Fusion fitness: bringing rhythm to working out

Women swing their arms and enjoy a Zumba workout together.

ARTICLE by LAURA ANTHONY • PHOTOS by RACHEL HORESOVSKY

Getting fit doesn’t have to be a solo mission! Discover some of the area’s most fun workout classes this summer and start celebrating the empowerment of good health.  Scroll to the bottom to see a slideshow of this story.

“Rocketeer” by Far East Movement blasts on the speakers, as AnnaMarie Bena sits on a raised platform at the front of the studio, offering encouragement and tips to her students.  Women face her on yoga mats, copying her movements as she performs modified sit-ups and exercises with hand-weights.  The music fades from hip hop to Colby Caillat and Michael Bublé and the accompanying exercise motions flow seamlessly.

These women are among the first to experience Jazzercise in Silver Spring since Bena opened the studio in April.  Jazzercise – an exercise program combining all kinds of dance with cardiovascular and strength training – was founded in 1969, but only recently came back to this area.  And it has also resurfaced in the minds of women as a workout option for everyone, not just those of the Jane Fonda generation. Bena has students from a wide range of fitness backgrounds, and who range in age from 18 to 72.  “We cater to all ages, fitness levels and shapes,” says Bena.

A Jazzercise class steps in time to music.

Ladies step together during morning Jazzercise with Harry at the Jazzercise Silver Spring Fitness Center.

Zumba, a dance-based workout created in 2001, is also new to Silver Spring and accessible to all types of students.  Janet Awokoya of Zukossa’s Fitness Team described Zumba as, “a Latin-inspired aerobic dance class that infuses various types of salsa, meringue, cumbia, and reggaeton into an exhilarating, fun workout session.”

Zumba was born of a fortuitous accident; one day, Colombian aerobics instructor Alberto “Beto” Perez forgot his traditional aerobics music, so instead taught the class using tapes he found in his car of salsa and meringue music.  The combination of engaging music and energetic fitness moves inspired the concept of Zumba, which has been rising in popularity ever since, says Awokoya.

Because so many students are eager to try Zumba, Awokoya says that Zukossa Fitness recently moved to a new site with more space for the classes.  Previously located in the Silver Spring Civic Center, Awokoya’s Zumba classes are now held at the nearby Margaret Schweinhaut Senior Citizens Center.  The new location offers better access and parking, says Awokoya.

So whether the options are new to the area or to the fitness world at large, residents are certainly eager to try innovative, musical ways to get in shape.

Ladies twist and smile during a Zumba workout.

Twisting and shouting are always welcome at Zumba with Janet.

Roberto Tapia also teaches a less common form of exercise, but his was around for hundreds of years before Jazzercise and Zumba excited the fitness community.  He opened Roda Movements three years ago, introducing Takoma Park to the Brazilian tradition of capoeira, which Tapia says is a “unique form of movement that mixes martial arts, music and gymnastics.”  Capoeira developed when Portuguese colonists began importing West African slaves to work on their Brazilian sugar plantations. The slaves combined West African-inspired dance and native Brazilian music to disguise the martial arts from their owners.  Capoeira is an especially unique form of fusion fitness because it also incorporates Brazilian history and culture into the classes, Tapia explains.

Peggy Brower, the owner of H2O Fitness, also includes an extra element in the Zumba classes at her company — a pool.  She offers Aqua Zumba classes, in which students perform slightly modified Zumba dance moves underwater. “It takes longer to perform, but you have the natural resistance of the water that makes it more intense,” says Brower.  The water component is also beneficial because it keeps students cool throughout the exercise, is easier on joints, and can help hide any missteps or self-consciousness.  But although students are working hard during an Aqua Zumba class, Brower says they feel more like they’re at a party than an exercise class.  “You’re exercising and getting all the benefits, and you don’t even know it,” she says.

“It’s like going to a club with your friends minus the drinking and people harassing you.”

This “party in disguise” atmosphere, as Awokoya puts it, is present in land-based Zumba classes as well.  Zumba allows students to let go of daily frustrations, she explains, so they can build friendships and enjoy the dancing instead of feeling tired or stressed.  “It’s like going to a club with your friends minus the drinking and people harassing you, so it makes it fun,” Awokoya says.  She finds that such a fun, inclusive environment makes it easier for her students to stay consistent with Zumba, making the workout that much more effective.

Ladies lift their arms together in a swimming pool during an Aqua Zumba class.

Participants enjoy some calming stretches during Aqua Zumba with Jewell at the Rollingcrest Splash Pool in Chillum, MD.

Bena agrees that this kind of upbeat attitude is one of the reasons that her students enjoy and commit to Jazzercise.  “I think that it is fun and because it’s fun, people stick with it,” she says.  Phyllicia Tanenbaum, who has been taking Jazzercise classes for a month at Bena’s Silver Spring studio, has already felt the effects of this style of workout.  “It’s helping my balance because you’re working your core a lot,” she explains, adding that Jazzercise has helped her remember some of the dance technique she knew from classes she took years ago.

Although some students do have a dance background, Bena said it’s not essential. “It’s almost like everyone finds their own inner dancer,” she says.  Willingness to try new things, not previous dance experience, will help participants make the most out of the workout.  “You have to come to Zumba with an open mind because you’re going to be introduced to dance moves and music you’re not familiar with,” Awokoya says.  Brower believes that many students are drawn to Aqua Zumba because of the dance element, but in her Jazzercise classes, Bena has found that the music may be an even bigger attraction for students than the dancing.   “There are 30 different songs every 10 weeks, so we’re able to keep it fresh and exciting,” she explains.

The music in Awokoya’s Zumba classes is even more diverse than that of a typical, Latin-based class because she incorporates music that reflects her Nigerian background.  “I really like to infuse African and Caribbean music in routines, and that’s what makes me different from other instructors,” she says.

Brazilian martial art / dance

Capoeira demonstration at the Brazilian Festival, June 11 in downtown Silver Spring. Photo by Julie Wiatt.

Music is also used as a reflection of culture in capoeira, so Tapia’s students learn to play traditional Brazilian instruments in addition to learning the physical movements.  They study instruments like the berimbau, a single-stringed instrument shaped like an archer’s bow, and the pandeiro, or tambourine.

Capoeira is performed in a “roda,” or circle in Portuguese (the namesake of Tapia’s studio), around two students who spar in the center. The surrounding students play traditional music, setting the rhythm for the fighters and reinforcing the sense of community.  “You can’t do capoeira alone,” Tapia says.

And although dance comprises the majority of exercise programs like Jazzercise and Zumba, this is not the case with capoeira.  “The first and most important part of capoeira is martial arts,” Tapia says, referencing the basic side-to-side movement called a “ginga,” which keeps students alert and ready to attack or defend. Students then learn strategies for avoiding kicks, timing their attacks, and performing the various acrobatic movements.

Tapia says there have been significant changes to capoeira over the years as the younger generation incorporates elements of break dancing and gymnastics. But that kind of flexibility allows capoeira to suit all types of people.

“Capoeira can be anything you want it to be,” he says. Students and leaders of these exercise programs said it’s one of the best ways to express themselves.

“People can express themselves however they want because there is no step that’s really wrong,” Brower says.

To view the Fusion Fitness gallery, click here: http://voice.smugmug.com/Health/Health-is-Freedom

Or watch the following slideshow (if the slideshow doesn’t load below, please hit the link above.):

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About the Author

Laura Anthony
Laura Anthony was a 2011 summer intern at The Voice, reporting on local trends and culture. She is currently a student at the University of Pennsylvania.