Tap dance syncopates fitness for any age

Mon May 16, 2011 6:14am EDT
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By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - For fitness outside the box-step of the gym, why not try hoofing it?

Experts say whether you've got rhythm, or just crave it, an extended foray into the purely American art form of tap dance can boost your balance, cardio and core.

"It's great for balance because tap dance is all about weight shift," said Courtney Runft, an instructor at the American Tap Dance Center in New York. "You're forced to stand on one leg, so you're really using those fine muscles on the bottom of your feet."

Runft, who turned to tap dance after injuries sidelined her ballet career, said while the learning curve for tap varies as broadly as her students, who range in age from three and a-half to the mid-70's, consistency yields results.

"I look at some adults who could not stand on one leg three months ago, now they can balance and move their other leg freely," she said. "It really builds the lower body. And once you have the basics under control it's definitely a cardio workout."

The roots of tap dance reach back to the days of slave trade in America when African Americans, forbidden by slave holders from communicating through their traditional drums, transferred their rhythmic messages to their feet.

In the mid-19th century, their footwork merged with the jigs and clog dances of Irish and English immigrants, and tap dance was born.

Elizabeth Larkam, a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, said compared to other activities, tap dance is safe to do throughout one's life because it adapts to any fitness level.   Continued...