Get on the dance floor for your physical, mental health

In celebration of National Dance Day July 30, FIU News talked to people around campus who have a passion for dancing to find out how dance enriches their lives.

When psychology and sports fitness major Maria Roman first set foot on the Modesto A. Maidique Campus (MMC) Wellness and Recreation Center, she took one look at the weight room and turned the other way. At the time, it seemed intimidating.

Since Roman had taken belly dance classes throughout middle and high school, she decided an exercise routine that incorporated dance, like Zumba, was a better option.

“When I first took Zumba, I actually wasn’t the best ever,” Roman says. “But after a while, you just pick up the moves, start learning and you make it your own.”

Today, Roman is a certified Zumba instructor at MMC’s Wellness and Recreation Center. She goes into the weight room, too.

Just like dancing proved Roman’s gateway into the fitness world, many people also find solace and joy through dance – while increasing their physical, spiritual and mental health.

“I deal with depression, and dancing is my way of just letting go and having that time for myself – doing something that makes me happy,” Roman says. “Dancing the way we teach it here is like a party. Even if you’re not the best dancer in the world, you can just forget everything and let go.”

For dance adjunct professor Crystal Patient, dance is communication and connection.

“Dance gave me a voice and a platform to communicate in ways I didn’t know how to do before. If I could say everything with words, then I wouldn’t have to dance,” explains Patient, who teaches FIU’s minor in dance. “It really just gives us a chance to have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around politics or the color of our skin or concern about age. A 6-year old and a 60-year old can do the electric slide together.”

Reggae Fit Instructor Rachel Chang teaching her class

Reggae Fit Instructor Rachel Chang (center, facing mirror) teaching one of her classes

Rachel Chang ’01, MS ’05 created a workout routine called Reggae Fit now taught at MMC and Biscayne Bay Campus (BBC). Chang, who is of Jamaican and Chinese descent, incorporates Caribbean dance, tap dance and ballet with aerobics. She says dance brings music to life.

“People don’t even realize they are working out,” says Chang, who teaches the BBC class. “I give them a flag, and they are jumping up and down like they are in a carnival in Trinidad or Brazil.”

Many Reggae Fit attendees have had the added benefit of losing weight as a result of the workout.

“Our goal is just to get people physically fit in whatever works for them,” says Warren Shaw, assistant director of the Wellness and Recreation Center – BBC. He adds that dance can also increase cultural awareness, with people stepping into new cultures through its dances.

For junior biomedical engineering major Richard Sotolongo, dancing is one way to remember his Cuban roots. Originally, he never thought he’d like dancing, but one day at a quinces party – the Hispanic equivalent of a sweet sixteen – his mother caught him moving to the beat of the song, sitting in his chair. Sotolongo realized dancing might not be so bad.

At the time, too shy to dance in public, he would sneak out of his room late at night and practice salsa moves when no one was looking. While in high school, he decided to take salsa lessons and quickly became a salsa instructor for Salsa Kings Company – a job he had for about two years.

“Since I started dancing, I’ve started thinking it really is a gift from God,” Sotolongo says. “Why does listening to music and dancing to that music take away my anxieties, why does it take away my problems?”

For Sotolongo, sometimes time stands still while dancing.

“The connection when all the moves are going nicely, when the person you’re dancing with is looking at you… you almost feel like you never want that moment to end. There are few things in this world that are better.”

Read more >> Rise of Zumba nation: FIU alumnus behind the world’s latest fitness sensation