If you’re struggling to keep your New Year’s resolution to stay in shape, consider ditching your running shoes for high heels, tap shoes or ballet slippers.
Or keep the running shoes but abandon the elliptical and use them to dance instead.
Dance classes aren’t just for little girls anymore. Utah dance studios have been busily expanding to offer adults the chance to tango, cha-cha, tap or jeté across the dance floor. All in the name of fitness.
A new studio opened last weekend in Salt Lake City for kids and adults. Millennium Dance Complex offers beginners to experts classes in house, hip-hop, ballet, waacking (think of the arm movements in “Soul Train”) and more at 918 E. 900 South.
In some cases, the dance classes are capitalizing on the popularity of Zumba classes, but expanding beyond that brand’s prescribed dance moves and music. For other studios, it’s shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” or “Dancing With the Stars” that have kept instructors busy teaching salsa, tango and swing.
“It’s just more fun for people to dance than going and running on the treadmill,” said Maria Ivanova, owner of DF Dance Studio, 2978 S. State, South Salt Lake. The studio, which offers salsa, tango, country, hip-hop and bachata lessons to adults, has expanded from a handful of classes in 2,000 square feet in 2008 to 5,000 square feet (plus a rentable 8,000-square-foot ballroom) to 15 lessons a day. “It’s like you’re exercising without knowing you’re exercising.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers dancing a “moderate” physical activity, akin to doubles tennis or walking briskly, and it recommends adults get at least 30 minutes a day.
Joni Chapa knew she wanted to get her exercise by dancing and figured other adults did, too. She opened Baile (which means “dance” in Spanish and is pronounced “bi-lay”) Dance Fitness Studio in Sugar House, 2030 S. 900 East, last summer after falling in love with Zumba. She lured her Zumba instructor, Enrique Corte, away from a different gym and let him create his own dance classes. “There’s so many different styles of dance and music, why not use all of them?” she asked. “Enrique will throw in disco and it’s just fun.”
The classes incorporate funk, hip-hop, Latin dance and even African drumming.
On a recent Monday night, a dozen women bounced, salsaed and sweated in Corte’s Latin cardio class to cumbia, merengue, Latin pop and reggaeton music that he liked to listen to in his native Mexico City.
By the end, he was also dripping in sweat and smiling. He said his class is the same idea as Zumba, but “I take pride in doing my own music and my own moves.”
What he loves most is the reaction of the students.
“You have no idea how many people say, ‘This was my hour to be happy.’ For that hour I helped someone smile and forget about something,” he said.
The class is Amanda Monaco’s main form of exercise. “It’s just really intense cardio,” she said, noting that by the end of class the windows are fogged up and everyone’s drenched. “By the end of class it’s like, it’s over?”
But dance offers more than fat burning, Kathy Eppler said after class. “It’s mental fitness. It’s emotional fitness. It really does make you happy.”
Even in dance classes where the steps are more social, the dancing is considered enough of a health benefit that employers are reimbursing the cost as they would a gym membership.
Amber Aragon was taking an intermediate salsa class at DF Dance Studio in a skirt and high heels. The financial analyst said her employer helps pay for the classes. “If I’m not working, I’m dancing. I’m not a big gym person, so this is the only thing I do to stay active.”
To be sure, you can work up a sweat in salsa, said Natalie Godfrey, who is on the dance studio’s salsa team, which means she practices several hours a week. “The music is infectious and you can’t help but want to dance to it,” she said. “This is kind of cheesy but it fills a part of myself. It makes me feel full of life.”
Stuart Hicks, who was taking a beginning salsa class with his girlfriend, Pamela Murray, said adults may be more inclined to take dance classes because they are free from the fear of feeling embarrassed.
“We always felt really awkward learning how to dance as teenagers. As an adult, I don’t care what I look like,” he said.
Plus, “You can be in your 50s and learn to do this,” Murray added. “I’m 56 with 17 grandkids and I’m doing salsa.”
In Draper, Artistic Dance Utah, 556 E. 12300 South, started offering adult classes last summer when Michelle Nielsen took over as owner. The 33-year-old dancer — she danced throughout her four pregnancies — knows how fulfilling it is and was determined to help other adults join in on the fun.
The studio offers adult tap, ballet, jazz, hip-hop and contemporary classes.
Staying or getting in shape is only part of the reason adult students join, she said.
“Adults come in and say, ‘I just miss that part of myself. I used to dance and it made me feel alive. It connected me to my soul.’ ”
While Zumba and other aerobic dance classes at a gym focus on moving left and right and in circles, Nielsen said the dance classes she offers taps into something more creative. “It involves a layer of your soul that people are having a hard time finding at the gym.”
Lose yourself to dance
Here’s more information about the dance studios mentioned in this story:
Artistic Dance Utah • 556 E. 12300 South, Draper; www.artisticdanceutah.com/
Baile Dance Fitness Studio • 2030 S. 900 East, Salt Lake City; bailestudio.com/
DF Dance Studio • 2978 S. State, South Salt Lake; www.dfdancestudio.com/
Millennium Dance Complex • 918 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City; www.facebook.com/millenniumSLC