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Take a turn around the floor with ballroom dancingBallroom dancing is fun for all ages and will keep you fit as a fiddle throughout life. Historically, dance has always been with us.

Ballroom dancing is fun for all ages and will keep you fit as a fiddle throughout life. Historically, dance has always been with us. No culture has ever been discovered that did not have dancing as an important element. Every primitive tribe used dance to express emotion in different situations: to celebrate good hunting, to prepare for war and so on. Likewise, no ancient civilization existed that did not including dancing. In the animal kingdom, various insects and birds make dance-like manoeuvres in their mating rituals.

Ballroom dancing offers health benefits for everyone, but especially seniors. Doctors recommend movement to keep age-related conditions at bay. Dancing maintains coordination, strengthens muscles, improves dexterity and keeps joints and tendons supple. It is an aerobic activity that benefits the heart, lungs, brain and circulation by improving oxygen flow. Heart disease, constipation, diabetes and arthritis can all be helped with adequate physical activity.

Dancing also keeps you mentally alert and focused. You respond to the music, follow your partner and replicate the learned moves from your muscle memory. It's an emotionally rewarding experience that makes you feel uplifted and creative. It's hard to remain sad while dancing. The music binds the group and inspires with its different moods: the romantic waltz, the lively quickstep, the flirty cha-cha, the sensual rumba and the sprightly polka.

Music to Move You

The waltz was the first real ballroom dance and remains the most romantic. The French Revolution (1787-1799) changed society in Europe, sweeping away the old court dances such as the minuet and gavotte. Meanwhile the turning peasant dances of Austria and Bavaria became all the rage in the salons thanks to composers like Johann Strauss, father and son.

The most aerobic dance is probably the polka. Originally a Czech peasant dance, the polka created a craze when introduced to Paris in 1840, causing a myriad of dance schools to spring up. Nowadays, the polka is the trademark of Ukrainian festivals and of Polish immigrants. This dance requires space, so keep an eye out for exuberant dancers on the floor-you don't want to get stepped on!

Both the foxtrot and the quickstep are written in 4/4 time and have variable rhythms. The man usually takes the lead, following the music as he chooses. As partners practise together more, soon the woman will be able to follow easily.

Latin American dances are lively and exciting. The most passionate is the rumba, where the man shows off his partner as she turns proudly around him or under his arm.

The cha-cha is another favourite but beginners need some coaching to get into the catchy rhythm. The samba is a fast dance, as aerobic and exhilarating as the polka, and the music creates a contagious carnival mood. Similar is the mambo, another active dance.

And of course, everybody loves the tango, the dance that originated in the disreputable quarter of Buenos Aires. The movements are staccato and the hold between partners very close.

Shall We Dance?

If you are in good health, you shouldn't have to warm up before taking a turn around the dance floor. If you do become out of breath after a fast dance, just sit out for a couple of minutes and maybe take your pulse. For beginners, the ideal should be around 60 percent of your maximum heart rate. The lively dances use about four to five kilocalories per minute of activity, the slower dances somewhat less.

Social dancing does not require special clothing, unless you are attending a formal ball. Clothes should be comfortable and not restrict leg movement. The most important item is footwear, which must be comfortable, support the foot and have a hard leather sole. Rubber-soled shoes stick to the floor and prevent the dancer from moving freely.

Ballroom dancing is not difficult. If you haven't done it before, why not sign up for some classes at a local dance studio or community centre? Nobody is judging you and the atmosphere is free and easy. The only requirement is to avoid other dancers as you move around the floor. Develop space radar and don't be a floor hog.

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