The correlation between physical activity and good health has always been known among adults, but kids are now starting to realize the benefits and enjoyment of keeping fit.
One of the top choices, particularly among girls, is dance, an activity that instills the importance of hard work and physical discipline in one. Numerous classes are available — anything from traditional types like jazz and tap to new favorites like hip-hop and lyrical — and two new dance studios have just opened in Highlands Ranch to offer a new option for kids.
Rhapsody Performing Arts Center and Precision Dance are quietly building a following in the community. About 10,000 mailers and word-of-mouth has generated quite the buzz for Rhapsody.
Kelley Wick, co-owner of Rhapsody Performing Arts Center, says her students are typically “huffing and puffing” from the physical exertion of dance. Some routines among competitive dance troupes last as long as eight minutes, and many include a variety of difficult acrobatic maneuvers and spins.
Some students who take the classes for fun are there once a week, whereas dedicated and serious dance competitors spend four days a week at the facility, equating to 12 hours, said Julie Geist, who also co-owns the facility with Wick, Heather Webb and Tiffany Lengyel.
Experts have pointed to research that supports the need for children to exercise at least one hour everyday. Inactivity has been associated with the rising percentage of overweight and obese children.
Dr. Matt Haemer, medical director of the GoodLIFE clinic at Children’s Hospital in Denver, said a sharp drop in the amount of physical activity at school combined with an increase in screen time for video games and television has resulted in more cases of obesity in the last 20 years. Parents have a big role in helping set lifestyle standards. The capitalized “LIFE” in GoodLIFE stands for Lifestyle-Influencing Fitness and Eating.
“Modeling active behavior is very important because kids do what they remember their parents doing,” Haemer said.
Dance classes are a great source for regular physical activity because they provide early structure and most kids have a genuine interest in it. Haemer says the No. 1 activity for preschool-age kids, in particular, is play, and the most important thing parents should ask themselves is: Does the child like it? A dance class can be a part of a whole package of eating healthy and exercising regularly.
“Dance can be a wonderful way for kids to experience different kinds of movements and gain confidence in them and take them to other athletic ventures,” Haemer said. Another benefit is dance is an activity that can be done at home.
Heather Schott, owner of Precision Dance near County Line Road and South Broadway, said the kids get different types of workouts, depending on the type of class. Low-impact classes, like tap and ballet, increase the heart rate, but more intense classes such as hip-hop and Mexican can get the students sweating.
Precision Dance, which opened in February, focuses not on weight, but being healthy and keeping active, Schott said. There are different body sizes and children with a larger build should not be made to feel they are different, particularly when they put in the same amount of work as everyone.
Dance classes help improve balance, strength, muscle tone and mental focus. A side benefit, of course, is the self-esteem boost the students feel when they nail a routine or dance number, Geist said.
Rhapsody and other dance studios have followed the trend of many schools by eliminating sugary drinks and snack food in favor of healthy snacks. Rhapsody prides itself on teaching nutrition to children early on. It offers salads, wraps and water as refreshments.
“We’re offering a well-rounded education,” said Wick, who added that more kids are aware of the upsides of proper nutrition and exercise than ever before. “We always start with a warm-up and talk about nutrition.”
It’s followed by a wild flurry of coordinated moves that leave even the instructors sore the next day.
Haemer and other leading researchers on the National Children’s Study, which began this year and focuses on Douglas County, will host a question-and-answer session about keeping kids healthy and active Aug. 15 at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock.