5 Questions: Choreographer Alice Alyse on dancing for fitness

For those of us not blessed with the footwork of Fred Astaire, the notion of taking a dance class might not appeal. But Alice Alyse, a dancer and choreographer who is the artistic director of Joffrey Ballet West and Joffrey Ballet South, says that even the clumsiest among us can benefit from cutting a rug for an hour or so.

In fact, says Alyse, dance comes naturally to everyone, regardless of how pretty we look doing it. Here, she talks about what makes dance a first-rate way to exercise and how to find the right class.

Why is dance a good workout for the nonprofessional?

Dance is really important for the body. Our bodies were meant to move to music; it makes you feel good. If you take a bunch of kids that are in kindergarten, for instance, they want to dance — it’s very natural and wonderful that people who don’t dance professionally take dance classes.

A huge part of dance is also the stretching part, and to stretch your body and muscles is so important. It promotes not having bad backs or not being tight in certain areas. Dancing is also a good way for people to lose weight, and socially it’s a lot more fun.


What type of dance class do you recommend?

There are so many different forms of dance, and everybody is unique in what they’re going to like. There’s ballroom, and within that there’s the waltzes, the salsa. Ballroom can be a great way to lose weight. With ballet, you tone a little bit more, and you tone lots of different muscles, maybe some muscles you’ve never used before.

Dancers obviously tend to be very thin. Is that the goal of taking a dance class as an amateur, or is it more about just being healthy?

Dancers in general happen to be thin because of all of the exercise they do, although Joffrey Ballet School has always had this feeling of including and celebrating all body types. I think as a whole, in America — with everything that’s happening in the modeling industry as well — I’m starting to see a trend of healthier, not necessary thinner. People want to be toned, not rail thin.

How can people taking dance class prevent injuries?

It’s very important where you take a class and who is instructing you, because learning technique is crucial to avoid injuries. Your instructors should be able to guide you through the movements in such a way that you don’t get injured. So I would suggest researching the instructor’s background, where they studied, who they studied from, and what styles and techniques they’ve learned.

Also, you get injured more easily when you’re tired, so it’s very important to keep your energy up and to sleep well, to eat healthy and to drink a lot of fluids. You also lose a lot of vitamins when you’re running around and working out a lot, so it’s important to take supplements and to get lots of sunlight to replenish your vitamin D.

You obviously do a lot of dancing. What other exercise do you do to supplement your workout?

If I’m not dancing, I prefer to do Pilates. Pilates is not aerobic, but it is more refined; there’s not a lot of movement, but it’s more slow and steady. Pilates is a really good alternative to dance because it lengthens the muscles, and it’s very feminine and more ballet-based. I either work with a partner or on the Reformer.

When I can, I also like to go into the gym and do some cardio on the treadmill.