Photo courtesy Ashlee Lanouette/Tease studio

Dancing is fitness in disguise

By Amber Erickson Gabbey

According to Zumba instructor Cori Ehrhart, dancing is fitness in disguise. “Most people are having so much fun, they don’t even realize it was a workout until the end,” she says. Dancing is an effective way to burn a ton of calories, build strength, lose weight, and improve your balance and cardiovascular fitness. Plus it’s way more fun than traditional workouts.

You can find many different dance classes at health clubs, rec centers and independent studios around the county. Each will have a different style and approach, but if you’re looking to add an element of fun while still achieving your fitness goals, check out these calorie-torching classes:


Barre class, © poznyakov
Barre class, © poznyakov

In a barre class, you perform isometric movements to sculpt a long, lean dancer’s body. The thing that makes barre unique is its scientific approach of using small movements to systematically fatigue each muscle group, followed by stretches to lengthen the muscles. The movements target arms, thighs, buttocks and abs. The nonimpact classes are fun, fast-paced, musically driven and physically very challenging.

Mish Metz, owner of the Pure Barre studio in Boulder, says barre is accessible to nondancers, even though it’s rooted in ballet techniques and was created by a dancer.

Class participants can expect to burn between 400 and 800 calories during an hour-long class. According to Metz, the more classes you take, the more you’ll understand the movements and the more calories you’ll burn.

If you’re new to barre, expect to be confused at first, since the movements are pretty unique and fast-paced. But rest assured, the studio’s motto is that anyone can do it.


Photo courtesy YMCA of Boulder Valley
Photo courtesy YMCA of Boulder Valley

Zumba is a worldwide phenomenon, so you can find classes at most health clubs, gyms and dance studios in the area. The power of Zumba is in the fun; you don’t even realize you’re exercising because the dances are so engaging and easy to follow. Ehrhart’s classes at the YMCA of Boulder Valley in Lafayette are high-energy from start to finish, with Latin-inspired music to fit the mood. Classes include a combination of low-intensity and high-intensity moves that create an interval-style dance party.

The thing that makes Zumba unique is its community. Everyone knows each other, and there is plenty of socializing between songs. The community feel is motivational to regulars and appreciated by newcomers, who are quickly welcomed into the group. Class participants can expect to burn between 400-800 calories during a one-hour class, depending on intensity. Once you learn the basic steps, you can really dance away the calories.

If you’re new to Zumba, expect to feel awkward and confused at first. The steps are easy enough to follow, but you may struggle
a bit, especially since the seasoned dancers around you all know
what they’re doing. Just do the best you can and remember it’s not about knowing the steps—it’s about letting yourself go and moving your body.


El Minions (Photo courtesy Streetside)
El Minions (Photo courtesy Streetside)

Hip-hop dance started as street dance styles that evolved out of the hip-hop music culture, but as hip-hop grew in popularity and went mainstream, health clubs and dance studios started offering classes. Hip-hop classes are musically driven, with high-energy choreography that will challenge your mind and body. At Streetside Dance in Boulder, students of all ages learn about hip-hop, especially its technique. The hour-long classes include a strong focus on choreography, where you break down and learn a dance in sections. Participants can expect a full-body workout. Calorie burn depends on the class level and style of teaching, but be prepared to sweat and be challenged.

The thing that makes hip-hop unique is the movements. The style of movement and the flexibility, balance and coordination involved will challenge people of all fitness abilities. Beyond just cardio, hip-hop demands enhanced body awareness and strength, says Rico Changeux, Streetside’s owner. Remembering the steps challenges your mind.

If you’re new to hip-hop, expect to be a bit uncomfortable at first. Hip-hop is about rhythm and learning to move your body, while breaking some of the rules you might have about dancing. The style is grounded yet loose, so your biggest challenge may be in loosening up.

Pole Dancing

Pole dancing is a style of dance in which specialized movements are performed on or near a pole. Spinning on a pole challenges every muscle group (particularly the upper body and core), but also improves flexibility, coordination, body awareness and cardio fitness. Class participants can expect a major full-body challenge. The moves are unique to pole dancing, and performing them properly takes practice and immense strength. Calorie burn depends on the style of class, but be prepared to sweat and work your muscles.

The unique appeal of pole dancing is its ability to improve your physical fitness but also foster nonphysical transformations, like improved self-confidence. It’s one of the few fitness-based dance styles that puts just as much emphasis on empowerment and building each other up emotionally as it does on building oneself up physically. It’s that blend that draws a hugely dedicated group of students of all ages, sizes and abilities. Melanie Piek, owner of Vertical Fusion in Boulder, says, “I am often told that pole class is one of the few places where one can clear the mind, be totally present and even forget about the stresses in their life.”

Pole dancing takes a lot of strength and flexibility, and may require you overcome a bit of fear while defying gravity. If you’re new to it, be ready to let your hair down, and don’t expect to be graceful or elegant at first. There is an element of sexy playfulness in the classes, but even the most awkward of us can fit in perfectly.

Amber Erickson Gabbey, M.A., RYT, is a yoga teacher, content marketer and freelance writer who lives in Rollinsville. Learn more at

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