STERLING HEIGHTS — They look like a well-rehearsed drum line, bringing down their sticks in sync.
Alternating broad, exaggerated strokes with small, deliberate movements, they hammer to the pulse of songs ranging from oldies to country to holiday fare.
But the seniors of Drums Alive aren’t really there to make music. As they thump on rotund plastic exercise balls typically reserved for abdominal exercises, they’re giving their bodies — and minds — a workout.
“It’s good exercise,” said Rose Mary Chervenak of Macomb Township, “but it’s so much fun, you don’t realize you’re exercising.”
Under the guidance of C.C. Plus instructor Carmen Miller, the weekly class at the Sterling Heights Senior Center attracts about a dozen regulars, as well as a steady stream of newcomers.
Miller said many people are skeptical of how two sticks impacting a ball can constitute exercise. But they likely haven’t seen the students in action.
Participants — arranged behind rows of multi-colored balls balanced on circular laundry baskets — drum on their own orbs and their neighbors’ in time to upbeat tunes, incorporating sidestepping, squatting, marching, heel kicking, bending, arm lifting and even a bit of dancing.
“It incorporates a lot of upper body, and with the music, we try to make it fun,” said Miller.
Even their warm-ups are musical, as they sway and stretch while armed with rattling maracas.
Miller sees it as a new kind of workout for the baby boomer generation, a regimen that can help them breathe better, walk better and feel better overall while improving balance, motor skills and memory.
“Nobody’s trying to get in a bikini anymore,” she said. “Now it’s for health.”
C.C. Plus purports that a single 60-minute session can burn 200-300 calories.
“It’s a blast,” said Kathy Hinchman, co-owner of the Clinton Township-based company, which offers dance and fitness courses at community centers, schools and nursing facilities. “Not only is it a low-impact and fun workout for your body, it’s a fabulous workout for your brain, using a portion of the brain that doesn’t get used often.
“The routines force you to use both hands and feet at the same time — not an easy task at first,” she said. “But over time, you train your brain and it gets easier.”
Hinchman said instructors must be certified through Drums Alive’s German creator to teach the course. Miller completed the training over a year ago, just before C.C. Plus launched its Drums Alive series at Sterling’s Senior Center in October 2008.
Miller plans the routines in advance, usually repeating a certain sequence twice per lesson, but shifting plans if one appears too difficult or daunting, because “I don’t want anyone feeling defeated,” she said.
The action is constantly changing from class to class, yet it’s easy for attendees to pick up on the spot, she said.
“We try to instill new movements, so it doesn’t get stale,” she said.
For its students, Drums Alive is an adrenaline addiction. Chervenak is so dedicated that she refused to let an injury in November derail her.
“I came right from the beginning,” she said. “This is my favorite exercise class. I tore a tendon in my left arm, but I was like, ‘I’m not going to miss Drums Alive.’”
Florence Golinski of Warren, whose sister also attends, initially resisted taking the course — “At first … I was like, ‘I’m not going to another class,’” she said — but she finally caved.
Now, she said, she appreciates the low-pressure, cheerful environment.
“When we get mixed up … it doesn’t make any difference,” she said.
Utica resident Gail Page turned Drums Alive into post-surgical rehabilitation.
“I had major knee surgery last January, and I used this as my therapy, and I got totally healed in no time,” she said.
“It’s just a fun way to exercise. I wish it could be more than one day a week,” added Page, laughing. “I guess I could follow (Miller) around. I could be a groupie.”
Currently, the Sterling-based Drums Alive class is the only one C.C. Plus offers to the public, said Hinchman. The company also conducts open courses in Zumba Gold and line dancing in Sterling Heights, as well as in such surrounding municipalities as Fraser, St. Clair Shores, Romeo, Clinton Township and Troy.
Drums Alive runs 9-10 a.m. on Wednesdays at the Sterling Heights Senior Center, located at 40200 Utica Road. The cost per class is $4 for residents or $5 for non-residents, plus a drop-in fee of 25 cents for residents or 50 cents for non-residents. The first class is free.
For more information on C.C. Plus, visit www.ccplusdance.com. For more information on the Senior Center’s offerings, call (586) 446-2750.
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