Alberta Cancer Foundation

Why Dancing is Great for Your Overall Well-being

Dance can be an ideal exercise for people who are ill or recovering because specific moves can often be modified to suit participant’s level of fitness. Illustrations by Andrew Benson.

Dancing to the beat in a workout or dance class is definitely fun, but it’s also good for your mind, body and emotional well-being.

From a Latin American-inspired rhythmic movement class at a local gym to a 40-minute-long workout that incorporates a ballet barre, there are rhythmic-movement-style classes for everyone — even for people who grapple with an often-debilitating illness like cancer.

“When you’re physically active and moving your body [in dance], you’re expending energy, and that’s helpful for all of the systems of the body,” says Sarah Kenny, assistant professor in the faculties of Kinesiology and Art (dance) at the University of Calgary.

Participating in exercise classes regularly, such as dance, can help improve functional fitness, including the ability to engage more in daily life and maintain energy throughout the day, says Dr. Nicole Culos-Reed, professor, health and exercise psychology in the Faculty of Kinesiology and adjunct professor in the Department of Oncology in the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary.

Dancing can help people feel happier and calmer. Many medical studies link fitness at varying levels, including dance, to a lessening of anxiety and depression, better sleep and improved stamina.

“If you think about the social nature of dance, whether it’s done in a group or done with a partner, there are many benefits we see, especially around mental well-being,” says Culos-Reed.

Dance-style fitness classes can introduce people to a more motivating and challenging fitness community instead of working out alone, she says.

For cancer patients, the positive outcomes of participating in dance stack up, too. It’s a myth that engaging in fitness when going through cancer treatment is harmful. In fact, the opposite is true, says Culos-Reed.

“It’s no longer the ‘Oh you’re sickly, we want you to sit and rest,’” she says. “We know when [cancer patients] rest, they de-condition, they feel worse overall about themselves. There’s a loss of control that often happens when it comes to a chronic disease like cancer.”

Now, cancer patients are encouraged to engage in a level of fitness they’re comfortable with.

“Exercise during treatment can help alleviate some of the common side-effects during cancer treatment, things like fatigue and pain, as well as emotional well-being components,” says Culos-Reed.

Dance can be an ideal exercise for people who are ill or recovering because specific moves can often be modified to suit a participant’s level of fitness.

Barbara Cunnings, co-founder of Wellspring Calgary — a community resource centre offering programs and support for those touched by cancer — is 75 years old and teaches multiple weekly dance-based movement classes designed for cancer patients.

Cunnings, who is a classically trained dancer, had stage three non-hormonal cancer in the 1990s. Ten years after being declared cancer-free, Cunnings began leading classes in Calgary because she knew first-hand how being active can offer physical relief from treatment side-effects.

Cunnings’s classes include Moves and Rhythm and Healthy Step, where students use chairs to both help with balance and sit down on if they need a break.

“[I’ve seen] immense progress with my students, they all love it,” says Cunnings. “[The classes] help with their balance and range of motion, and are really a good emotional relief for them.”

Cunnings says many of her students also comment on improvement with their lymphedema — swelling in the body that can happen as a result of treatment. In addition, remembering steps also helps to alleviate “chemobrain” and general fogginess of the mind, and the classes (which usually consist of 10 to 15 students) tend to inspire a genuine sense of community among the participants.

“It’s just plain fun,” says Cunnings. “I believe that you can surmount most anything if you’re willing to get out there and work.”

Dance & Rhythmic-Based Movement Classes to Try

Get your heart pumping and body moving to the music with these diverse offerings. Illustrations by Andrew Benson.

Decidedly Jazz Danceworks

Calgary-based DJD holds jazz classes for beginners all the way to advanced dancers.


This Calgary spot offers adult drop-in sessions for both hip hop and breakdancing.

Edmonton School of Ballet

Select from ballet, tap, jazz and modern-style adult classes at varying levels at this long-established dance academy.


West African Dance, contemporary, dance-based boot camp classes and more — this Edmonton-based dance studio offers a variety to try.