Sometimes just getting out of bed and making it through the day with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is all Tammy Rivera-Tubbs can manage. But at the urging of her rheumatologist who wanted her to be more active, she got up the nerve to try Zumba, a high-energy Latin dance fitness class.

“Everyone suggested swimming, but this sounded more fun,” says Rivera-Tubbs, 44, who was diagnosed with RA two years ago. The idea of an energetic dance class inspired her to move.

“My arthritis is better for me in some ways. It gives me something to look forward to, which gives me energy,” says Rivera-Tubbs, who writes a blog about living with rheumatoid arthritis. “I feel great because I focus on something that is positive instead of that my ankles or knees are hurting.”

Zumba is just one of the many specialized fitness dance programs gaining new followers, thanks in part to the exposure of exotic dance styles on television shows such as “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” The classes, including Bollywood, hip hop, belly dancing and even pole dancing, can help increase coordination, balance and cardiovascular levels, as long as they’re done with some modifications for people with arthritis.

Dancing also can help keep people interested in exercise, says Steffany Haaz, a dancer/choreographer turned public health scientist with the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center in Baltimore. “Dance is a mind/body activity because you have to be engaged in what you’re doing. You can’t zone out or you will step on your toes or someone else’s toes,” says Haaz. “There are a lot of benefits to staying active in an engaging mind/body way, especially for people with arthritis.”

In several studies, for example, researchers at Laval University in Quebec followed people with rheumatoid arthritis who participated in dance-based exercise. They found improvement in mobility and joint pain, as well as positive changes in depression, anxiety, fatigue and tension.

Here’s a look at some of the more popular new dance fitness trends with tips from American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer and fitness instructor, Jessica Matthews, on how to modify the classes if you have arthritis.


This Latin-inspired, salsa-type class features upbeat music and fast tempo. The motions include lots of hip action and shimmying. Look for Zumba Gold classes, which are geared toward beginners, people who may have some physical limitations, and older adults. If Zumba Gold isn’t an option, slow down the pace or motions in a regular Zumba class, but keep moving.