Mind Your Body: So You Think You Can't Dance

From awkward to Astaire. How the rhythmless can boogie with confidence.

By Erin Bell, published on March 1, 2009 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Weddings, bat mitzvahs, nightclubs—life provides us with many opportunities to let loose and dance. Wallflowers would do well to embrace their funky selves. In addition to conferring all the benefits of aerobic activity, dancing can decrease anxiety and boost motor coordination and flexibility. Your social life and self-confidence will also get a leg up. How can the rhythmless among us reap these benefits? PT asked three dance instructors to show us the way.

Break It Down

"Learning to dance is a very humbling process. Ultimately, it's about getting acquainted with your body. Begin the process by breaking the body down into pieces and working with each of them individually. Take the rib cage, for instance. Which ways can you move it? Does it go forward? Backward? Left? Right? Some beginners come in wanting to move everything or launch into combinations, but taking on too much too soon will make you feel discouraged and give up. Instead of trying to master complex steps, explore your body as an instrument. Watch yourself in the mirror. Once you feel comfortable, take your new skills out to clubs and parties." —Jessica Hayden, SHOCKra Studio

Keep the Beat

"Some people have rhythm naturally, but for those who don't it can be difficult to learn. Beginners can start by clapping out simple beats and counting aloud. After you've become accustomed to monitoring rhythm this way, translate the explicit counting into movement, and count in your head. Remember: Everyone can dance. Don't stress about technical perfection if it comes at the expense of your enjoyment. The goal is to reduce self-consciousness and anxiety to the point where you feel comfortable in your own skin." —Joe Bowie, Mark Morris Dance Group

Find Your Groove

"Depending on what you like, you'll enjoy some dance classes more than others. If you like rhythm, put on some tap shoes. If you like So You Think You Can Dance, take a jazz class. Ballet class can help if you're having back problems, due to its emphasis on posture. Whatever style you choose, try to relax in class and trust your teachers. If you leave each class realizing you had a good time and you learned just a little bit, then you're doing it right." —Donna Lindgren, The Moderne Academie of Fine Arts