Dance and fitness have always had a close relationship. Watching a professional dancer perform, we usually see a muscular, athletic body. An undeniable shift has taken place over the last 20 years though. Dance has taken the world of fitness by storm.
Fitness professionals have blended various dance styles with traditional strength and conditioning exercises in group fitness settings, and dance teachers have created classes that are accessible to all fitness levels for the purpose of weight loss, strength gains, and flexibility. Many people who have had difficulty relating to traditional exercise settings have found their niche in some form of dance fitness. The most obvious of many reasons for this is simple: it’s fun. From cardio-focused classes like Latin-inspired Zumba, to strength and core-focused pole dancing fitness, there is something for every individual.
Born this way
In 2010 a study done at the University of York found that infants moved their bodies in response to the rhythm and tempo of music. The study also found that the more synchronized an infant’s movements were with the music, the more they smiled. It would seem that we are born with a natural disposition to dance. Most recent to gain popularity in mainstream fitness is the dance category that I am simply going to call “sexy fitness.” I’m talking about twerk workouts, pole dancing, and choreographed heels classes just to name a few.
As we will see, there is much more to each of these than just being sexy, but the fact remains that they are. And for each of these musically driven modalities, feeling sexy and confident seems to be a common benefit for participants of all body types and athletic dispositions.
A new sport on the scene
While many people associate pole dancing with strip clubs, the use of it in adult entertainment actually only became popular in the mainstream in the 1980s. There are more than a few influences that contributed to the origin of pole dancing. Some of these include the sport of Mallakhamb, which dates back to 12th century India, and was typically performed by men, and Chinese pole which involved two poles that the performer would utilize and leap between. If you watch a few video clips of these sports, you will notice many familiar moves that we see in modern pole dancing. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, acrobatic pole performers from the middle east performed in side shows, circus tents and eventually burlesque clubs.
By the 1980s, pole dancing was known most for erotic entertainment in gentlemen’s clubs. It has come full circle however, and since the early 2000s pole dancing as a form of fitness, art, and competitive sport has been on the rise. Today you will see pole fitness classes, ranging from erotic to solely athletic, in big athletic clubs, small studios, and easily accessible online! The fact that pole dancing boasts physique altering results makes it appealing to people from all walks of life, both men and women.
There are different styles of pole fitness as well. Some styles focus on the acrobatic element, others on the artistic element, and some on the sensual. The point is, you don’t have to wear 8 inch stilettos work the pole, and it might just be more work than you gave it credit for.
Twerking into transcendence
Fitness with a sensual side is not just appearing on the mainland. Here on Kaua’i there are many professionals in the community bringing dance and fitness together in a very empowering way! One of these is Sara Folsom, owner of Fit Lab in Princeville. She has long been a leader and educator in wellness and fitness, but in 2020 she began creating something very unique. Her own personal journey with Kundalini yoga, months of research and development, and the integration of dance came together in a program called Twerk Rising. Don’t be fooled, a Twerk Rising class is so much more than an opportunity to shake it, although we love that part. No, Sara describes it as “equal parts fitness, dance, and energy work.”
In case you’re wondering about that last part, energy work can be any practice that focuses the mind in a direct way on the internal, or non-physical aspects of oneself, like yoga, meditation, and breath work for example. Sara defines the energy work done in a twerk rising class as “visualization, attention, and intention.” This could come in the form of a mantra, affirmation, a breathing technique, or a movement. I experienced this melding of physical exertion with internal attention myself at a class recently. I noticed that in the dim lighting, and all-female environment, I could enjoy a safe, supportive space to both move and love my body without barriers or judgment.
I learned a lot in just one hour. I was given cues to understand how, just like in yoga, certain movements have effects on our emotional state, hormones, (including libido!) and brain function. In class these effects are tied to the 7 chakras; however whether your interest is spiritual, scientific, or both the benefits are noticeable. Sara makes it very clear in Twerk Rising that there is no wrong or right. In fact, personal expression is key, and we are encouraged to listen to our intuition and our bodies throughout class.
Another unique aspect of class is the visual attention on oneself. We are encouraged look into our own eyes and keep the focus there on ourselves rather than on others. While at first I was skeptical, I soon felt my confidence increasing and my guard dropping as the class became more and more personal. By the end I was completely engrossed in my movements, my breath, and my body. In our conversation, Sara noted that dancing, and specifically shaking (not just our backsides, but also other body parts) has a deeply powerful effect on the mind and nervous system. Like many of her students, she often feels intense emotions and emotional release during her practice. When I asked Sara what she would say to someone trying it for the first time she said “You do NOT have to know how to twerk.” I can personally attest to that! You can learn more, schedule a class, and view a sample at twerkrising.com.
Heels in your gym bag
I wanted to get another angle on “sexy fitness” for this piece so I spoke to Lea Miyashiro who teaches a flirtatious, empowering dance class known simply as Heels. I don’t need to tell you why. While the heels aren’t mandatory, and Lea’s participants include some who opt for sneakers, it’s easy to see why one would feel sexy and confident in their favorite pumps. Pair those with the right song and an enticing dance routine, and you’ve got a heels class.
On Lea’s Instagram handle, @heelskauai you will see pictures and clips of her classes at Kaua’i Athletic Club which include standing routines as well as chair choreography. We might’ve thought heels had no place in the gym bag, but in the age of sexy fitness they just might live there full time! I asked Lea what led her to teaching heels. “I’ve always centered my fitness around dancing. One of the best things about dance fitness is that it’s accessible to all fitness levels.
Growing up on Kaua’i I learned that dance classes were very limited, especially for adults. I wanted to offer something that catered to them, and heels dance has become very popular.” She also noted that “although it’s called heels dancing, you don’t have to wear them. It’s more about the style of dance than what’s on your feet.” The one-hour class includes stretches, a quick warm up, and learning new choreography. Then participants break up into groups and perform for one another. I love the way she described some of the benefits: “This dance class allows you to discover new things about yourself. At the start of class everyone is a little shy, but by the end we are all dancing together and cheering each other on. It’s very empowering to be in a room full of people who share the same passion.”
I asked Lea what song she is really digging for heels right now, and she said “My favorite song to dance to changes all the time, but this week it’s Gas Pedal by Sage the Gemini.” Currently heels classes are on Mondays at 6:30 pm at KAC in Lihue, and your first class is free!
Something that I really appreciate about fitness programs like those discussed above, is that they encourage a healthy self image. It’s not a matter of exercising hard so that you can be sexy “later.” The pole, the twerk, and the heels all beg you to see yourself as you are, sexy right now! This fitness trend is about a mental shift in perspective that involves embracing your body and your abilities and expressing your sexy self fully, freely!
Cynthia Fowler is a certified personal trainer (NASM), corrective exercise specialist (NASM), registered vinyasa yoga teacher (RYT 200), certified Enhance fitness teacher, group exercise instructor (TRX, Indoor cycling, HIIT, SMR, etc), owner of FoundationUp Fitness, blogger, and health coach. Cynthia can be contacted through her website at foundationupfitness.com or directly at Cynthia@fullyfreely.com.