The Skinny Daily Post™

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from a really average woman who lost 100 lbs.
and works every day to keep it off.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2003  

Folk Dancing

Some of us like inner exercise, the sort that has as its basis and foundation an extreme awareness of the body, its systems, how heart, lungs, mind, joints react to stress. The mind-body connection holds ascinating complexity, and many forms of exercise -- running, yoga, Pilates, strength training, to name just a few -- give us plenty of room o explore it.

If exploring it is your bag.

But some of us would rather be distracted. We want our exercise to be as leasant and painless as possible. Our bodies give us enough trouble that we'd like a break from them, frankly. An opportunity for play and socializing. A way to connect with spouses, family, friends.

And for all of that, at least, and more, folk dancing is well worth a look. Step dancing, polka, clogging, square dancing, tango, hula, salsa, wing, country, line, belly dancing, flamenco, or set dancing -- the types of traditional dance available to us are as varied as the people who eveloped them, each with its own footwork and rhythms, traditions and costumes.

The great fun of folk dancing is how thoroughly a new dance form can distract you from the fact that you're working out, and hard. You laugh, sweat, learn, flirt, dip, ball-step, swirl, spin your way to very good health and toward ever improving performance. You might be doing more. You might be helping to preserve and expand a tradition of your own or another country while you raise your metabolism, strengthen your heart, have fun.

We went off for set dancing lessons at the Royal Spa Hotel in Lisdoonvarna last night. A busload of students and creaky professors hit the floor where a group of far more advanced dancers opened their sets to make room for us. We all knew we would not master these dances. We were there just to try, but the hospitality of these dancers was tremendous. Their patience with our feet, our dizziness, our various stiffnesses was truly powerful. The tough tiny instructor, wired like Madonna to the nearby speakers, called steps that made no sense to us whatsoever. All 4'9" of her, grabbing hold of one or another of us, and pushing us through the complex patterns and interweavings of their celtic knots. All the while double-stepping and ball-changing. What their calves are made of has to be more than flesh.

Sweat! Panting! More than two hours of it!

This is a workout, this dancing stuff. For your brain as well as your body. One of the older men in the group, somewhat doubled over, but infinitely graceful, said he does this several nights a week, because if he didn't, his arthritis would cripple him. Dancing keeps him from hurting "too much." There were bodies of all types and ages, some more able than others, some with plenty of natural grace, others working hard to keep to the music. Neighborly. Gossipy. Busy.

Where to start? Your local community tourist office may have information on clubs and classes in your area. Try visiting a class to watch first, and get a feeling for whether you like a.) the dance, b.) the group, and c.) the instructor. Shop around until you find a form and group you feel comfortable with. Start slowly. Be patient with yourself. Read up on the dance form to help familiarize yourself with its roots and traditions. Buy the music and play it around the house. Practice. Concentrate. Have fun.



Folk Dancing
Irish Set Dancing
Royal Spa Hotel, Lisdoonvarna

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