Arts Entertainments

Ballroom dancing: an unlikely recipe for physical rehabilitation, step by step

Fractures, herniated discs, and post-traumatic stress were just a few of the problems I faced after an accident. I was devastated when I could no longer work. I was in pain all the time from the damage to my spine.

For the first 6 years after my accident I listened to the doctors “do not lift anything that weighs more than 5 pounds. Do not irritate the nerves of the spine.“After years of going to physical therapists, pain centers, neurologists and orthopedic surgeons, I took matters into my own hands. I already had a vast knowledge of exercise and knew what triggered my symptoms. I started experimenting with bodyweight exercises and weights. I made some progress, but I was still in terrible pain every day.

When I started writing my Swing Set Fitness books, I did some of the swing exercises and was amazed at how much I could do. Swing Set Fitness helped me with upper and lower body strength. I finally started to feel alive again.

I made tremendous gains with strength and overall wellness, but I was looking for something more. I needed a physical activity that would help reduce my body’s coordination and balance, but it had to be safe for me. And it had to fit my personality. Was there such a thing?

When I saw “Dancing with the stars“I was curious if I should try ballroom dancing. I knew my spine would have limitations. I studied ballet for many years, was a gymnast and a gymnastics coach since 1978. I was definitely no stranger to movement. As I watched the stars dance, I saw some things that wouldn’t work for me, but I also saw enough that it made me say, “Why not?

I still had to be careful to avoid further damage to my spine, but I had to try. It would be the first time that I tried to move in an uncontrolled environment. All of my physical rehabilitation from the accident was in controlled environments like physical therapy offices or my own home. I knew that taking a ballroom dance class would be very risky because the movements would be decided by my dance partner and my environment would not be controlled. A blow from another partner or a fall can cause serious problems to an already damaged body.

So I took a chance knowing that I could stop and walk out of class if necessary. Walking backwards was a real challenge for me. I didn’t have the coordination, speed, or balance for most of the basic steps I tried. And dancing on a crowded dance floor was really stressful. I was terrified of bumping into someone, but had to trust my dance partner to guide me safely. I passed the first class and entered for a second, third and fourth. It was challenging, mentally and physically. Ballroom dance classes have been incredible physical therapy for my lower body. And even better, there was moderate pain rather than severe pain after most of the classes.

And here’s a thought … You wouldn’t perform as many lumbar kicks (back extensions), leg extensions (quadriceps), or hip flexor contractions during a single exercise session. And who would want to count so high when exercising! I had no idea how good fox trot, tango, and waltz are for improving body strength and coordination until I started learning them. And it is a different force than ballet or other forms of dance. Ballroom dancing has provided the missing component for the physical rehabilitation of my lower body. After taking about ten classes I have noticed that my balance has improved and I am more coordinated.

Physical therapists should consider assigning ballroom dancing to some of their patients to reduce body coordination, balance, speed, and strength. Reaching back with the foot to step back is a movement similar to a lumbar kick (hip extension). As the female transfers her weight and propels her body backward, she performs quadriceps and hip flexor contractions. And ballroom dancing is sure to help people with posture. When a previously active person is on a plateau in physical rehab, ballroom dancing might be the best therapy.

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