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penny-wideDear Nadine,
Any suggestions for an activity to perk up my kids this New Year? — Mo & Jo, Crystal Lake, WI

For me, a jaunt home to to my native England also means an evening tripping the light fantastic with my mum and her line-dancing friends. It’s a hoot. Every Thursday, the ankle boots are pulled on, Johnny Cash is lined up and those inner Dolly Partons come strutting out.

That night, bursts of laughter and jokey chatter interrupted the opening dance, as though the dancers were unsettled pigeons hopping and squawking around a water fountain. Yet, as each member of the group began to side-step-shuffle in unison down the room, their shoulders relaxed, their bodies unfurled and a look of meditational calm swept across their features and settled peacefully through the room.

I’d like to say I achieved that same zen-like grace myself that evening, but apparently line-dancing is an art form that takes 20 years to master. So, as I tried to heel-toe-heel to an increasingly up-tempo beat, my eyes glued to everyone else’s feet, my head swiveling dizzily from left to right as we switched direction yet again, it occurred to me that while Swan Lake I wasn’t, I was having fun. In fact, I was positively glowing — perspiring even.

You see, at the very least dance offers everyone (including our kids) a great workout. As the National Dance Organization (NDO) notes, “Dance involves a greater range of motion and coordination, strength and endurance than most other physical activities.” Specifically, NDO says dance helps develop “a healthy heart and lungs, stronger muscles, stronger bones and reduced risk of osteoporosis.”

For kids who live in the Upper Midwest where January is as chilly as outer Siberia, it’s a sport that can be enjoyed whatever the weather is outside. And that’s important, given that more kids than ever are dealing with the issue of obesity (which has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years) and need to exercise.

Cardio fitness aside, dance brings other health benefits. It helps improve coordination, agility and flexibility, as well as balance and spatial awareness, as Miss Eileen (of Eileen Blake Dance Studio in Minnetonka) pointed out when our son signed up for tap lessons at age 6. Three and a half years later, tapping has gifted him such good eye-foot coordination that his feet can kick like castanets, allowing him to snatch the soccer ball from the biggest and the best of them, as expertly as any master magician swiping a watch from a wrist.

Not surprisingly, researchers, coaches and athletes have experimented with a variety of dance forms to improve athletic prowess. As Dr. Peter Brukner, author of The Encyclopedia of Exercise, Sport and Health, comments, at the very least “…the flexibility that you gain from dance class helps prevent sports-related injuries,” which is why athletes like Steve McLendon of the Pittsburgh Steelers have incorporated ballet into their training!

Of course, dance isn’t just good for the body. It’s a tool of expression, too, which is why dances were performed in ancient cultures like Egypt, Greece and India by temple priests and priestesses as a means to document the stories of the Gods or inaugurate special events. In an age in which kids are often scattered — their thoughts swinging from homework to Instagram to their iPod — dance brings them back into their bodies and grounds them. Dance connects kids to music, which elevates mood. Dance connects kids to the other kids, creating lightness and camaraderie. And most importantly, dance connects kids to themselves and allows them to rediscover their inner spirit.

Not surprisingly, a survey of 50,000 youths of ages 13 and 14 years old from 700 schools in the UK discovered that dance was the most popular activity for girls outside of school. These young ladies felt renewed by dance — and they knew it!

As for my own line-dancing experience, as the hands of the clock spiraled through their second circuit I found myself beginning to let loose that night. And while my rhythm was questionable and my coordination uncertain, I was able to muster a zest and enthusiasm that had me clapping and stamping like a line-dancing pro.

And amazingly, ideas for articles, intriguing insights and intuitive inspirations sashayed effortlessly into my thoughts, leaping and pirouetting as daintily as any prima ballerina. And, as I turned in the wrong direction and narrowly avoided colliding with my mother, it occurred to me that dance was speaking to me, using the language of my soul to remind me that if I want to create, I have to be part of that creator energy — and dance.

So this January, encourage your kids to have fun with a little dance. And whether your family tries to Fox Trot or Flamenco, to Ballet dance or Belly dance, know that you will giggle and gambol, reel and relax, your chakras will balance, your spirits will lift and it will be the most calming, creative and rhythmic start to the New Year, ever!

Resources
Obesity Facts
Obesity in Children & Teens
Doctor’s Guide to Obesity in Children
Eileen Blake Dance Studio
History of Dance
Football Players & Ballet
Steve McLendon
Ballet improves Football Skills
Leveling the Playing Field

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Nadine Penny attained her M.A. from the University of Denver in Counseling Psychology. Nadine lives in Minnetonka where she works as a medium, life issues reader and Reiki master. Contact her at nadine.penny@gmail.com and visit www.nadinepenny.com.

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