Dance fitness programs enhance exercise routines

By Katie Demeria

FRONT ROYAL — Local residents looking to get healthy in the new year will find they are not limited to plodding along on treadmills.

Warren County’s Department of Parks and Recreation offers several dance fitness classes throughout the year, including Zumba and Jazzercize.

For Zumba instructor Liz Lewis and Jazzercise instructor Karen Hattenback, the familiar difficulty of encouraging participants to regularly attend class throughout the year is not usually a problem. Though they expect the familiar increase in class size between January and March, they will probably also see many stick around.

Jazzercise and Zumba are fitness programs that promise participants both a good workout and a good time.

“I always tell my girls that I’m allergic to exercise, so if it’s not fun I’m not going to do it,” Lewis said.

Zumba and Jazzercise are dance-based workout programs. Zumba involves movements set to Latin music that, according to Lewis, feel more like dancing at a party than exercising.

Jazzercise is a more structured program involving some strength workouts and choreographies set to popular music.

“It’s a mixture of jazz dance, kickboxing, aerobic dance, resistance training and some other things,” Hattenback said. “We usually listen to the top 40 songs, and throw in some swing and big band.”

The exercise is, according to Hattenback, fun without being intimidating. She said in every class she tries to encourage her students to push themselves and reach their goals.

“I’m giving them a lot of verbal affirmations and encouragement, because I’m in the same boat,” she added. “I struggle too. I’m a woman that fights the same things that everybody else out there does.”

Jazzercise and Zumba are open to men and women, but Lewis and Hattenback said they see many more women in their classes than they do men.

Lewis said because Zumba exercises are oriented toward having fun, many participants are likely to loosen up more than they would while working out alone in a gym, so the benefits of the classes extend past getting in shape.

“We’re like one big family,” she said. “When you come in and you’re new, you are welcome. You almost feel these family obligations to come back to class and see what people are doing.”

Individuals from all around the area participate, Lewis added. From mortgage brokers to teachers, she said, the community is well represented in her class. She teaches all levels, so everyone is welcome.

Zumba dancers do not have to worry about difficult moves — Lewis does not hold her participants to any standards.

“As long as you’re moving and having a good time, then we’re good,” she said. “If you don’t know the moves, then just make them up.”

Jazzercise is more structured than Zumba, operating as a full body workout that helps tone and strengthen muscles. But because the classes offered by Warren County are based on the larger, parent Jazzercise company’s choreographies, they are certain to be safe for individuals of almost every athletic type.

“Sometimes people don’t like to go all the way to the floor, for example, so I teach it both ways,” Hattenback said. “If we’re doing leg lifts, I’ll go down to the floor, but I’ll still show them how to do it from a standing position.”

Hattenback stands on an elevated stage when she teaches, allowing everyone in the room to see what she is doing with her feet. She faces the class, as well, which she said is another key for motivating her students.

“It’s a visual thing, you want someone to make eye contact with you and encourage you along,” she said.

Hattenback’s desire to motivate her students is helped by her firm belief that regular exercise is vital to living a good life.

Workouts, she said, need to be just as important as any other daily routine.

“When I stopped teaching for 10 years, my legs and back hurt, I developed restless leg syndrome and I gained 50 pounds,” she said. “I definitely believe in the power and importance of exercise, it needs to be part of your everyday life.”

For those interested in starting Zumba classes, Lewis offers a free class to all newcomers, regardless of past experience with the fitness program. Afterward, each class is $5.

Hattenback allows her participants to sign up for a month of unlimited classes for $35 after a one-time joining fee of $30. Otherwise, each walk-in pays $10 for the hour-long class.

Between Jan. 9-14, Hattenback offers an annual special in which new members pay nothing to participate throughout January, and the joining fee is waved.

Those interested in participating can find out more at Warren County’s website, www.warrencountyva.net.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com