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Can An Active Life Create An Active Mind?

Student Spotlight on Ivanka Cheng

Have you ever experienced writer's block? Felt tortured over not being able to figure out the missing piece to some puzzle? Been fixated on a problem with no seeable solution?

Even if our schooling days are behind us, so many of us can relate to the feeling of being stuck and in search of creative ideas. When that's the case, what do we often do?

Stand up, leave the desk, pace around and stretch.

Guess what? Science supports the association between body movement and creativity and originality!

(Rominger, Christian. Scientific Reports, 2020)

As a Research Fellow of National Yang Ming Chiao Tang University, Ivanka Cheng, puts this science into motion each and every dance fitness class! Read on to learn more about Ivanka's story of discovering the benefits of physical activity on the workings of the mind!

K: Ivanka, without fail, I know I will see you once or twice a week in class. Can you tell me a little bit about how you first got started attending dance fitness classes? Did you have a dance background?
I: No, not at all! I first attended a Zumba class in 2016 when I was living and studying in Singapore. I can recall how my PhD supervisor and mentor encouraged me to regularly exercise. The mentor suggested we should manage times to clear our minds since all us have so much stress. After clearing our minds, we'll find we have more energy and thoughts to work effectively. So, when a school mate invited me to join a Zumba class I got started.

K- How did you feel when you first took the Zumba class?
I- At first I really felt like I couldn't follow the teacher and was totally uncoordinated. But I had decided I would keep going back for three months no matter what. And I started to feel like the class helped me to release pressure-- the stress of doing my PhD and of illness of a family member. I also tried Thai boxing around that time, but I stuck with Zumba.

K- What do you think it was that attracted you to Zumba ? You tried Thai boxing too, so what made you stick with Zumba instead?
I- Because of the music , I felt very happy. In the group class, we got to hang out with others —in my first class it was a group of 30 people. I also found that class helps clear my mind and after I’ll have new research ideas. Some other friends felt similarly that after exercise they would have some new research ideas. It just wasn't the same feeling after Thai boxing .

K- That's so interesting that you felt inspired after class!
I- Too much stress and pressure makes it easy to feel depressed. Getting that out of myself during class is what I think helps me get new research ideas.

K- So, how did you come to dance with our community?
I- I came back to Taiwan 2019. I searched online for a class and found yours at WAO. I had submitted my thesis and was waiting so had time to join many classes and try many instructors. I really loved your class and eventually tried Fit + Flaunt and joined your Zumba classes at different locations. When I moved to Shanghai in 2020 I also kept doing Zumba there.

K: What’s your favorite music style in class?
I: I like reggaeton. I like stronger and more powerful styles-- but also slower, sexy moves.

K: Is that why you liked Fit and Flaunt ?
I:For me, Fit + Flaunt really made me feel like I have more confidence . In class, the moves are a bit more complicated than Zumba. I had to face the mirror and observe my body. In Zumba I focus on interaction with the group and in Fit + Flaunt I focused more on myself . It was challenging to remember the steps for me, but I liked that!

K: Yes, that's exactly why I created Fit +Flaunt-- I wanted to be able to go inward more instead of focusing on others. What kind of changes have you seen within yourself from having more fitness or dance classes?
I: Physically I'm more capable of dancing together with you. I can keep up now. I feel mentally I am more positive and confident.

K- Yeah! I feel it’s very apparent to see you holding yourself with more confidence as well! You come to class very often. How do you keep up the habit?
I- The biggest struggle I hear is no one has any time. But actually the more stressed I am, the more I know I need class! During Lunar New Year when we were on holiday, it was a bigger struggle NOT having class. If I say I’ll do something, I will. If I make something a part of my schedule, I’ll actually do it . It's a part of my personality.

K- You came back to Taiwan during the pandemic, but you had been living in Shanghai during the lockdowns, how did that effect your exercise habit?
I- During the lockdown I was alone in my apartment for over 100 days. I started doing online classes and sometimes even took 3 classes a day! It helped me feel more connected with other people and like life could be a little more normal. I prefer in-person group classes now because there is more interaction and eye contact!

K- What advice would you give to people who want to start to get into dance fitness?
I- There is a need to cultivate hobbies and exercise at least once a week. If you don't know what you like or if you can do exercise, just try anything first and give yourself time such as at least one month to get used to it. Don't try once and just give up. The instructor is also one of the biggest factors-- and I believe you are one of the best for newbies!

Huge thank you to Ivanka for sharing her story with us for this week's Student Spotlight! It’s so wonderful to hear how having an active body can lead to an active imagination and a mentally strong mind!

Next time you get moving see if you are struck by inspiration after class too!

Keep movin!



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