Dancing the Weight Away

Recently, there have been a growing number of centers hosting people who want to lose weight through gymnastics. These particular new centers, however, are using cultural dances to achieve the same goal. Bringing the idea of weight loss and cultural arts under their roof, these places are not only fun for those who participate in them but also impressive sources of income for the founding individuals. As businesses are taking advantage of the nation’s rich culture, they are also helping to preserve it, writes EBR’s Trualem Asmare.

Dancing along with the tunes of cultural songs has always been a thing for Ethiopians. Weddings, birthdays, graduations, and numerous other social gatherings have never been short of these features in Ethiopia. It is understandable when a nation has more than 80 ethnic groups with distinctive culture, language, and dance.

In the past few years, however, cultural dances have not just been a feature of celebrations. They have made themselves parcel of activities commonly found at sport gyms. If one dances to a song from Tigray, there would be a lot of neck movement; a song from Gondar invites a lot of shoulder movement; traditional music from Oromia moves the entire body up and down; songs from Gurage require extreme leg and hand movement; Wolayita music requires a lot of hip movement. It goes on and on for every other traditional song in every other ethnic group.

People in sports and exercise seem to have noticed this feature of Ethiopian traditional dances and are trying to make them part of their sports routine. Ethio Dance Fitness is a local fitness group that has incorporated traditional local music and dance into the daily customs of its participants. Located in the Bole District of Addis Ababa, Ethio Dance was founded in 2018 by Thomas Hailu, a 29-year-old Musician and Dancer.

“I was one of the gym goers myself,” says Thomas, sharing his story with EBR. “I noticed that people were complaining a lot of the gym experience not being fun enough. I started researching ideas on how to make one’s gym experience more enjoyable and read a lot about other countries’ experiences.”

Then one day, Thomas came across the idea of using cultural songs and their complimentary dances for the sake of losing weight and would first try out the idea by himself. He then brought it under the roof of a gym. Though it has been four years since he opened his doors, it has only been a year-and-a-half since the idea started catching on to people.

“Many people didn’t believe it,” Thomas says. “Men think it is just a woman’s sport.”

Slowly but surely, Thomas’s gym started entertaining 50 people and more. But then the Covid pandemic kicked in and he had to lose everything, forcing the gym to close its doors for about a year.

“Our main goal is to make sure people have fun while they maintain their health and stay fit,” he told EBR.

His gym currently entertains about 380 clients. All Ethiopians who go to Thomas’s gym love the fact that their routines are accompanied by only cultural Ethiopian dances. Of course, clients from abroad have the option of dancing along with songs of France, the US, or the UK. Clients pay ETB2,000 per month, garnering him a monthly income of about ETB170,000 to 250,000. His capital now exceeds ETB3.5 million.

“More than the money I have made in the business, I find happiness in the contribution my business is making towards preserving our culture in a modern way. I am content in witnessing my clients being respectful of everyone’s cultures and their features and how hospitable and comforting they are to each other.”

Selamawit Tefera is one such client that has been going to the gym to dance along cultural tunes while attempting to lose weight. Working for an international NGO, the gym experience was not the first for this mother of two. But this one was more enjoyable.

“Beyond just the fun, I have seen good results in my body,” Selamawit told EBR. She used to weigh 80 kg before Ethio Dance. She has now lost 35 kg and weighs just 55 kg.

“I have been working tirelessly as this doesn’t feel like work but more fun. I am feeling good about my body and health, too. One also enjoys the sense of unity and cohesion among gym goers here.”

Numerous studies have demonstrated the various benefits of dance fitness. According to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, dancing can improve cognition and perhaps delay the onset of dementia. Other research says that aerobic dance activities can stop the hippocampus—a region of the brain that controls memory and is known to atrophy in late adulthood—from losing volume.

Regardless of one’s age, making the effort to memorize steps and the varied movements of dance is a fantastic way to keep your brain active. Scientists have discovered that an activity like dancing helps to boost cognitive abilities including planning and organizing. Further, dance-related motions can alleviate stiffness and improve flexibility. Even the basic stretches performed while dancing can relieve stiffness from more intensive exercises and joint problems.

According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology, a person dancing to music can reduce stress. Similar findings have been seen in other research, some of which suggest that dancing can raise serotonin levels, which can elevate mood. It is also studied that dancing to music can lessen stress and improve mood.

Increased mobility typically translates into increased weight loss with aerobic dance exercise aiding in weight loss on par with running or biking. Also, dancing needs a lot of quick movements and proper posture, which might aid in improving body control. Additionally, there are three main planes of motion. In contrast to basic exercises like walking and cycling, which only use the sagittal plane of the body, dancing engages all muscles and not just a few.

Finally, a dance lesson is a fantastic way to meet new people and take a social risk. Pleasant relationships are a key component of better mental health since they can boost positive emotions, lower stress levels, and even boost the immune system. Dancers frequently express better levels of confidence and self-worth. EBR

11th Year • Oct 2022 • No. 111


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