Dance workouts shake up mundane exercise routines

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published March 11, 2015

 Zumba Fitness instructor Ivy Mitchell leads students through a routine on the Detroit Pistons court.

Zumba Fitness instructor Ivy Mitchell leads students through a routine on the Detroit Pistons court.

Photo provided by Ivy Mitchell

METRO DETROIT — Bored with barbells and sick of stair climbers? You’re not the only one. More and more people are making dance a part of their regular workout routine — and they’re having a great time doing it.


Ivy Mitchell, of Clawson, knows how effective it can be to take exercising out of the gym and onto the dance floor. She teaches Zumba fitness classes in Clawson and Eastpointe, guiding students through interval-style full-body workouts masked as upbeat dance routines.


“The motto is, ‘Ditch the workout, join the party,’” said Mitchell, who’s certified with the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. “The classes are supposed to be designed so anybody and everybody can step into the classroom and jump right in. And the music really taps into a range of international rhythms: hip-hop, Latin, belly dancing. We’re able to cater to everyone from every background.”


Though Mitchell is a dance floor diva now, she said that wasn’t the case in 2008. Despite a history in the military and an active past, she found herself out of shape and lacking motivation.


“At the time, I was overweight. I had gained 40 pounds and was grieving the loss of my mother. I went to class and I couldn’t understand why I was breathing so hard; I couldn’t keep up and almost threw up. I made the decision not to come back until I lost some weight,” she said.


But Mitchell said she noticed an older woman in the class who gave her the boost she needed to come back to the next class. She remembers that the woman wasn’t moving at the same intensity as the instructor, but instead at her own pace.


“She had this look of euphoria on her face. She was having the best time. So I decided to move at my own pace, too,” she explained. “That was it. I would go to class and I would smile. I felt happiness I hadn’t felt in over a year.”


Mitchell started to shed pounds and get stronger. The release of endorphins during workouts probably contributed to her good mood, as well. But the key, really, was and still is that signature Zumba music.


“The music makes you so happy,” she said. “You just want to move.”


Zumba, some will say, is a new version of an old dance fitness favorite: Jazzercise. Yvonne Lewis is a Jazzercise franchise owner and teaches at Fraser Hockeyland.


She’s noticed a resurgence in dance for health and fitness, and she said it’s exciting to see a new generation get in on the action.


“Jazzercise started in 1969. I started teaching in 1984, and things were so different then than they are now. We’re on the cutting edge of the fitness industry, and we’re really happy about that,” said Lewis.


One of the most notable differences in the program is the range of formats — sure, there are still some jazz routines and poppy tunes thrown in the mix. But participants can choose from Latin dance-based classes, classes based on kickboxing principles and other options.


“It’s Top 40 (music), some country, beautiful stretching music — there’s something that will appeal to everybody,” she said.


Like Zumba, Lewis said, a benefit to Jazzercise is that nearly all of the movements can be adjusted to accommodate any fitness level.


“If there’s a student who has tender shoulders or tender knees, we can do modifications for every movement,” she said. “Even Jazzercise through pregnancy is very safe. Some (participants) might hold a wall or stand instead of laying on the floor for an exercise.”


Those dancers looking for a twist on a true classic might want to try one of the newest trends: barre workouts. These classes are based on the principles of ballet exercises, giving students the flexible, lean muscles ballerinas are known for. But the environment is a bit livelier, so there are still plenty of calories to be burned.


Donna Gross opened her barre studio, Relevé, in Birmingham three years ago because she wanted to combine her dance background with her experience as a certified personal trainer.


As for why her students keep coming back — she said it really depends on who you ask. For some, it’s for the social aspect of visiting with friends during workouts. There are also the benefits of increased balance and posture that come inherently with ballet training, Gross said.


But really, she said, the results are hard to argue with.


“They love reporting back to me that they can now fit into this dress that they haven’t fit into in a while, or that their husbands are now complimenting them on their figures. It’s really fun to hear,” said Gross.


No special ballet shoes are required for barre workout classes, though Gross said many students purchase them anyway to get into the spirit. And while no experience is needed to take a turn on the dance floor, participants sometimes find themselves focusing on their technique instead of their waistlines.


“When you’re doing barre and you’re concentrating on form and correct movements, there’s no room in your brain to think about what you need to pick up at the grocery store or the pile of work on your desk. It really is the time out from your day, and it’s a stress reliever because of that,” she said.