BY LISA HORNUNG
Dancing has been a way to stay in shape for millennia. Since Jazzercise was founded by Judy Sheppard Missett in 1969 – and Jane Fonda released her own fitness videos in the 1980s – the dance fitness craze hasn’t slowed much.
Susan Essing-Spiller, who teaches Jazzercise in New Albany and Louisville, said she joined 22 years ago when she moved to the area from New Jersey.
“I didn’t know a soul,” she said. “The only health club they had was some racquetball club. I came (to Jazzercize) so often, that one of the instructors said, you really ought to teach.”
And she’s been doing it ever since.
While Jazzercise has seen its ups and downs in popularity over the years, Essing-Spiller said its really worked to stay on top of current exercise trends while being a smart way to get in shape. “I love it. I wouldn’t keep going if I didn’t.”
While Essing-Spiller has stuck with Jazzercize, Sonny Baker got his start there 35 years ago and branched out. “On Friday nights at Jazzercise, we did a dance fitness class, and it turned out to be a very popular class,” he said.
When Baker began to teach at the Downtown YMCA, he created a more generalized dance fitness class.
Now, Baker’s dance fitness classes are on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings. Depending on the time of year, his class size can grow up to 80 people. While his class is considered hip-hop, he also incorporates R&B line dancing into the mix, which he learns from the Internet, friends and even creates some himself.
Baker’s class, sometimes called Cardio Funk, does the “Wobble” by V.I.C, dances to “Get Me Bodied” by Beyonce, “Low” by Flo Rida and other newer hip-hop, but he also mixes in Michael Buble (one of his faves), some country, some jazz, go-go and R&B. “I like to keep it clean and current,” Baker said.
William Hamilton said he’s been able to keep his weight down by dancing with Baker at the Y for about eight years. “Now that I’m getting closer to 30, you know that’s when it all falls apart,” he joked. He said he’s loved learning the dances and feels it has kept him fit. “As long as I keep coming to Sonny (Baker), I think I’ll be in pretty good shape.”
More and more national organizations are getting in the hip-hop fitness craze, such as Werq and U-Jam. A few gyms in Louisville and Southern Indiana have started hosting U-Jam classes to much success.
Whitney Todd and Heather Cunningham went to high school together in New Albany and ran into each other in a Zumba class. Their friend LaToya Kellem invited them to a free U-Jam class. Eventually, they both became U-Jam instructors and teach at YMCAs in Southern Indiana.
U-Jam began in Southern California, created by Susy C. and Matt Marks. The format is hip-hop dance set to world music.
“U-Jam Fitness was started based on the love of music, dance, people and community,” creator Marks said. “By acknowledging (newcomers) and spending time with them after class, we hope to break the instant barrier of not feeling included.”
Todd and Cunningham said they like the way they get to connect with their classes. “Whenever anyone comes in here at first, they’re a little bit scared,” Todd recently said after her class at the YMCA of Clark County. “Once they realize that nobody is paying attention to them, they’re OK. I will look at them to make sure everybody is doing it right and to hype everybody up.”
Cunningham, who had come to take the class and support Todd, said she likes the positivity of the class. “We have plenty of songs where we’re like, ‘Freestyle!’ or “Tell your neighbor she looks good!’ ”
The classes are very high-energy, which is contagious. Michaelia Gilbert has been going to Todd’s class for a few years with her friend, Alexis Naegerlein. Both women said the class can seem intimidating to those not familiar with hip-hop dance, but that the instructors break the moves down and start it out slowly, moving into faster combinations.
“Everybody comes their first time, and you don’t know what you’re doing,” Gilbert said. “You’ll have a lot of fun, and you’ll burn a lot of calories. There’s no reason to be embarrassed.”
Amy Wilson, group fitness director at the Louisville Athletic Club in Jeffersontown, agreed that embarrassment shouldn’t play a part.
“People are so afraid that everybody is looking at them,” Wilson said. “ ‘I don’t want to come to class because everybody is going to see how uncoordinated I am.’ Nobody is looking at them except the instructor. … If you go right and everybody else goes left, who cares? It’s not ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ we’re not on TV, we’re not videotaping, we’re just having fun and getting healthy.”
Wilson teaches a popular dance fitness class – in which she incorporates popular music, including Zumba-style (Latin) music, Bollywood and hip-hop – twice a week at LAC. She touts the fun factor in getting people used to group fitness classes.
LAC also offers a Country Heat dance class. Tenley Green teaches it for LAC, as well as at Better Bodies Fitness. The class is taught in a way that teaches the steps one or two at a time, then combines them into full choreography at the end of the class, speeding it up for a big finale.
“I like it because you just keep on moving and you don’t have to know what you’re doing,” said Chris Bensing. “I don’t know what I’m doing half the time. … I tell people, ‘Don’t watch my feet because they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing!’”
WHERE TO DANCE:
U-Jam: YMCA, Clark County, Floyd County, Southern Indiana (State Street). Allows two free visits to test out U-Jam before you have to join.
Dance fitness: Downtown YMCA, LAC Jeffersontown, Jazzercise, various locations.
Country Heat: LAC various locations, Better Body Gym and Training Center.
Zumba: YMCA, LAC, Jewish Community Center, Better Bodies, various other locations.
For more information: LouisvilleAthleticClub. com, YMCALouisville. org, UJamfitness.com, betterbodyfitnesscenter.com.
“Everybody comes their first time, and you don’t know what you’re doing. You’ll have a lot of fun, and you’ll burn a lot of calories. There’s no reason to be embarrassed.” –Michaelia Gilbert