Missing Dance Workouts?

Fitness dance classes like Zumba, Body Jam, BollyX and others have always been popular in the Boston area with super-loyal followers. Speak to any dance fitness instructor and they’ll describe long-term devotees who’ve attended their classes for 10+ years! I had taught my same cardio dance class (then changed to Zumba then changed to Remix) every Saturday since 2009, and some who started with me back then were still with me to the very end. The end being last March when Covid shut down all gyms. It was a sudden crazy blow for both instructors and members…I remember my class being in full swing in early March with some brand new excited faces, and I had a great playlist ready to go. Bam, instantly gone.

Missing teaching classes; not sure they’ll ever be the same as before.

When gyms shut down, some instructors scrambled to switch to Zoom or Instagram Live. But people found the experience lacking. You had to squint to see the instructor on a small iPhone or laptop screen, sometimes the sound or video lagged, and volume wasn’t great. In a class, you feel the music surrounding and filling you, and the high energy radiating from other members, which helps you to move. So people gave up or tried other exercises, maybe a Peloton if you had the space and money, or walking/jogging outdoors.

In the past year I took a break from dance, focusing on other formats to build different types of strength and stamina. But something always felt lacking. Some people in my class used to say they didn’t take any classes except dance, because everything else was boring in comparison. And yet I sensed that other people who were devoted to cycle, strength or HIIT classes looked down on dance as being silly and not qualifying as true fitness. When I restarted taking dance classes through YouTube this month, I realized how dance can offer a unique type of fitness.

HIIT, Tabata and cycle focus on completing a repetitive movement that may be challenging to perform but is not hard to understand. Therefore your end goal is to get better (i.e., stronger) at performing it over time, and your short-term reward is completing the workout.

With dance fitness:

  • It simultaneously engages the mind, using thinking and comprehension, and your body to perform the movement. You can’t zone out, otherwise you’ll miss the move and become lost. Your brain and senses are sharply engaged the whole time.

  • Music simply motivates, and it’s an integral part of this format. The music selections tend to be great with latest releases, rather than a steady-beat premixed track that other formats use…and there’s a constant satisfaction of doing a movement that feels cool, especially when you nail it on beat.

  • It’s a total body workout requiring core, chest, arms, legs, all at the same time. Though you may not always feel the same muscle soreness or reach max heart rate as with other classes, you’re engaging everything.

  • The fitness benefits are almost an afterthought. Unlike HIIT where you’re constantly aware of your heart rate surging, your muscles being challenged, and pushing pushing to get through, in dance it’s more about enjoying the feeling of translating the music through your body. This actually feels joyful, which is why you probably see people during these workouts smiling a lot! It’s possible to get your heart rate just as high, depending on the instructor, but the focus is different.

Below are three full-length dance fitness classes that don’t require a lot of workout space. The first two are fairly easy to follow (if you’ve taken dance fitness before), and the instructors offer modifications. You should also feel free to modify any moves as your body leads you. Don’t worry if you feel silly with some moves at first—totally normal! Though they’re about one hour, you can start with 20 or 30 minutes, and save the rest for another workout. The third workout is more traditional fast Zumba and may take a few repeat views before you get the moves. The last video is a perfect complementary 15-minute stretch. Hope you enjoy, and I have a feeling you’ll crack a smile or two throughout!

SHiNE: This workout is high energy and offers modifications; watch the woman to the right of the instructor.

REFIT: They intentionally choose “clean” positive music.

ZUMBA: Fast-paced class with more traditional Latin dance styles.

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