LIFESTYLES

Shaking a leg for fitness

Storefront dance studios are hoofing their way to the hank

John Faustmann March 23 1981
LIFESTYLES

Shaking a leg for fitness

Storefront dance studios are hoofing their way to the hank

John Faustmann March 23 1981

Shaking a leg for fitness

LIFESTYLES

Storefront dance studios are hoofing their way to the hank

John Faustmann

"One! Two! Three! Four!” On the floor of Terpsichore, a Vancouver dance studio, three dozen young women dressed in leotards are scissoring the air with their legs. Rock ’n’ roll music thumps. Muscles stretch. “All right,” their instructor yells, “here we go with the arms!”

It’s the latest wrinkle in the fitness craze, a mixed bag of dance and calisthenics known as “dancercise,” “jazz exercise” or “aerobic dance.” But whatever they call it, thousands of women and some men are now “taking from” someone, as the jargon would have it, huffing and puffing two or three times a week through hour-long sequences of muscle manipulation. Storefront dancercise studios have sprung up like fastfood outlets. In one three-block downtown Vancouver area, 12 have blossomed recently.

The Halifax Dance Co-op Association has more than doubled its enrolment since 1978. In Vancouver, Ron Zalko’s Fitness Affairs has signed up more than 600 students in the past six months. Montreal’s Dance Factory now needs larger premises; across Ontario Barbie Allen’s Dancercise course has attracted more than 14,000 women, including Margaret Trudeau. Costs range from $45 to $100 for a 10-week program and profit figures encourage growth. Says Christine Chipperfield, co-owner of the recently expanded Terpsichore: “We never dreamed it would take off like this.”

Drawn by the music, the continuously

running classes and the neighborhood locations, students typically claim they “nearly died” after their first session. “At first I could hardly make it through,” reports 27-year-old Deborah Dyer of Toronto. “I try to go two or three times a week. And you can bring a

friend, which is nice.”

Dressing up adds to the appeal—and the price. A woman in tights ($7 to $15), matching leotard ($16 to $45), wool leg warmers ($16) and running shoes ($30 to $60) has probably spent more on clothing than on the course itself. “The classes are like a fashion show,” reports Ken Scott, who operates three Dancerciser studios in Toronto. “Macho men wear track pants and a T-shirt; dancer men wear tank tops and tight jazz pants. Some of the women’s outfits are like tight lacy underwear ...”

If fitness is the acknowledged selling point, sex appeal is the under-the-counter promise. Studio owners invariably brim with health; promotional posters feature pale beauties sweating languidly. The students themselves, mostly women between 20 and 35, apparently exercise to stay sleek, not to lose a few kilograms. Though most classes are 80per-cent female, they may be a less than perfect place to meet women. Toronto film producer Peter Emond found the women in his sessions to be “primarily grim purists with a mania to stay in shape. Besides, you can’t talk to a woman when you’re waiting for a heart attack.”

Heart attacks aside, pulled muscles, shin splints and back problems inevitably happen when students attempt too much too soon. Supervision can be spotty: because no licensing procedures restrict studio owners, exercise leaders often sport few credentials beyond a dance background, a stereo system and plenty of pep. Says Vancouver teacher Pete Pederson of the Pederson School of Dance: “You get people, you tell them to stand on their head. Then they say, ‘Oh, I hurt myself.’ You have to use common sense.”

In fact, choosing a commonsense dance exercise program could be difficult. All use musical exercise; and many teachers use arcane theories about music and muscles to promote their classes. (“You have to use the beat of the music to get a choreographic use of the muscles,” says Chipperfield.) Because competition is stiff, studio owners don’t look kindly on their rivals. In Toronto, Ken Scott’s lawyer is advising he sue competitors for using the word Dancerciser. Retorts Jerry Clyde of Toronto’s Rendezvous Dance Studios: “Scott can’t register the name Dancerciser. It’s like registering the name waltz.”

Meanwhile, storefront dance studios are hoofing their way to the banks—at least until the next fitness fad comes along. Now that disco has passed on, it seems people still need a place to shake it as the call goes out: “Now remember! Think of lengthening, not scrunching, the back! Ready! One, two, three!”

With files from Carolyn Moulton.