I'm seeing some real changes in my body this year as a result of the dancing we're doing, but perhaps even more as a result of what I'm doing off the dance floor. I really haven't added that much activity, but apparently the way I'm approaching things is working.
Ballroom dance training - and I have to assume any other dance training - requires more than just learning some steps. It requires more than going to a group class once in a while, or going out social dancing, or even learning routines for a show or competition.
To dance well requires attention to the full complement of physical fitness variables: strength, balance, flexibility, endurance, and agility. How do these apply in dance?
You need strength to generate and absorb forces. Both your own, and those of your partner. Forces in dancing occur in multiple planes, at varying speeds, and with varying degrees of rotation. There is no such thing as an isolated action in dancing.
Strength, of course, is also needed to create movement. You need power to get across the floor, and you need stability to control your movement. Power and stability are functions of strength.
You need balance to maintain your center as you create and respond to movement. In ballroom, the center is always between the partners. Use of counterweight, manipulation of centrifugal and centripetal forces, and the ability to create an asymmetrical line are all functions of balance.
Flexibility is what permits freedom of movement. A lot of people seem to think of "flexibility" in very narrow terms, as (e.g.) the ability to touch one's toes. But every soft tissue in the body is extensible, and pretty much all of them are involved in dancing.
Again, there is no such thing as an isolated action in dancing: If you are extending your leg and arching your foot, that involves everything from your toes to your shoulders. Everything from standing up straight to doing a split is a function of flexibility.
You need endurance to spend any length of time dancing. Endurance is a function of muscular, vascular, and cardiorespiratory fitness. You can have healthy lungs, and still have no endurance if your muscles are not regularly challenged. You can have strong skeletal musculature, and still have no endurance if your heart is never challenged. You can have strong muscles, a healthy heart and lungs, and still have no endurance if you have a vascular disease or infirmity.
Finally, you need agility in order to get around the dance floor. Agility is the ability to place your feet where they need to go, in time with the music, without stepping on your partner or other dancers, and without tipping over or losing position. Agility is created through a combination of strength, flexibility, and balance. Foot speed is a function of agility.
Agility is what sets good dancers apart most obviously, and it is the biggest challenge to acquire, given that you cannot study or exercise just one fitness mode in order to achieve it.
So how am I working on improving each aspect of my fitness as a dancer? Obviously, I dance quite a lot. Not as much as a professional dancer does, of course, but a good bit given the constraints of my (and Mr. P's) working life. Aside from dancing, though - dancing consciously, working on technique and style as well as steps - I'm working with weights to improve upper-body strength and muscular endurance; I'm doing more, and more difficult yoga, which improves full-body strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance; I'm doing more ballet-based exercises, which also improve full-body strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance - and bring them all together into agility.
Yoga is my first fitness love and I will never leave it, but in yoga - as I do it - the focus is on working into a position and then holding it. There is no holding in dance. You are constantly moving in and out of position. There is no "stop."
Even in vinyasa (the practice of intentionally moving from one yoga position to another with minimal pauses) it is the position, not the movement, that is the focus. Holding positions challenges the body to build strength, getting into positions challenges flexibility; but it's dancing through positions that builds agility. Ballet is great for this.
It's also great for training the body to finish lines without conscious thought. In ballet, you dance all the way through your extremities. You do in ballroom, too - but many dancers never get that far.
And I don't even do that much ballet - I've never had formal training, and there are a lot of things about classical ballet that would be actively bad for my ballroom technique. But for me, the intentional creation of dance movement has to go beyond just practicing my ballroom basics.
Dance, as a Western art, pretty much begins with ballet. Practicing tendu and port-de-bras should be part of any serious ballroom student's work, IMO. And so should holding plank position.