Admit it. All it takes is 10 long,
boring minutes on the treadmill
to make you swear off
workouts forever. If the gym
doesn't work for you, and
you're not built for high-octane aerobic
workouts, try your hand at classical
dance. It may not sound like exercise,
but it offers all the benefits of a
yoga workout, while also being fun.
Bollywood dance has been an old
favourite for those who want to have a
good time as they workout. But its
jhatkas aren't for everyone. The controlled
yet fluid movements of Indian
classical dance, be it Kathak,
Bharatanatyam or Odissi, will help you
build agility, strength and balance, even
as the complete concentration it
demands helps calm your mind.
Endurance and control
So how does classical dance help you
"Dance is much more than a weight
loss routine," says Isha Sharvani, who
gained fame with her role in the movie
Kisna, earning much acclaim for her
dance performances in it.
The 25-year-old has been dancing
since she was seven, learning Kathak,
Chhau and Kalaripayattu from her
mother, Kathak dancer Daksha Sheth,
who runs her own academy in
Thiruvananthapuram. She says, "Thin
doesn't mean fit and you should never
exercise to become thin. I meet so many
girls who're thin, but their bodies have
For Sharvani, the aim of any form of
exercise, especially dance, is to become
fit and gain flexibility, agility and body
control. "You have to figure out what
you want. Dance teaches how to use
your body as a tool, giving you more
command over it. Your body and mind
learn to work in sync," she adds. You
gain endurance, from the many hours
of practice, aerobic health and a lot of
"Along the way you also lose weight,
since you're working hard and sweating
so much, and your body begins to
tone up. But that is never the main goal,"
she adds. It's easy to see the truth in
what she says. Sharvani is lithe and
strong, and you can see the control she
exercises over her body in even the simplest
movements. She exudes confidence
In the beginning
Believe it or not, you can start learning
classical dance at any age. Odissi
dancer Protima Bedi, who went on to
become a great exponent of the form,
started taking lessons only when she
was 26. Just don't expect results
overnight; the form works its magic
slowly, making you physically and mentally
"Holding a pose can be very strenuous
at first," says Pallavi Raisurana, 38,
who teaches Kathak at her Malabar
Hill residence. Though you may not feel
it happen, like with any other workout,
dance will put a strain on your body
and you will begin to feel muscles you
didn't know you had. The trick,
Raisurana says, is in controlling your
breath. "A dancer learns to control her
breath, like you would in yoga, because
that is what brings balance and poise
to the pose."
Every movement a dancer makes
must come from the core of the body.
"The limbs are just extensions or manifestations
of the movement, the real
work has to be done by your centre,"
According to Sharvani, new dancers
always find it difficult to control their
body. "But your body starts responding
you keep practising
and repeating a movement,
your muscles start
remembering what to do,"
To make her core stronger,
Sharvani spends an hour every morning
doing yoga or working with weights
to build strength. "Dance trains your
body to take load without getting
injured; it makes you stronger and gives
you strong abdominal and back muscles,"
In addition, the complex footwork of
classical Indian dances and the precise
relationship of the movements with the
rhythm, contributes to make the dancer
more agile and quick on her feet.
Besides making you fitter, dance also
improves your mental wellbeing. "Those
who take to dance when they are troubled
about something, find that it slowly
starts working changes on them mentally
as well. They begin to calm down
and see things more clearly," Raisurana
Besides making you a more positive
person, dance also improves your posture
and sense of confidence. Raisurana
says, "You can always tell a dancer simply
from the way she stands or moves."
But a word of caution. Anchal Gupta,
whose dance studio Arts in Motion
offers training in Kathak besides other
forms, says, "You should only get into
classical dance forms if you have the
dedication to learn the technique over
the years. It is not a quick fix, it's for a
Figure out what you want
You need to decide what is more important
for you -- losing weight or getting fit. Thin is not
fit. I can't say this enough. Even thin people have
to work hard to make their bodies strong.
Doing any one thing in excess
never works out well in the end.
So don't just keep doing
weights in the gym, and
don't just rely on dance to
get you fit. The ideal routine
would have you
spending two days a
week in the gym, building
more strength in your
body, and three days dancing,
where you learn agility,
balance and control.
Get mind and body in sync
Certain movements will seem hard at first.
Don't get disheartened. Keep repeating them.
Eventually, your muscles will start remembering
what to do and you'll just get it. Your mind and
body will be in sync and you'll be able to control
your movements better.
Set your own pace
Work at a pace you're comfortable with and can
maintain. The goal should not be to lose weight
now. The goal should be to reach the place
where you can be fit and agile even at 55 and
enjoy your life.
Strengthen your core
Remember, the goal is not gym strength but core
strength. Even when you're working out in the
gym, you're not just pumping iron. You're giving
your muscles the strength to allow you to hold a
pose as long as you want.