Tired of your same old ho-hum gym workout? These five cutting-edge exercise routines will have you dancing, bopping, bending, and stretching your way to a better body in no time
It’s addictive; proponents swear it is life-changing. Why, it’s almost like a religious experience for some. What’s all the fuss about? Zumba: a fast-paced fitness program based on Latin dance and music that’s sweeping the nation — and the Hudson Valley.
“I went from a size 11 in June to a size three in November,” says Carmen LaSerna, who was so inspired by the dance regime that she now leads Zumba classes five days a week in the Poughkeepsie area. “After I had my second child, it was hard for me to get my weight down. I tried the gym, I tried aerobics, but it was all so boring. Then I saw something about Zumba on the Internet and went down to the city to try it out. I loved it, I loved moving my body like that. I thought, â€˜I want to keep doing this.’ ”
“This” was first brought to the U.S. in 1999 by celebrity fitness guru Alberto “Beto” Perez, who kicked off his career as a kid dancing for change on the streets of his native Colombia. Legend has it that one day in the mid-’90s, Perez forgot the music tapes for the aerobics class he was teaching, and had to improvise a new routine with some traditional salsa and meringue music he had in his car. The rest is history. In 2003 Zumba partnered with Kellogg’s to develop a fitness campaign aimed at the Hispanic market (it has been featured on more than 1.5 million boxes of Special K cereal around the world), and since then has continued to attract a more mainstream audience — in October Zumba was even featured on NBC’s Today Show. As practiced today, Zumba is a fiery fusion of flamenco, tango, salsa, hip-hop, calypso, and belly-dancing moves. And the music really does rule (that’s why you’ll see lots of hand signals used to direct the movements).
Peruvian native LaSerna says that Zumba is classic interval training — you get your heart rate up, you bring it down, and then bring it up once again — and that you can easily burn 500 calories an hour. But the main reason that people stick with it? It’s a shakin’, movin’, groovin’ good time. “Nobody wants to exercise, but everyone wants to party. Zumba is a party,” says LaSerna. “It’s a feel-the-music workout; you don’t have to really pay attention to people telling you what to do. When the music changes, you change. It’s a really, really good workout. Everybody loves it.”
Eileen Bastien recalls that she was “always the person in the back of the class at the gym, not sure what was going on.” After facing some health issues, her doctor advised her to take a more aggressive approach to her health, so she modified her diet and eventually became a personal trainer. Then, the 42-year-old Orange County mom discovered Zumba. She was certified as an instructor last spring. “It’s a feel-good fitness program. It’s liberating. And it appeals to every age group. People come to class and sometimes they tell me what a crappy day they’ve had. Then they’re out there, they clap, they hoot, they holler. They feel supported, and then they feel better. There is a great sense of family here.”
Bastien, who works at SUNY New Paltz and teaches Zumba classes in New Windsor (among other places), says the physical transformations keep coming. “One retired woman has lost 25 pounds since April. Because of her physical limitations — her weight and bad knees — the only thing she did before was water aerobics. Now she’s added Zumba two times a week, and that has made all the difference.”
Classes are popping up around the region. Both LaSerna and Bastien teach students and faculty at local colleges (LaSerna at Vassar and the Culinary Institute of America, Bastien at SUNY New Paltz), and Bastien even got the faithful (and the grapes) grooving outdoors at Highland Mills’s Palaia Vineyards on Saturday mornings last summer. With both women running blogs about their zeal for Zumba, don’t expect them to stop the music anytime soon. “I can come up with a thousand adjectives to describe it, but you have to feel it,” says Bastien. “It’s not a fad, like some exercise routines; it’s different. It is a feel-good workout.”
Where to find it:
Dutchess County YMCA
Poughkeepsie. 845-471-9622, www.dutchesscountyymca.org
Wednesday 8 p.m.
YMCA of Orange County
New Windsor. 845-561-8050. Wednesday 5:30 p.m., Thursday 6 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.
New Windsor. 845-565-7600, www.sportsplex-nw.com
Monday 5:15 p.m.
“The movements are very different from what you do at the gym,” says Christine Becker, owner and director of the Moving Body in Woodstock. “There is a tremendous amount of fluidity.” Becker is referring to gyrotonics, an avant-garde mind-body exercise system. First developed in the ’80s by Romanian ballet dancer Juliu Horvath, the routine is known for strengthening muscles, increasing flexibility and coordination, and enhancing joint mobility.
The Gyrotonic Expansion System (GXS) is performed with the use of a seven-foot wooden professional pulley tower, equipped with leather straps for hands and feet, and a moveable bench with two rotating disks connected to its edge (gyrokinesis is the mat-and-stool version of the program). You’ll often find gyrotonics being offered alongside Pilates, as the two exercise regimens have some similarities. But unlike Pilates, which provides linear back-and-forth movements, GXS offers more than a hundred variations, most of which are circular and three-dimensional motions (although advanced users can perform an “infinite” number of movements). Users move their legs, arms, and other body parts in controlled, smooth arcs to stretch and strengthen muscles, while stimulating and fortifying connective tissue in and around the joints. And whereas standard weight lifting isolates a single muscle group, gyrotonic methodology forces you to work multiple groups simultaneously. In that way, gyrotonics tends to provide the same types of benefits derived from dance, yoga, gymnastics, tai chi, and swimming. Popular with dancers, the technique can also improve a golfer’s swing, rehabilitate the injured, and reshape bodies, making them stronger and leaner.
Today, over 1,400 studios worldwide offer gyrotonic lessons. But mastering the machine isn’t easy or inexpensive: one usually requires six to 10 lessons at $50 to $100 an hour to get it down. However, “the teaching is so well developed you can do a tremendous amount very quickly. It consists of a basic repertoire that you use every day,” says Becker. “It’s not like taking ballet, so you don’t have to master too many techniques in order to succeed.” Adds Martina Enschede, an instructor at the Moving Body: “It gives you the feeling that you are dancing, but without performing. The movements are very liberating.”
Where to find it:
The Moving Body
Woodstock. 845-679-7715, www.themovingbody.com
Private sessions available
“Our Sunday African dance class is very physical and very traditional,” says Carisa Yamuna Borrello, owner of the Living Seed in New Paltz. “People love that — not only are you getting a workout, but you’re getting some culture, too.” The live percussion drumming — at any given time there are between 10 and 15 drummers pounding away — “really brings the energy up,” she adds. But the main draw is class teacher Assane Badji, who was trained in traditional African dance, drumming, and even fire-eating in his native West Guinea. “Anybody can do it, and it’s so much fun. It brings people together and celebrates all cultures,” says Badji, who travels around the world teaching dance and performing with his drum and dance ensemble, Melody Africa. “The energy you’ll have is amazing; it’s as though you become 20 years younger.”
This unique Afro-Brazilian art form is part dance, part martial arts, part acrobatics, part game — and all nonstop action. Created by enslaved Africans in Brazil during the 17th century, participants form a circle (called a roda) and take turns playing instruments, singing, clapping, and sparring in pairs in the center of the circle. “I like it because you engage with another person, mostly through kicks, but you can be doing things like cartwheels, too. You’re really using your whole body,” says Sam Schikowitz, who will resume teaching capoeira classes at the Living Seed in February. “It is very popular with college students. You actually see capoeira in music videos on MTV. But people take it for a lot of different reasons: to become a better dancer, to develop balance. I studied more traditional martial arts before, and the thing that I like so much about capoeira is that it is just so much more playful. It’s really a lot of fun.”
Where to find it:
The Living Seed Yoga & Holistic Center
New Paltz. 845-255-8212, www.thelivingseed.com
African Dance: Sunday 12 p.m.
Capoeira: Available beginning next month
“It leaves you fizzing with energy. We’re just loving it!,” says Ro Oswain, head of the Bodyviveâ„¢ programs at the Fishkill, Poughkeepsie, and Newburgh locations of Gold’s Gym. The new fitness program, which incorporates elements of cardio fitness, strength training, and yoga-inspired flexibility, was first introduced in 2006 and is performed using balls, tubes, and hand weights. The group workout — all done to inspiring music from the ’60s and ’70s — is geared toward active adults in their 40s, 50s, and 60s (though pregnant women and obese people also participate). At any given time during the 55-minute class you may be dancing with your ball (promoting good mobility), focusing on deep breathing, or working with a partner in a track based on walking. “This is the last of the Les Millsâ„¢ [exercise-to-music] programs, and it is almost as if to say it’s the missing link,” says Oswain. “It’s great for us baby boomers — it’s low impact and you can do it at your own intensity. It makes you feel rejuvenated.”
Where to find it:
Gold’s Gym Fishkill. 845-896-3300, www.goldsgym.com Tuesday 10:20 a.m., Saturday 9:30 a.m.
Newburgh. 845-564-7500. Wednesday 4:15 p.m.
Poughkeepsie (La Grange), 845-463-4800. Wednesday 9:10 a.m., Friday 5:20 p.m.
Eileen Bastien gets the crowd going at a recent Zumba class in Orange County
A serious Sunday workout: Assane Badji leads participants in an African dance class at the Living Seed in New Paltz
At left: Once practiced only by dancers, the gyrotonic system is now a popular exercise routine — even football players use it