31 Mar 2020 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2016 issue 2

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Leisure Management - The dance fitness revolution

Group exercise

The dance fitness revolution

Dance-based fitness classes are booming. Hayley Price looks at how health clubs and leisure operators are responding to the growing variety of offerings on the market

Hayley Price
Dance party workouts like Sh’bam have made fitness fun again
Gymbox in London auditions regularly to find great instructors
Street dance classes can appeal to young, non-exercisers Photo: pineapple
The market will see more hybrid dance classes in the future
North East-based Dance City brings the community together through dance
The hugely popular Zumba has stood the test of time
Belly dance classes are popular at Reebok’s club in London
Darcey Bussell’s DDMIX offers a full body workout
Dance classes are also ideal for engaging very young children Photo: camilla greenwell

Ever since the dance fitness brand Zumba exploded onto the market in 2010 – its ‘exercise in disguise’ format meaning even non-gym-goers got involved – there’s been a shake-up of classes across the fitness sector.

Consumer expectations have changed: fitness should be fun, fitness should be social, fitness should be more than just doing press-ups for press-ups’ sake. And as Zumba has clearly demonstrated, dance fits this brief perfectly.

No real surprise, then, that in the last two years, a range of quirky home-grown dance fitness classes have arrived on the UK scene – from Clubbercise, which engages audiences with dimmed lighting and glow sticks; to Burlexercise, which sees instructors hand participants weighted feather boas for resistance training; to former Royal Ballet star Darcey Bussell’s DDMIX, which offers a mix of dance styles in one aerobic workout (see p8).

Innovative classes are also moving in from overseas – barre being the most recent, which has brought the hip LA fitness scene to the UK. Meanwhile sessions such as Morning Gloryville – an immersive pre-work dance experience which started life in London, UK, and which takes place in venues from churches to clubs, connecting communities and lifting moods – are thriving worldwide (see HCM March 15, p8).

And the result? New research by YouGov and the Exercise, Movement & Dance Partnership (EMDP) – the UK’s National Governing Body (NGB) for dance fitness, which was founded in 2006 – found that 1.45 million women in the UK are now taking part in dance fitness each month. Not only that, but 38 per cent of respondents were previously inactive before starting dance fitness, and 92 per cent of females said they saw dance fitness as an enjoyably non-competitive way to work out.

Dance fitness evolution
The make-up of the EMDP attests to the boom in dance fitness. Originally launched as a collaborative effort between Sport England, Fitness League, Keep Fit Association (KFA) and Medau, 10 years later it’s still working with those same founding brands as well as a host of new ones.

Emma Forward, COO of the EMDP, says: “The classes within our community cover a broad spectrum, suiting a range of ages and abilities. It really is a very exciting time for the industry – we’re fully immersed in the growing world of dance fitness.”

Even specialist dance operators are latching on to the growth in dance fitness. Luke Long, studio manager at Pineapple Dance Studios, says hybrid classes are entering the dance industry at a pace: “As dancers are never far from injury, they take a special interest in all areas of fitness and recovery. This means they are usually the first to try combinations – for example, yoga and ballet.”

But health clubs and leisure operators have been quick to respond to the rise in demand too. Hannah Curtis Nunn, head of studio operations at London-based operator Gymbox, sheds some light on how the operator is dealing with the fast-moving dance industry: “A successful dance class has to make you sweat, but must always have really good choreography to master at the same time. We audition regularly to find new and interesting concepts and instructors – we deliver exercise to music training to professional dancers to ensure the quality of our instructors.

“New classes are introduced each quarter, meaning we keep on top of any trending styles. We’ve previously launched classes like Nae Nae – a dance craze invented by Atlanta quintet WeAre Toonz – which was a great hit with our members.”

Tanya Camilleri, group programme manager at Reebok Sports Club London, says: “We offer a variety of dance classes including Zumba, Belly Dance Fit, Street Dance, our exclusive Body Fit Burlesque and Latin Fit. The upbeat classes encourage people to switch off from their day and focus on learning choreography and having fun. We want to keep up with the boutique studios operating in this market, so we listen to our members and expand our timetable and programmes to keep up with the trends out there.”

Meanwhile Phillip Mills, CEO at Les Mills International – which offers dance fitness classes Sh’bam and BodyJam among its portfolio of group exercise programmes – comments: “We know there’s huge potential with the large Millennial market. These savvy young people demand fast, effective and social workouts. They want exercise experiences that are ahead of the game, and we’re committed to making them. We’re also working closely with clubs to help them better capitalise on the growing boutique market, supporting them to create boutique studios and workout spaces within their clubs.”

Community engagement
But if dance is bringing new people into gyms, it’s also taking operators beyond their four walls and into the community.

Charity-run gym The Armoury, managed by Jubilee Hall Trust, understands the importance of keeping abreast of the dance fitness market. Stuart Flude, club manager, explains: “We recognise that dance is a fun way to keep fit, and it attracts a wide range of people who might not normally visit a gym.”

To engage new audiences and promote dance even more widely, The Armoury moves outside of the gym space. Flude explains: “In July this year, we’re planning to support the biennial Big Dance initiative by paying for the Big Dance Bus to visit the Covent Garden Piazza, where our club is located. The bus – with its own portable dance floor, sound system and resident dance company – aims to promote grassroots participation.”

Meanwhile Anthony Baker, artistic director and joint CEO of Dance City (North East), comments: “We engage widely with our local community, bringing dance opportunities to all – whether in schools, community centres or care homes. We always try and attract new audiences; we previously held a taster day for people aged 55 and over, allowing those who attended to try out different styles of class, from ballroom to flamenco.”

Looking to the future
So what’s next for the phenomenon that is dance fitness? Forward explains: “We’ve seen a number of home-grown brands enter the market over the last two years, and more new classes are coming. Chico Slimani’s Block Fit for example – comprising four workouts in one, including dance – is another UK launch coming this year. Meanwhile innovative trends from the US will continue to land on UK soil, such as PoundFit – a full-body cardio jam session, combining light resistance with constant simulated drumming – which is already available across the UK.”

Forward continues: “The emergence of new hybrid classes looks set to continue too, as disciplines such as Voga – which is a fusion of yoga and vogueing, fitness and fashion, inspired by the drag ballroom era of 1980s New York – appear on the global dance fitness scene.”

EMDP also plans to launch its own Dance the Distance class in studios later this year. With the strapline ‘More fun than a run’, participants will complete the equivalent of a 5k run in dance form.

One thing’s for sure: if you haven’t yet tapped into the dance fitness trend, 2016 will be the year to do it.

“The great thing about Sh’bam is that you don’t need co-ordination or experience. It’s the dance class for everyone and anyone. Sh’bam is fun and relaxed, but it’s still cardio – you’re sweating and you’re burning calories, but you don’t even know you’re doing it.” 

Rachel Newsham, Les Mills Sh’bam instructor

“It’s hard to find a workout that’s both extremely fun and effective. Zumba provides the perfect balance. In an hour-long class you can burn up to 1,000 calories, but you won’t even realise you’re working out. It’s ‘exercise in disguise’ and that’s why it’s caught on all over the world.”

Gina Grant, Zumba education specialist

“I really enjoy working out when I’m fully distracted by the fun and entertainment of the routine, great music and the camaraderie of a group class. This is a core philosophy behind DDMIX. It’s ideal for the very young – which is why you’ll find it in schools – through to adults who want to exercise in a fun, relaxed and entertaining way.”

Darcey Bussell, Strictly Come Dancing star and former ballet dancer

For more information on dance fitness trends, visit www.exercisemovedance.org

Originally published in Health Club Management 2016 issue 2

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