Active Life: So You Wanna Dance?

New fitness craze finds women doing Salsa Aerobics, Zumba, BodyJam, Bollywood, Capoeira and more. The lights are low, the music is pumping, and I’m working so hard I’ve got sweat flying from my fingertips. I look up into a crowd of 30 people and see a group of individuals, including my mother and my aunt, moving to music just like they were on the latest dance reality TV show. We’re hopping and turning and moving and grooving to songs new and old, and I don’t think the smile on my face, or theirs, could get any bigger. That’s what it’s like to teach BodyJam,” says Kacey Kingry, Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club group exercise coordinator. BodyJam, created by an international group exercise company, Les Mills, is a cardio workout that enables the participant to enjoy the sensation of dance. Kingry says the addictive fusion of the latest dance moves and hottest new sounds puts the emphasis as much on having fun as breaking a sweat. The dance styles in BodyJam range from swing to hip-hop and include salsa and Japanese line dancing. BodyJam is one of the many “today” ways to break a sweat and have a great time in the process. Working out was once considered a form of torture, especially among women who preferred sitting poolside in sexy swimsuits. Now it has taken on new life as athletic clubs and dance studios extend their offerings. These new offerings substitute the “work” in workout with fun, freedom and self-expression. Fitness experts claim the dance moves lead to a healthier, happier lifestyle, maybe even love.

At Bollywood West, classes are exciting for people wanting to be fit because it provides an enjoyable alternative to “running on a treadmill like a gerbil,” says Renu Kansal, who founded Bollywood West in Colorado in 2006. She prefers using only her first name, and though she founded Bollywood West, she refers to herself as an instructor. “Besides being a high-energy cardio class, it doesn’t feel like exercise. We have a great time, learn a little bit about the culture and traditions of India, and happen to be active and fit while we do it. This style of dance is a head-to-toe workout, surprisingly, because a lot of the dancing incorporates facial expressions or even vocal cues,” says Renu in her role as artistic director.

active2Bollywood dancing is the basis of every great Indian movie, the output of the largest film industry in the world. Songs comment on the action taking place in the movie, and often the song is worked into the plot, giving the character the opportunity to sing. Many of the Bollywood movies feature two characters who happen to be falling in love. Through music, they can express their feelings. Dancing often accompanies the singing with large casts of dancers getting in the dancing mood.
A desire to get off the treadmill, literally, also accounts for the popularity of salsa aerobics offered at Adventures in Dance. The cardio Latin class, according to Holly Collins of Adventures in Dance, teaches salsa aerobics. Salsa in and of itself is aerobic. With or without a partner, it is a great way to feel and look great. The salsa started out as the mambo in the Palladium Ballroom in New York City at the end of the 1930s and was renamed salsa in the 1970s. Explaining how she became involved, Collins says, “As a dance teacher, my training entailed learning all the moves to music for both the man’s and the lady’s parts with and without a partner. My students asked me how to look like a professional. My reply was that they needed to be able to dance their parts independent of a partner. This [allowed] them to be available and able to respond to any suggested lead for a lady and to be able to lead clearly for the gentleman. I also had requests from other business people for a workout-styled class. These created the catalyst to begin our cardio Latin class.”

Collins says students like the workout because they are learning real dance moves while working out: “The hot Latin rhythms and sultry moves help them to shed the cares of the day and drop a few pounds.” Collins explains that experience is not necessary. For the cardio salsa class, two instructors are used, one doing simpler moves and less styling so that new clients can keep up. The second instructor does new variations and advanced styling. “We merged the most used patterns into the cardio format so that clients can bring their workout on the town for a fun night at a club,” Collins says. At Adventures in Dance, students can learn the dances featured on Dancing with the Stars, as well as calorie burners known as quickstep, polka, the Viennese waltz and the jive. For muscle control, the tango, waltz or bolero are good dances to learn. Salsa is fast, but because it is confined to a small area, it does not take the same amount of energy as a dance that travels around the room. Collins says a real positive benefit of learning these dances is the ability to take the dances to places for pleasure dancing.

Collins adds that she read a piece on how to stoke the flames of romance in a relationship by taking dancing lessons together, and salsa was one of the dances suggested. The shared experience of moving to the music stirs the desire to be even closer. Zumba Fitness, offered at Glendale Sports Center at Infinity Park, was created in the mid-1990s by Colombian native Alberto “Beto” Perez, a celebrity fitness trainer and choreographer for international pop superstars. Inspired by the traditional cumbia, salsa, samba and merengue music he grew up with, Beto paired his favorite Latin rhythms with dance steps. Glendale Sport Center’s brochure advertises that Zumba Fitness has become “one of the fastest-growing, dance-based fitness crazes in the country, with people of all ages falling in love with its infectious music, easy-to-follow dance moves and body-beautifying benefits.”

Debbie Ford, YMCA executive director at Glendale Sports Center, says Zumba was first offered at the Southwest YMCA. “It was a great workout, and the music was fun and motivating, and we thought it would be a great addition to our fitness classes. It adds the best of Latin music, which is great to dance and exercise to. It is choreographed, which makes it more interactive with the other class participants,” she says. Kacey Kingry, too, emphasizes the coolness of learning BodyJam. As she swings around the floor, she calls out, “Work the hips, slide your ribs, shake your booty.” Students are smiling as they dance to a Justin Timberlake song. Kingry says students can pretend they’re in the movies Flashdance or Center Stage, and get a good feeling. BodyJam, based out of New Zealand, changes every three months.
Ford, of the Glendale Sports Center, says the Zumba class is good for all levels, from beginner to advanced, those who like exercise, those who like dance and those who are athletes. “We’ve had athletes take this class for cross training and because they work muscles they don’t typically work, and they all feel the benefits of this class,” she says. Greenwood Athletic Club also offers Neuromuscular Integrative Action or NIA, a class that involves students having their shoes off. The combination of being barefoot plus the NIA that incorporates martial arts, dance and yoga helps the student relax and experience free-flowing energy. NIA involves the interaction between bodies and minds.

According to Greenwood instructor Heather McQueen, NIA is a “transformative movement practice integrating dance arts, martial arts and healing arts into a high-powered synergistic workout. This class will keep a person in shape and help her discover the joy of movement, the joy of life as well as loving her body and mastering the art of living a passionate and healthy life. Creativity is unlimited, offering precision as well as choreographic choices that utilize whole body, expressive and grounded movement.” NIA is described as a moving meditation where movement and meaning empower each person in her NIA practice. “It is gentle on the body and adaptable to every level of fitness, age and body type. From the work of martial arts, NIA is infused with power, focus and mindfulness. From the world of dance, NIA is infused with craft, technique and expressiveness. From the world of healing, NIA offers a multidimensional venue of wisdom while growing into the unlimited spiritual beings that we truly are,” McQueen says.

active4At Capoeira Luanda Denver, students have access to classes that range from capoeira to hip-hop. Capoeira, an African-inspired form of Brazilian martial arts, uses more than 30 rhythms to teach this movement that blends martial arts, music, aerobics and gymnastics. “It’s challenging, and you always have a lot to learn,” comments a student interviewed during a recent visit to Capoeira Luanda, located in the Ballpark Lofts in LoDo. Classes are attracting women. “Actually, there are more women in the classes now than men,” says Gaviao, instructor at Capoeira Luanda. He says that each person has a unique style in this very fluid art form that combines dancing and martial arts. “It’s like a big chess game, it’s a conversation,” Gaviao says. As the new craze for dancing takes hold around the world, the global community bonds around the dancing, the music, the culture and the friendships. Bollywood West’s Kansal says, “The classes aren’t just dance or fitness classes — many of our students are very interested in Indian culture and came to this class through that interest. Some of our students are dancers, and this is another style for them to explore. A lot of our culture is focused around dance, music, holidays, celebrations and traditions — we share a lot about our culture. We regularly host dance parties that feature Bollywood and bhangra music and let our students show off their moves.”

Bhangra is a Punjabi folk dance traditionally performed at holidays and cultural celebrations. It has evolved, through confluences with hip-hop culture, to be an up tempo party dance. The music, Kansal says, is much like Jay Z’s Beware of the Boys, which features Punjabi MC’s Mundian to Bach Ke song. At Bollywood West, a lot of traditional bhangra music is played, along with some remixes and mashups. The music is very catchy and energetic, and the choreography is easy to grasp. Gaviao says there is a “huge community” of capoeira around the world. “If you travel to another place, there is always a place to stay. It’s a huge community with history, culture and language.” People of all ages are involved in capoeira. People today are increasingly incorporating dance and music from other cultures into their lives. Whether dancing with the stars or dancing with their global neighbors, many fans of fitness are getting off the treadmill and onto the dance floor to experience both fun and fitness.

Written by Sharon Almirall
Photography by Steve Groer

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