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Tonight I presented speech #7 in the Competent Communicator manual – Research Your Topic. I actually did a lot of research on this starting with contra dancing then looking into the benefits of dance and studies of its use and advocacy as an intervention, and then moving into the wider aspect of physical activity and its relation to chronic disease reduction. As such, I over-explored and wasn’t quite happy with the result of the writing or delivery – could have used another week.

Dancing for health and well-being

Mr. Toastmaster, fellow members and welcomed guests, we all know that physical activity improves our health and well-being but there seems to be a disconnect between the knowing and the doing. This disconnect can reduce the quality of your life. There are many ways you can be active and tonight I want you to consider dancing.

A two-year Canadian Health Measures Survey, the first to use an accelerometer rather than relying on self-reporting, found that only 15% of Canadians between the ages of 20-79 get the recommended 150 minutes per week of physical activity, roughly 4 people in this room. While the step-based tool doesn’t accurately measure activities like swimming and cycling, the survey is an indication that we are not as active as we think we are.

An inactive lifestyle puts you at risk for premature death, chronic disease and disability. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, an active person reduces their risk of heart disease or stroke by 50%. A report from the Alzheimer Society of Canada cited a study that found people who exercise 3 times a week were 40% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Osteoporosis Canada’s website states that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will suffer a broken bone as a result of osteoporosis. To maintain or improve your bone strength, they recommend exercises where your bones have to carry your weight, such as brisk walking or aerobics and to include exercises involving unaccustomed movements, like dancing.

Dancing is an activity that can be enjoyed by everyone. You can dance by yourself, with a partner or with a group. Dancing bestows a cornucopia of physical, mental, personal and social benefits. It improves your heart and lung capacity; strengthens your muscles and bones; improves your balance, coordination, agility and flexibility; improves your mental functioning and your outlook on life; and reduces social isolation.

According to a 2004 report prepared for the Canada Council for the Arts, 5.5% of adults say they participate in dance activities or classes. Dancing is an enjoyable activity but it would seem that only 1 or 2 people in this room do it. I want to tell you about a form of dance that I’ve recently investigated and some of you may want to try.

It’s called contra dancing and it derives from English country dancing. Children do it, adults do it, even mathematically-inclined people do it. It’s offered nearby at the Churchill Recreation Centre and you can go with or without a partner. All you need is a pair of soft-soled shoes. It’s aerobic, social and may make you smile.

Contra uses a smooth walking step, usually to a count of 8. Dmitry has agreed to help me demonstrate a few figures. To do-si-do walk around the other person passing by the right shoulder and ending in your original place. To swing take a ballroom position and walk around each other while maintaining eye contact. To gypsy walk clockwise around each other while staying connected by your gaze.

Contra is danced to live music, usually jigs and reels. It takes place in sets. A set consists of two parallel lines. You dance with a partner and an adjacent couple. A caller initially guides you through a sequence of movements and as the sequence repeats you progress up or down the line interacting with a new pair of neighbours. I danced with young, middle-aged and older people … thin, athletic and overweight people … short, tall and disabled people.

Chronic diseases are on the rise in Canada. You can reduce your risk by incorporating 150 minutes a week of activity into your lifestyle. Contra dancing is one of many options you might want to try.

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Last weekend I tried contra dancing! It’s a community style of dancing that evolved out of English country dancing and it’s fun. You can come with friends, a partner, or, by yourself.

There are many people to dance with and you learn the steps quickly. You dance with a partner but you also dance with everyone else as you progress up/down the line. People ranged in age from 7 to 70.

The dance is organized by the Old Sod Folk Music Society and is held twice a month, from September to June, at the Churchill Recreation Centre. I enjoyed the energy and all those smiling faces!

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