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Shape Up Like Shakira

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Anshu Bahanda: This is Anshu Bahanda on Wellness Curated. Thanks for joining me on this podcast. My mission is to empower you with health and wellness so that you can then go and empower others. 

We bring you a special talent today. We bring you someone who’s providing an alternative to the gym. Dan moved to London from Ecuador. You know, he’s a proud Latin American, and he feels that dance has the transformative power to boost your mood and that fitness should ultimately feel amazing. So, he set up a dance studio called Dan’s, where he brings leading dance fitness instructors from across the world. And he’s got them to design a cutting-edge dance syllabus to give people a full body workout and boost their mood through dance. I also have with him today, Claire, who’s the head dancer at Dan’s. She’s a professional music theater performer. She’s trained in ballet, jazz, tap, and contemporary dance. She’s performed at the BBC. She’s toured with Jessie J Live. She’s choreographed smash hit theatrical shows such as Oliver, Annie, and Hairspray. I will jump right in. Tell me, what is wellness to you?

Dan Bermeo: For me, wellness goes beyond physical perfection. Just to give you an anecdote. I’ve always been a tennis player, always been in the fitness industry. I’ve drank every juice that you can imagine. But three or four years ago, I was like, you know what? Yes, I’m very fit, but I lack inner joy. So, I was like, okay, I need to do something to help people find that inner joy because wellness needs to have that in place. For me, wellness is from the inside out. So, everything that we’re doing here at Dan’s has that first thing taken care of, and then the physical results come later.

AB: Now, tell me, how did you decide on promoting dance? I know I have the very brief version, but you tell us, how did you decide to make a career and a life out of it?

D: Yeah, so basically, I’m not a dancer. I’m not the most coordinated person in the world, to be quite frank. But, yeah, the reason why I decided to take a leap of faith and create this business is because around three to four years ago, I was walking down the street, and going back to your original question, trying to find that inner joy. And I was like, you know what? I want to go to a dance studio and learn how to dance, because dancing is the most uplifting activity for me of all. So, I went into that dance studio and I saw that it was a bit outdated and not that welcoming. It’s like going back to the 1920s, the hospital life, the ambience. It wouldn’t give justice to what dance as an activity is. So, yeah, to answer the question, it was out of that need in society that I was like, you know what, let’s get into the fitness world and let’s bring dancing to where it truly belongs, which is that wellness scene, that fitness studio dream.

AB: Oh, wow, that sounds fascinating. Now, tell me, how do you use dance for complete mind and body fitness?

D: Yeah, I’ll give my initial comments, but I’m hoping Claire can give her comments as well. But for me, the great thing about dancing is obviously the physicality is there because you’re constantly moving, and especially in our program, we match it up with different equipment and everything. So, the physical side of it is a no brainer. You definitely get it. But for me, what is really nice about dancing is the mind part of it, because it does require a certain mental sort of need. So, you need to learn some steps, you need to coordinate the steps, and it doesn’t really matter if you get it right or wrong, but the fact is that you’re using your brain and like any other sort of muscle in your body, if you don’t use it, you will lose it.

Claire: There was a video that went around, I think it was at the start of the first lockdown of an ex-prima ballerina, Marta Gonzalez. And so, she was a really elderly lady and she had Alzheimer’s. The video shows her with Swan Lake being played, and it’s just incredible how suddenly the music ignites something in her that she’s able to remember, the choreography and her body can just start moving. Exactly the movement, the timing, precision of what she did, it does show that the creativeness that comes with dance and you use your body and your mind as you get older, it’s going to stay with you and it’s embedded in your muscle memory. 

AB: Amazing. Coming to Shakira now. I mean, she has incredible energy. Look at the way she performs on stage. She just blows everyone away. She’s an entity. She dances, she looks so fit, she’s a performer, she entertains. How does she do that? 

C: She’s incredible, isn’t she? Yes, I can’t quite believe the amount that she does. So, yes, she’s a mum, of all things. She’s got to juggle, being a mum. But then she’s doing dance training, HIIT training, strength training, she’s swimming, running, sleeping well, eating well. If only it was a BD to prescribe one thing that she does and say, everyone go and do that. But I think it’s a combination of her work ethic, her drive, ambition and probably most importantly, consistency. She’s been doing what she’s doing for a long time now and I think perhaps the pinnacle of that being the Super Bowl performance that she had live with J Lo. And of course, she’s got a team of people behind her helping her do that. But I think it just goes to show that nothing is ever a quick fix and it’s got to become a habit, it’s got to become a way of life. You’ve got to create habits that are going to continue.

I was reading an article, she’s married now, in Australia, and they were talking about the ways in which she trains. I can’t quite believe the amount that she does. So, yes, she’s a mum, of all things. She’s also got to juggle being a mum. But then she’s doing dance visual training, she’s doing HIIT training, strength training, she’s swimming, running, and I think the final thing I remember reading about her was the way that she wants to introduce dance to her children. So, she would say that on her days of breaks, believe it or not, she put a song on a Spotify playlist or something and she would just move. And she encouraged the sense of freedom that comes with just moving to her children. And sometimes we put a lot of pressure on it when we dance. And it doesn’t have to be that it’s just moving and feeling good.

D: I guess, if I may add my two cents, that is I think coming from that Latin American background of really having that mindset of enjoying the moment, I think that you can see the way that she smiles and the way that she performs and the way that she thinks that she truly enjoys the moment. So, I think that could also help for that sort of physical, sort of crazy seat that she has. But also, you can see that she’s truly happy and, yeah, perhaps that way of living is helping her.

AB: So, what I’m taking away from both of you is consistency, fun, and enjoying the moment. So, the fun aspect is very important, right?

C: Yes, I think because, again, if you think about fitness and the physical side of it, a lot of people get set in their ways and then it’s hard to adhere to, to either get up at this time in the morning and go into a workout and go dance and keep my body moving. But if you’re changing up those methods of moving different music or a different style of dance, you’re more likely to want to do that every day. There’s a slight change that excites you to do it. So, I think, yeah, enjoying the moment and changing, bearing up what you’re doing in your training.

AB: So, we’ve talked about physical fitness. Tell me, what about mental fitness? How does dance help with mental fitness?

D: When I was coming up with the idea of creating Dan’s, one of the first things that I did was reach out to, for example, the Levante Conservatory of Music. And I started inquiring about how dancing is good for your mental health. And when I started the conversation, it was amazing to see the studies, sort of physical studies with thousands of people, whereby you can see how after dancing for a certain period of time, you get so many mental benefits, not only to take you out from depression and things like that, but also to get your muscle memory working. I honestly think that dancing is so underrated and I think that if many people will do it and create a habit out of it, their mental health will improve significantly. And also, we have customers, they report how they are getting much better mentally and also from a movement perspective as well. So, it’s [all] really encouraging to see.

AB: So, tell me, how many times a week would you recommend that we dance and for what duration of time? Would you say do it every day? Would you say do it three times a week? Would you say do it for half an hour? I mean, is there an optimal number?

C: If it’s a physical goal, then there’s going to be that fitness element that comes with it and 45, 50 minutes workout, fusing the dance in there is going to be beneficial. But I think one thing that’s always at the bottom of dance is that it is a creative artform at the end of the day. So, there’s not necessarily any rules and regulations of how to dance, when to dance, and what to dance to; and I think that’s something that we want to hold on to. You can get up every day and put a song on and feel creative and boost your mood and get the day started, releasing the endorphins and dopamine, which is a stress-relieving hormone. So, anything that can get your body moving and dance is going to set you up for the day. If you’re obviously training in a style that you want to get good at, I would say in terms of your brain working through it, the muscle memory and choreography setting in your body, I’d say twice a week we tend to be working with our dancers, picking up choreography, and feeling fitter. But remember, it’s a huge form of cardio, so you see results quickly. And like Daniel mentioned, the mental benefit is just unbelievable.

AB: And Claire, you said you’ve seen that twice a week you start seeing changes in people’s muscle memory. So, tell me how long twice a week? Would you recommend an hour, half an hour, or 40 minutes?

C: Yeah. I think in terms of not wanting to overwhelm the brain with lots of choreography, if you’re a beginner, for example, you don’t want to be going on and learning the best two bars of work and choreography. So, I think what we have seen proves and what works well, is a short burst of learning the choreography. Then you move away, head on to some fitness, and then you come back to that choreography, having that time away to do some fitness, take your mind off what you’ve just learned. Coming back to it, it feels refreshing. So, yeah, I would say those 50 minute, 45 to 50 minute workouts with about half and half dance to fitness ratio.

AB: Wonderful. And tell me for different things like for physical fitness, for mental health, for muscle memory, are there different forms of dancing that you would recommend?

C: Yeah, if there’s just a mood booster goal, you could dance in your living room, do whatever you like. If there’s a strength-based goal, perhaps ballet. We know that that’s using a lot of the big muscle groups, and that works your posture as well. So, for posture alignment it’s ballet. If you want to work on your coordination, [and you’re looking for something that’s not] boring, something like a quick step or tap dancing where you’re working your feet and your hand in rhythm can work. And then I think another thing that crops up is if anybody out there has friends or relatives that have Parkinson’s disease, I know that that’s something that dance and rhythm can be really helpful for, for people suffering like that. They tend to obviously; they can’t move as well. But those cues that they get from the rhythm of hearing music and if they start to move, it can help ignite the sense of getting them up and walking forward. Like I say, there are many benefits of doing it.

AB:  You know, for the people who can’t, say get to your studio or get to a studio, are there tracks you would recommend? Routines or mixes online or even whatever your favorite tracks are, that they can dance to themselves?

D: There is a song from the World Cup in Brazil. Jennifer Lopez and people. It’s called Ole Ola. I think that song is very uplifting, to see so many people coming together from different nationalities under one rhythm and one sport and you’re like, oh my God, this is again going back to what dancing is. This rhythm is like, oh my God. If you transport it and immerse in an experience, then in terms of people that can’t come to the studio, we have an at-home platform in which people can log in from wherever in the world. And yeah, we’re trying to make it as accessible as possible there. I’m not sure what you think.

C: For me, music is such an integral part of dance as well. So, if you find a good song, once you get the move, then it’s worth holding on to. I think my top ones at the moment, I love Dare by Shakira, I love some Pepas by Farruko, Busy Carnival, all of the features, background playlist, Spotify playlist. So, if anybody wants to feel inspired, then find it on Spotify and have a look at those.

AB: Wonderful. And my last question to you, do you have any advice?

D: My advice, which is very close to my heart, is trying something new in your life. At Dan’s, one of the main messages of the brand is to encourage people to do something different with their life. It can be, yeah, sure, try dancing. Meet new people, be an adventure. And don’t stick to your same routine every single day.

C: And remember, when you move, it’s a celebration of what your body can do. 

AB: So, thank you for that. Thank you for the wonderful session. Thanks for joining us. Hope you enjoyed the Wellness Curated podcast. Please subscribe and tell your friends and family about it. And here’s to you leading your best life.