Richard Simmons grew up in the French Quarter of New Orleans where, he notes, “Lard was a food group and dessert mandatory.” Exercise studios were geared to those already in shape, not to people that wanted to lose weight. So in 1974, Simmons opened Slimmons studio, followed by his classic exercise video, Sweatin’ to the Oldies, with motivating tunes like Dancing in the Street, Summer in the City and Loco-Motion; a plus—not everyone in his video is a size 0. Simmons and others have been helping people dance their way to fitness ever since.
Making Dance a Game
In Portland, Oregon, Mara Woloshin was inspired to get a move on when she complained to her 15-year-old son, Benny, about her weight.
“Benny challenged me to do some basic Wii Fitness and then Zumba Fitness,” says Woloshin. “I give myself the right to fail at most exercises and dance moves; I just keep moving and let my son give me tips, pointers and instruction.”
Benny puts in his own dance fitness time, plus keeps mom on track for 30 minutes a day. The Wii video game keeps score. “I win sometimes; mostly with yoga, while he is terrific at dance stuff,” Woloshin says. “I’ve logged more than 1,200 days with the Wii so far, and love to shake my size 14 self. I’ve lost eight pounds and have built an incredible relationship with my teenager. We dance, compete, sweat and encourage each other.
“We also enjoy conversations before and after Wii time. Are they meaningful? Sometimes. Does he laugh at me? Definitely. Does he look forward to our evening dance workouts together? Absolutely.” Wii games popular around the country include Just Dance, versions one and two, and Just Dance Kids plus Gold’s Gym Dance Workout and Zumba Fitness.
In 2011, FitBottomedGirls.com compiled a list of the best dance videos they ever reviewed. The list launches with their hands-down favorite, So You Think You Can Dance Get Fit series. Melt away calories using a variety of dance styles and fun moves via Billy Blanks’ Dance with Me Groove & Burn. Several Dancing with the Stars cast members have videos out to improve fans’ look and style. Check out Cheryl Burke Presents Disco Abs (includes Village People’s classic YMCA) or Julianne Hough’s Dance with Julianne: Cardio Ballroom. More experienced dancers may like Dancing with the Stars Ballroom Buns and Abs.
Taking Fun Classes
“Zumba Gold is a great reentry to exercise for baby boomers” advises Sherry Lucas, a licensed Zumba instructor in St. Louis. “Classes are approachable, available and affordable.” Recommended workout wear includes comfortable sweatwicking clothing and a good pair of shoes. Because of the side-to-side movements, she suggests tennis or basketball shoes, not running shoes.
Community classes generally range from 45 to 90 minutes. An hour-long regular Zumba class can burn 400 to 600 calories says Lucas, depending upon body weight, workout intensity, conditioning level and individual metabolism. As a point of reference, NutriStrategy.com charts calories burned by a 155-pound person engaged in an hour of light calisthenics at 246 calories; leisurely biking, 281; and walking briskly uphill, 422.
“Find a class and an instructor you like,” counsels Lucas. “Make a commitment to having some ‘you’ time. Part of exercise is being social, so it’s a chance to make new friends, too.”
Doctor of Naturopathy Kathy Gruver, Ph.D., finds that a hip-hop workout best suits her needs four to five times a week. Each 90-minute class is non-stop action and she rarely takes a break, although some class members don’t dance the entire time.
Gruver works out at Rhythm Dance & Fitness Studios, near Santa Barbara, California, with choreographer Tamarr Paul. “I grew up dancing jazz, tap and ballet; nothing even close to hip-hop, and there are still moments that I can’t get a certain move or trip over my own feet. Still, it took just a few weeks to get my rhythm back and get in the groove,” says Gruver. “We run through a set of steps multiple times before we add more. Once we’ve learned a whole dance, we run it over and over to different music; some faster, some slower."
With dance, there’s something just right for everyone. Dance with the kids, the dog, while making the beds or vacuuming crumbs. Dance along with a video or take a class to learn something new and different while making new friends. In any case, breathe in the music. It all makes exercise fun.
Sandra Murphy is a freelance writer at StLouisFreelanceWriter@mindspring.com.