy body is one that has great digestion... I have a couple suggestions that will help improve any person’s digestion. (1) No solid food before 12. Drink a smoothie, drink juice, whatever. Drinking versus eating in the morning, helps promote better digestion. (2) Practice drinking warm lemon water in the morning. This is a Kriya (purification technique) used by some yoga practitioners. It's helps eliminate waste first thing in the morning. Both of these techniques I was required to do for four months of training under one of my teachers Sri Dharma Mittra, and both proved to be very effective. The good news is, you don't have to change your diet to do them.
Are there common injuries that dancers should be aware of?
Rebecca: Plantar Fasciitis can bother people. This is when the fascia on the bottom of the foot is inflamed and it usually hurts just to walk on it, and definitely to jump on the foot. It’s a multifactorial problem but can be prevented with good supportive shoes (get some arch support if you need it) and some easy gastroc stretches. Hip and knee injuries can occur too. A syndrome called “iliotibial band syndrome” can happen too, which might be painful on the outside of the knee. This needs to be treated by a physical therapist or doctor (who would refer to a physical therapist) but can be prevented with some good hip flexor, hamstring, side-body stretches, as well as a foam roller on that outside thigh.
Shelby: Tendonitis, Plantar Fasciitis, muscle strains and sprains are a few common injuries that dancers come across. A great way to prevent these would be a good strength training regimen coupled with a flexibility one. I've written a blog post that analyses what's going on with the body to show people how they can condition themselves for this dance.
Nick: Think about a weight lifter who has poor form. Now imagine that person lifting heavy weights for many years. Sounds painful and will most definitely lead to injury. That’s what a lot of Lindy Hoppers do to their bodies. They use their bodies in an inefficient manner that, over time, can cause a lot of damage.... So much unawareness of arm leading and following leads to shoulder and back problems. A poor stance can lead to hip, knee and ankle injuries. Partner dancing also leads to muscle imbalance. The action you do on one side rarely matches that of the other. This isn’t to cause fear but merely awareness. Social dancing can be a very healthy activity. What we do outside of dancing can make or break you.
What should older dancers do to keep swinging their whole lives?
Shelby: If you want to keep dancing your whole life, I think, young or old, you should really take on habits that promote strengthening the body for the stresses that you're putting on your body and most importantly good recovery habits such as stretching, foam rolling, sleep and good nutrition.
Nick: Older Lindy Hoppers should take care of themselves and know their limits. As everyone knows, the older you get the more problems arise. Social dancing can help battle some of these issues, but proper diet, exercise, rest and stretching will help. Always listen to your physician and get regular check-ups. Dancers are known for being stubborn with doctors.
Courtney: Keep your back healthy. There is a saying that "you are only as old as your spine." That being said, keep your back mobile and have a strong core. My teacher is turning 75 this year, so it's never too late to start!
I hope you found their opinions and advice helpful. I definitely learned a lot about what potential issues to be aware of, other exercises I should consider doing along with lindy hop, and what foods and drinks to consume before and after dancing.
Thanks to my fantastic respondents for sharing their expertise with me. If you would like to find out more information, here’s more resources from them:
- Nick Williams has a dance fitness program called “Jitterblast” that is going international. He is leading a teacher training in May. Find out more at www.jitterblastfitness.com .
- Shelby Johnson blogs about fitness and swing at https://lindyfitness.wordpress.com .
- Courtney Ronca teaches at Yoga Belly studio in Mountain View, California. Find out more at http://www.yogabellystudio.com.
And a couple other links for you:
- DanandLainey.com have some very helpful posts on their site, including this comprehensive set of tips by Lainey Silver.
- There’s also a Facebook group (of course) called “I don't want dancing to f**k my knees/back/ankles” for sharing health information with other dancers.
Feel free to ask any additional questions or leave your own tips in the comments or on our Facebook page. I’ll pass them along to our respondents.
[CREDIT: CC licenced photo "flood dancing couple" by Andrew West]