When exercise feels like fun

Students, faculty, staff line-dance the stress away
April 23rd, 2019
Dental students Twain Henry II (left) and Jean Cala

Dental students Twain Henry II (left) and Jean Cala

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, including Texas A&M College of Dentistry’s makeshift dance floor in the sixth-floor lobby. These line dancers, however, arrive in scrubs, T-shirts and various workout gear.

Every Tuesday evening since early April, students, faculty and staff alike trickle in to cut a rug. They’re taking part in a weekly fitness class organized and promoted by the college’s Health and Wellness Task Force. Their reasons for being here are just as varied as their footwear. Some need an outlet to de-stress by burning calories; others are racking up steps on their Fitbits.

Instructor Janis Bradford

Instructor Janis Bradford

Instructor Janis Bradford cues up “The Cupid Shuffle,” and their hour of fun and footwork kicks off with determination.

From first-time dancers to those who already have all the moves down, students and employees dance side by side, encouraging each other and working in unison.

Fourth-year dental student Twain Henry II points out how he likes “the whole idea of getting faculty and staff involved, too.”

“You get to see us in a different light,” answers Dr. Jayne Reuben, associate professor in biomedical sciences and director of instructional effectiveness at the college, who heads up the task force. Line dancing is the latest offering in the committee’s growing list of in-school stress relievers, including meditation, therapy-dog visits and even bubble-wrap popping.

Paris Webb, D2 student and class president, says she attended at Reuben’s urging and was pleasantly surprised by how fun it was. “I was more entertained to see my professors dancing,” she adds.

“We are all family here,” says Dr. Hui Liang, professor in diagnostic sciences. She’s drawn to the music and learning new steps, even though her typical mode of exercise is walking. These new steps are a welcome challenge.

Dental student Paris Webb

Dental student Paris Webb

As the group moves into a circle, Bradford reminds them that their brain is also getting a workout.

“Did you find you were working your brain, deciding which way to go?” she says.

Within minutes, her point is proven. “Someone’s going the wrong way, because you’re bumping into each other.” Her observation is met with uproarious laughter.

Participants are working their way to skilled status as Bradford brings them up to speed on the latest line-dance crazes, including the Wobble Dance, over the 12-week session.

“I like to introduce some new stuff and get them in the mode of doing the steps. When you do a variety of different songs, they have some of the same steps, like the grapevine, sailor step and cha-cha,” she says.

These steps are familiar to D1 student Jean Cala, who was on a varsity dance squad as a teen in her native Philippines where she danced hip-hop, salsa and bachata. She has always enjoyed dancing, she says, but this time it’s all about fellowship and fitness.

“This is my exercise. It makes me sweat and exercise for at least an hour a week,” she says. “You get tired, but it feels great.”

After six songs or so and about 4,500 steps —­ and an estimated 300 to 500 calories­­­ — the hour winds down with a good stretch and one last instruction from Bradford: “Give yourself a big hug.”

— Kathleen Green Pothier