Get into the groove and take a dance class

For college students, it can be a regular occurence: the kind of work-numbing weekend that ends with headache-inducing stress and physical discomfort. Working long hours is sometimes unavoidable, but research has shown that overworking carries adverse effects on our mental and physical health. 

One solution is to get up, move around, exercise and break a sweat. USC students have two outstanding gyms at their convenience, class passes available for purchase, club sports and even recreational two-unit courses in  sports like basketball and soccer. But what if you’re not really a gym person, don’t want to spend the extra money on a class pass or haven’t had any luck with competitive club sports? 

Fortunately, there is one particular class that provides the perfect combination of exercise, social connection and fun. Taught by legendary professor, choreographer and dancer Jesus “Jay” Fuentes, “International Style Ballroom Dance” is a popular two-unit favorite open to students from all majors and skill levels. Housed in the Kaufman School of Dance, the class offers beginning and more advanced options for students a few times a week. 

Ballroom dance relies on trust, communication and simply letting go. At the end of a long day, there’s nothing better than going to class, learning a routine and letting the music take you blissfully away. Additionally, there’s plenty of time for personal growth; by the end of a semester, you can revel in the fact that you have learned half a dozen new styles of dance, such as Latin, swing, waltz and foxtrot. Unlike the focused intensity of the gym or the competition of other sports, “International Style Ballroom Dance” invites social interaction and provides a welcoming and easygoing atmosphere. 

Like any form of exercise, dance releases endorphins, boosting one’s mood. Going to a dance class may seem less demanding than visiting the gym, but dancing for 30 minutes can actually burn 300 calories.  While other forms of exercise such as running or swimming, rely on forward momentum dancing involves constantly changing momentum. Continually shifting directions, accelerating or decelerating is more inefficient for the body, but it means that you are working just as hard as other forms of exercise. Spending a few hours a week dancing is definitely a reasonable workout, one that guarantees improved flexibility, balance, strength and agility. 

Movement and dance have equally powerful effects on the brain. Not only does dance provide a great physical workout, it requires mental concentration, focus and effort in learning new skills and memory for choreography. Research has also shown that dancing with others can help reduce social anxiety, boost self-confidence and decrease stress levels. The more self-assured and relaxed you feel about yourself and your movement in class, the more this translates outside it. 

Besides its role as a stress reliever, dance is a wonderfully expressive outlet where students are encouraged to improvise and take creative risks that would be impossible to replicate in a gym. And unlike working out at the gym, ballroom dance recognizes cooperation; partner dances require individuals to work together to succeed, and dancing with many different people encourages collaboration, camaraderie and even empathy. 

The next time you are deciding on an alternative to a traditional gym workout, consider taking a dance class. Kaufman offers a wide range to choose from for all levels of experience, with diverse styles like jazz, tap, hip-hop, ballet and Bollywood. In addition to classes, there are several dance clubs, teams and events for students who just want to dance for fun. Break On 2’s monthly salsa night is a favorite for many students here at USC. So why not give dance a try? You might find your perfect stress-reliever.