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Dance is hot!

More than 24 million people tune in weekly to shows like Dancing with the Stars. Zumba, a Latin-inspired dance workout, attracts 10 million-plus participants weekly. Last year, even Congress got into the act, officially recognizing July 31 as National Dance Day.

All the attention isn't surprising when you consider that a good beat can get just about everyone tapping their feet or swinging their hips. Moving to the music subtracts stress and adds joy. You're not counting reps or watching the clock. You're out meeting people; it's entertainment.

But dance is also a total-body workout that has all the benefits of a long run or a session on the elliptical—and then some. In a 1-hour class, you can burn as many as 400 calories. Do that 3 times a week and you could drop nearly 20 pounds in a year without dieting. You'll also tone nearly every muscle in your body, improve balance, and boost brainpower.

You've seen what dance can do—some DWTS contestants have lost more than 40 pounds, all while having a great time. You can do it too, even if you have two left feet or achy joints. Most adult beginner classes are gentler than ones for traditional types of exercise. You just need to find the right dance style for you, says Deborah Vogel, dancer and director of the dance education Web site The Body Series. Here is our guide to help you shimmy into your best body ever.

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Latin

Targeted muscles: Front and side abs and back

Learning curve*: 3 stars (out of 5 stars)

The dance at a glance:

Quick, sharp steps, lots of hip action, and a fiery attitude set Latin dances like salsa, merengue, and cha-cha apart from the rest. Most require a partner, but there are solo options like Zumba.

Why it's healthy:

Abs—from transverse to obliques—and the muscles that support your spine get a 360-degree workout from the twisting, pulling, and constant back-and-forth movement. A stronger core improves posture and helps prevent lower-back pain.

You'll love it if...

You have a sexy wiggle in your walk and aren't afraid to use it. Latin dances are set to a fast beat (160 to 210 beats per minute ensuring a higher-than-average calorie burn and plenty of body heat between partners.

Do-at-home DVD: Partner Dancing 101: The Latin Dances ($15; gaiam.com) or, for solo dancing, Dance Off the Inches: Sizzling Salsa ($9; collagevideo.com)

* The level of difficulty is based on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, with 1 equivalent to slow dancing at the high school prom and 5 a Cirque du Soleil routine.

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Masala Bhangra

Targeted muscles: Front and back of upper arms and shoulders; upper back

Learning curve: 2.5 stars

The dance at a glance:

The Masala Bhangra is India's Electric Slide—it's the dance American audiences loved in Slumdog Millionaire. But no need to don a sari to partake. In Masala Bhangra, your arms do a lot of the dancing—one move has your arms in a U shape while you turn your wrists like you're screwing in lightbulbs—making it ideal for any level of exerciser.

Why it's healthy:

All the upper-body action shapes sexy shoulders, arms, and back. It also strengthens the small, easily injured rotator cuff muscles in your shoulders.

Note: All the over-head action raises your heart rate. If it feels too intense or your arms ache, simply lower your hands below your heart while still dancing.

You'll love it if...

Your tastes run to the exotic and you love to swing your hips. Because the style isn't as rigid as other types of dance, it's a low-pressure workout to try solo or with girlfriends.

Do-at-home DVD: Hemalayaa: Bollywood Dance Blast ($15; acacialifestyle.com)

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Jazz

Targeted muscles: Front of thighs

Learning curve: 3 stars

The dance at a glance:

If Latin is hot, then jazz is cool. Moves are a blend of sharp kicks and sultry slides, all performed with a "look at me now" attitude—think Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago. The goal is to create a striking silhouette.

Why it's healthy:

The fat-blasting combo of cardio, strength, and power moves boosts your metabolism for faster weight loss. It improves agility and gait for better balance, studies show. And all the torso bending and rotating help tone your midsection.

You'll love it if...

You're a Broadway-musical fan and have a big personality. Form is important, but so is self-expression. Classes are typically high-energy affairs involving large, dynamic moves that use the entire body.

Do-at-home DVD: Musical Theatre Dance ($40; bobrizzo.com)

Tap

Targeted muscles: Calves and shins

Learning curve: 2 stars

The dance at a glance:

In tap, you wear shoes that have metal plates attached to the heel and forefoot; these make a percussive sound when you rhythmically touch or stomp on the floor. Compared with other dance styles, there's less coordination between your arms and legs and only a little hip action, so tap dancing is actually easier than it looks.

Why it's healthy:

Even in a beginner's class, you'll be doing enough small hops and jumps to strengthen bones. And, according to a study in the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, tap dancing has less impact than running, making it a joint-friendly activity. Tap also increases the foot's range of motion and strengthens fast-twitch muscles (the ones required for actions such as jumping). Off the dance floor, these improvements help you to be surer on your feet and protect you from injuries like ankle sprains.

You'll love it if...

You're the finger-snapping, rhythm-keeping type. And being clumsy's okay, because the style hides a lack of grace.

Do-at-home DVD: Tap Dance Made Easy, Vol. 1 ($25; bobrizzo.com)

Ballet

Targeted muscles: Hips and feet

Learning curve: 4 stars

The dance at a glance:

While ballet is so graceful and fluid it appears almost effortless, it actually requires tremendous power and control. Though it doesn't have to entirely consume you as it did Nina in Black Swan, ballet does demand a good deal of commitment.

Why it's healthy:

Ballet increases flexibility from head to toe more than other dance styles. And the focus on posture will have you standing taller and moving more gracefully even off the dance floor. A study from England showed that ballet dancers outscored swimmers on 7 out of 10 fitness tests such as strength.

You'll love it if...

You dressed up in tutus as a child or prefer methodical exercise, like Pilates. Ballet requires more discipline than any other dance, and the steps call for total-body precision, including how you position your fingers, toes, and head. If you like rules, then this style is for you.

Do-at-home DVD: New York City Ballet Workouts ($19; collagevideo.com)

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