Ballroom Dance – An Unlikely Recipe For Physical Rehabilitation, One Step at a Time
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 of the time from the damage to my spine.
For the first 6 years after my accident I listened to the doctors « don’t lift anything over 5 pounds, Don’t irritate the nerves in your spine. » After years of going to physical therapists, pain centers, neurologists, and orthopedic surgeons I took matters into my own hands. I already had vast knowledge of exercise and knew what triggered my symptoms. I began to experiment with body weight exercises and light dumbbells. I made some progress, but I still had terrible pain every day.
When I began to write my Swing Set Fitness books I performed some of the swing exercises and I was shocked at how much I was able to 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 with my overall well-being, but I was looking for something more. I needed a physical activity that would help with low body 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 as to whether I should give ballroom dance a try. I knew there would be limitations with my spine. I took 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 would not work for me, but I also saw enough that made me say, « Why not? »
I still had to be careful in order to prevent more damage to my spine, but I needed to try this. It would be the first time I have attempted movement in a non-controlled environment. All of my physical rehabilitation from the accident was in controlled environments such as physical therapy offices or my own home. I knew 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 bump from another couple or a fall could cause serious problems to an already damaged body.
So I took the chance knowing that I could stop and leave the class if necessary. The backwards walking was a real challenge for me. I did not have the coordination, speed, or balance for most of the basic steps I attempted. And dancing on a crowded dance floor was truly nerve racking. I was terrified that I would crash into someone, but I had to trust my dance partner to guide me safely. I got through the first class and went in for a second, third, and fourth. It was a challenge, mentally and physically. The ballroom dance classes have been amazing physical therapy for my low body. And even better, there was moderate rather than intense pain after most of the classes.
And here’s a thought… I would not perform that many low back kicks (back extensions), leg (quad) extensions, or hip flexor contractions during any single exercise session. And who would want to count that high when exercising! I had no idea how great the fox trot, tango, and waltz are for improving low body strength and coordination until I started to learn them. And it is a different strength than ballet or other forms of dance. Ballroom dance has provided the missing component to my low body physical rehabilitation. After taking about ten classes I have noticed that my balance has improved and I am more coordinated.
Physical therapists should consider assigning ballroom dance to some of their patients for low body coordination, balance, speed, and strength. The reaching back with the foot for the backward step is a similar motion to a low back kick (hip extension). As the female transfers her weight and propels her body backwards, she performs quadriceps and hip flexor contractions. And ballroom dance is sure to help people with posture. When a previously active individual is at a plateau in physical rehabilitation, ballroom dance just might be the best therapy.