published Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Swing dancing keeps your heart pumping, your outlook bright


by Laura Galbraith

Who knew sweating to the oldies could be so rewarding?

Whether they are taking regular lessons with an instructor or trying the moves out for the first time, more and more people are discovering the health benefits of swing dancing.

"It's definitely aerobic, and it's something that can be done at all skill levels," said Sumit Khanna of Chattanooga Swing and Lindy. "A lot of people say, 'I'm not coordinated,' but coordination is something that you really learn."

Nearly every Thursday night at Rio Picante Mexican Bar & Grill downtown, Mr. Khanna and his friends give free swing dance lessons.

"We'll do a basic warm-up and just teach beginner East Coast swing lessons, starting with the basic steps and a couple of turns," said Mr. Khanna. "Usually at around 8:30 p.m. or so, we just open (the floor) up and play DJ music for that night until 11 p.m. and just let people come out and dance."

Mr. Khanna said that on some nights up to 30 people will show up for a lesson, and they come in all shapes and sizes.

"It works out your whole body," he said. "It works out your mind too. If you love music, it will help you get on the beat and feel that rhythm through the music."

Mel Vandergriff, who has taught dance for 25 years, also gives lessons in East Coast swing at Alicia's School of Dance on Highway 153. He said dance aids flexibility as well as balance and leg strength.

"When I teach, I talk about the physiology as well as the physics of the dance because a lot of this has to do with the physiology of the body," said Mr. Vandergriff. "You can't get your partner's arm to go back behind your shoulder and make it be comfortable for her, so just from the anatomy perspective, there is some learning that takes place."

Leta Thurman, one of Mr. Vandergriff's regular students, said swing dancing also will improve one's mood.

"It's just fun," she said. "You don't even realize that when you're out there on that dance floor that you're exercising."

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