My dance background is sparse. In the first grade, I barely learned third position in ballet when soccer came along and stole my heart. I traded my canvas ballet shoes for cleats and never looked back. The last time I visited a dance studio, it was to relive a fantasy to be a 1980s Fly Girl at a Hip Hop studio.
I’ve mocked the resurgence of Jazzercise and received hate mail. I don’t get the manic reactions to “Dancing with the Stars.” But I had agreed to audit a ballroom dance class at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio (FADS) in Pearland, Texas, to see whether there was any truth to the discussion that dancing offers various health benefits, including stress reduction, weight loss, a boosted immune system and other signs of improved wellness.
I opened the doors to the Fred Astaire Dance Studio and immediately met the owner, John Elsbury. While welcoming me into his bright studio with his lovely English accent, he swept me along the studio’s pine hardwood floors and immediately began converting me into a ballroom dancer. Elsbury is an all England professional champion and international professional finalist. He and the “Dancing with the Stars” judge Len Goodman have known each other for 35 years and judged together all over the world. Elsbury’s passport has been stamped in more than 29 countries.
I can see why Elsbury fits in with the Fred Astaire name, as he glides along with a demure grin while offering dance instruction with ease. “My personal favorite Fred Astaire movie was “Top Hat,” but they were all masterpieces of dance perfection. For me, the main thing that Fred displayed was a sense of style and elegance, which is sadly missing today. His films were all ‘feel good’ movies where the audience knew they were going to leave feeling better than when they came in.”
“We came to the United States seven years ago. In England, you must have a proper job, so I was trained as an accountant in London. Only in America can you set up shop and make a living doing what you truly love. That’s what we’re doing here.”
Dancing helped the former accountant ease his stress. “I really do know the benefits I felt when coming from a stressful day at the office and found that I thought of nothing but the dance when I was in the studio,” he said. “It really does not matter which dance you prefer as the whole body, including the brain, is involved. It can clear the mind in the same way as yoga or Tai Chi.”
Elsbury quickly taught me the Foxtrot, illustrating the proper stance and the basic four-count rhythm. Within minutes, we were gliding along the floor performing the flowing movements as Elsbury chanted, “Slow, slow, quick, quick.”
Soon, my heart was beating faster and I was feeling the effects of the cardiovascular exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic, consistent social dance leads to a slower heart rate, lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels.
“This low-impact aerobic activity can increase your flexibility, strength and balance,” Elsbury said. “We have many students who have lost weight through the dancing. It is not uncommon to lose 30 pounds over a year of dancing combined with a healthy diet. We have several examples where students have done this and attribute it to their dancing. They hated the idea of going to a sweaty gym which they viewed as ‘hard work’ whereas their dancing was just fun, however hard they worked.”
East Coast swing dancing was up next. We practiced the link step, also known as the rock step, and the throwout from the closed to open position. “Are you sure you haven’t taken a ballroom dance class before?” asked Elsbury. I completely missed the next step and laughed. “There you go,” he said. “If all else fails, just smile and act like that’s part of the dance. The audience won’t know the difference.”
To start your journey to healthy fun, visit one of Elsbury’s Fred Astaire Dance Studios locations.
20810 Gulf Freeway, Ste H, Webster, TX 77598
11200 W Broadway St #420, Pearland, TX 77584
By Autumn Rhea Carpenter
Photo Credit: Autumn Rhea Carpenter