Dance fitness: Shaking it up

By Cate Foster

Strap on your dancing shoes to get fit and have fun at the same time.

Margaret MacKenzie (centre front) puts her hip-hop students through their steps. Photo / Doug Sherring
Margaret MacKenzie (centre front) puts her hip-hop students through their steps. Photo / Doug Sherring

So you think you can dance? These days anyone can, as dance expands from the realm of art into fitness. A variety of classes have opened for people who like to move to music as a way of keeping healthy and getting toned - choose from partnered, unpartnered, high impact, low impact, raunchy, sedate, choreographed or free form. All offer the goal of improved fitness, with social and creative elements thrown in.

We tried out some of the more unusual classes on offer. Prices quoted are for casual drop ins. If you want to become a good dancer you'll have to commit, but the price per lesson will be less.

Dance Fit Chair
City Dance, Level 1, 260 Queen St (above McDonald's). Classes suitable for all levels, $15.50 casual, ph (09) 379 9944.

Devised and choreographed by Julie Anterrieu, a long-time dancer and teacher at City Dance, this is dancercise combined with burlesque on a chair.

"Not just on a chair, but also around, beside and under," laughs Anterrieu, right. "Wherever you can be in contact with a chair, this dance will make use of it." Using the chair as both a prop and a tool, dancers build up the strength in their abs, arms and legs. One-hour classes involve a first half of warm-up and fitness, and the second half of choreographed burlesque. "It's sexy, fun and healthy all at the same time. We have great fun," says Anterrieu.

Nia
City Dance, Level 1, 260 Queen St (above McDonald's). Class suitable for all levels, $15.50 casual, (09) 379 9944.

Nia is a fusion dance combining various techniques from dance, aerobics and martial arts disciplines and embracing a holistic, semi-spiritual approach. Working on all parts of the body, the participants gradually build up strength and cardio fitness but, because it is low impact, joints are not put under stress. "I love it," says Sally Cook, the administrator at City Dance. "Of all the dances taught here it's the one I go to most. You can wear what you like and take away as much as you want to."

Hip Hop Heels and Neo Burlesque
Viva Latino, Level 1, 10 Newton Rd, Newton, $15 casual, ph (09) 376 7900.

As the name suggests, this is hip-hop for girls. It uses many of the aggressively sexy moves that have made male hip-hop so popular with urban youth, but with a female twist. Think Beyonce, Kelly Rowland or Rihanna and you know what you're in for. Fast-moving and physical, these classes provide a whole body workout with lots of cardio and the more advanced the class, the more complicated the routines. All are devised and choreographed by New York-trained Margaret MacKenzie, who teaches all levels at Viva Latino. "Not all the girls wear heels at all. Almost everyone starts in heels but for fitness it's easier to move in flat street shoes." Margaret also teaches neo burlesque which uses a similar range of steps but with a greater emphasis on the sexy dramatising of the body movements. "Both dances are open to all levels, but perhaps if you are a total dance beginner, it would be good to start with Neo Burlesque and move on up through the levels of Hip Hop Heels. I suppose the main difference is that Hip Hop Heels has more of a 'hip-hop groove' in it ... It's still sexy but grounded, smooth and groovy at the same time. Neo Burlesque is more about using your body to tease, using it to show off your silhouette, sometimes it's fast, sometimes it's slow."

Lindy Hop
Jitterbugs, classes for five levels of expertise held at various church halls at various times across central Auckland. First class free, ph 021 548 837.

Lindy Hop, commonly known as swing, spread like wildfire during World War II - wherever the American GIs went, Lindy Hop followed. Originating in Harlem in the 1930s, Lindy Hop is not only "fabulous for fitness, but for other things as well", says teacher Michelle Stoupe. "It's fast moving so you quickly gain cardio fitness, and to do the moves you need muscular strength and suppleness, but on top of all these, because it is a partnered dance you have that wonderful feeling of interacting with someone else."

Bellydance (Raks Sharki)
Tais Bellydance, 148 Sycamore Drive, Sunnynook, or Dance Pro Studios, Level 2, 39 Elliott St, CBD, first lesson free, then $15 casual, ph (09) 418 5404.

You might wonder what's so fitness-enhancing about bellydancing, given it was originally a ritual to celebrate fertility and the female form. Think again. Concentrating on enhancing core strength, bellydance uses 600 muscles and produces a total body workout that, while low impact, is also hugely successful in improving total body fitness and suppleness, plus giving an enhanced body image and an improved sense of well being. And what's more, today you don't even have to be female, although it is fair to say most participants are women. Everybody and anybody can do it and classes are taught at all levels at a variety of locations in Auckland and further afield. Tais Derbasova from Tais Bellydance says she is not the only teacher of bellydancing to notice how the interaction between the music and the heartbeat seems to produce an almost hypnotic effect of calm. "It's a wonderful way to de-stress as well as get vey fit. After a class you feel very good about yourself."

Jazz
Dance Pro Studios, Level 2, 39 Elliott St, Auckland CBD, $15 casual, ph 0508 326 237.

Jazz has been developing over the past century, originally as a staged dance but is now popular as a fitness and recreational activity. Irina Kapeli from Dance Pro Studio has taught it for many years, and likes the fact that one dance form offers so much, yet is not so difficult that eight weeks of lessons won't make a difference. "It's a wonderful feeling when your flexibility and fitness improve as they do quite quickly ... you are able to move to the music and you get a cardio workout as well. You don't need anything special in the way of clothing but I would recommend you invest in proper jazz shoes, which cost from $40-$80 depending on quality."

Hawaian Hula
Seventh Day Adventist Church Hall, 66 MacKelvie St, Grey Lynn, Tuesdays 6.40pm, $10 for 1½ hr class, ph Aruna 021 0245 1971.

Aruna Po-Ching teaches Hawaiian Hula both as an exercise form and an expression and celebration of the spiritual. "It's a dance form that honours the gods, the land and the people, so anyone who comes to these classes not only becomes fit while learning wonderful posture, they also learn the cultural side of Hawaiian life. It's been called the Polynesian Tai Chi because it combines grace and subtlety with harnessing the body's energy flow." No special clothes are needed; Hawaiian Hula is done barefoot.

Masala
Candi Soo Fitness, Level 1, 36 Swanson St, Auckland CBD. Classes at all levels, $20 casual, ph (09) 309 9061.

Masala is a high-energy group exercise routine based on what you see coming out of Bollywood and bhangra Indian dance. As dance exercise franchise Candi Soo's website makes clear, this is a dance/exercise class designed for serious calorie burning and stamina building. All muscle groups are used in a range of simple-to-learn movements that, because they require a lot of energy to perform, simply burn the excess kilos away. You'll begin gasping but you'll quickly discover an increase in energy as your technique improves. Noisy, fun and infectious.

Hula Hoop
Various locations around Auckland, $15 casual, ph Deryn French 027 349 2040.

While not strictly a dance, Hula Hoop has so many of the elements of dance that it seems fair to include it. Deryn French, who teaches it at various locations around Auckland, says students learn skills with the hoops for different parts of the body, which are then applied to dance routines and set to music. "Hooping is all about building up muscle strength and control at the same time, because to make a hoop work in a particular area you need to be able to isolate particular muscle groups. You get a fantastic low impact work out, and of course it's lots of fun."

- Herald on Sunday

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