Health July 10, 2008

Aerobic Belly Dancing to Zumba

From shimmying shoulders to flowing meditative moves, it seems there’s a workout routine to fit almost everyone’s personality and body type these days. Whether your goal is strength, flexibility, or cardio served up with humor, intensity, or music—it’s all here.

Belly Dancing

With colors flying and coin-covered scarves jingling, an enthusiastic group of good-humored local women are practicing the ancient and vigorous art of belly dancing.

The shimmying instructor is Denise de Lisser, a local who has been the stalwart of jazz dancing here for years. But now she’s ready for something new. “What I love about it is that it’s for everybody. It is for anybody—for all women. It isn’t an elitist dance class. There’s kind of no right or wrong. We call it bringing out the marvelous woman inside you.”

Upstairs at Pure Body Pilates studio, the wooden floor gleams and a wall of windows looks out over the trees and hills of Hailey. Round white paper lanterns and prayer flags add an esoteric touch and there’s even a plant and lit candle to create a special atmosphere.

Don’t worry—you don’t have to reveal your belly. Just pick an exotic scarf, some with coins, out of the basket and tie it around your waist over your regular workout clothes and you’re ready to dance. Middle Eastern music complete with flutes, drums, or sitars begins. The routine covers all the basics of a regular workout but with an exotic flair.

First breathe the “goddess energy” of the earth in and out, then stretch, and do isolations—moving the different parts of the body separately—but with rhythmic, graceful movements—fluttering fingers, undulating wrists and arms. “It’s a very sensual kind of soft moving,” says de Lisser. The undulating arms are called “snake arms” (reminiscent of the multi-armed Hindu goddess Shiva). And then of course there are the shimmying shoulders and the shaking hips. And cardio with happy folk dancing steps around the room.

Humor is a big part of the class. Lying on her side in the beckoning “Cleopatra” pose to work out the legs, de Lisser jokingly calls to an imaginary Antony, “You can’t have me.”

Laughing and learning something new keeps the brain busy and the “synapses healthy,” says de Lisser. There’s also the “emotional benefit of enjoying the body that you’re in. That’s the point of it. Enjoy your body and what it does. As I age, I just want people to move and have fun moving and not be all competitive.” >>> 




Above Cari’s Hair Care Salon in Hailey is what looks like an ancient medieval torture device. In fact, it’s anything but. It was developed as a healing device and is the latest exercise routine in Hollywood practiced by the likes of Madonna, Julianne Moore and even prima ballerina Alessandra Ferri to keep their joints supple and their muscles long and strong.

At the Pure Body Pilates studio, there’s a bench in the middle of the device to lie or sit on, a 7-foot tower with stirrups dangling from it at one end of the bench, and two round handle units at the other end to place your hands on to stretch while moving it in circles. All the parts in this pulley system have weights which can be increased or decreased before you stretch out your feet or hands to pull or push. The smooth arching and curling movements are directed by your own personal instructor, in this case Denise de Lisser, who will design the moves to your particular body needs (which makes this a little more expensive than group classes).

Inspired by Pilates, swimming and yoga, gyrotonics was created by Juliu Horvath, a Hungarian dancer who designed the system to heal his injured Achilles heel. It continues to be used for people with injuries as well as those who just want to improve their flexibility, joint mobility and muscle strength.

Like Pilates, it concentrates on “having core stability, but it’s also about spinal flexion,” says de Lisser. The difference between this and other exercise routines is that “all the movements are done circularly or spherically. Gyro is a more three-dimensional movement study—moving arms, legs and body in every different direction.” Unlike biking or walking, which is more lateral, two-dimensional and staccato, gyrotonics uses the “full range of motion of your hip joints and shoulder joints in a smoother, slower quality of movement.”

“As we age, all the joints in our bodies compress, causing stiffness and sometimes pain. Elongating the spine helps us age more gracefully and decompress after demanding sports. When your core is strong, the body is supported and there is less chance of injury,” continues de Lisser, who was certified by Horvath himself. “It’s great for injury prevention. The whole point of gyrotonics is to be able to go out into what you do in your real life. It benefits anything from picking up your laundry to skate skiing. You’re prepping your body for other activities. When you combine abdominal strength with flexibility in the back you have a pretty healthy person.” >>>


Hot Yoga

Why do they call it hot yoga?—because it’s the hot new thing?—well, maybe, but also because it’s really hot—Hatha yoga performed at temperatures up to 105 degrees.

“I’m addicted to it! I love it,” declares New York Times reporter, Alex Kuczynski, who is a regular in Zenergy’s hot yoga class and the author of the best-selling book Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession With Cosmetic Surgery. “You sweat a lot the first time, but your body gets used to it.” She suggests coming already well-hydrated to class.

Kuczynski has gained flexibility and strength and is leaner in her midsection because of the core work in class, she says. “The primary benefit of this as opposed to regular yoga is that you’re able to stretch more because your muscles are like liquid” in the heat.

She holds poses she couldn’t before, like the Chaturanga pose, similar to the plank in Pilates, balancing all your weight stretched out horizontally supported only by your hands and toes.

In a seemingly secret cozy corner of the health club, instructor Brenda Powell leads the evening class in a semicircular mirrored room that looks out to the mountains.

At the moment, the shades are pulled, lights slightly dimmed, with extra heaters keeping the room between 98 and 102 degrees. Most of the participants are in bare feet on flat mats on the perfectly shined wood floor.

Hot yoga is an offshoot of Bikram yoga created by Bikram Chahoudri. He brought his version of Hatha yoga over from India after realizing that practicing in Calcutta’s 120-degree heat got a lot more results. “Hatha yoga is really developed to be a more athletic and physical therapy form of yoga,” says Powell.

The intense class lasts 90 minutes and is composed of some of the classic postures of the 600-year-old Hatha yoga. The first 50 minutes are standing poses. “They’re done in a certain sequence to really open up the spine and when the spine is more open, the rest of the body follows suit,” adds Powell. Each pose is held for a while, encouraging endurance and strength. “The commitment to the stillness of holding a pose teaches us to really be present,” says Powell. Other poses might include a hip-opening series and a hamstring sequence.

The heat accelerates the healing process and the sequencing of the postures really helps with therapeutic benefits, asserts Powell, an exercise physiologist for more than 20 years.

Practicing hot yoga, she says, has really helped one client with MS and another with a crippled spine. “One lady couldn’t sit hips to heels and could never grab her foot without a strap. She lost 40 pounds and can do it all now. People don’t realize how important flexibility is. If you’re tight, you get low back pain pulling on the sacrum. There are a lot of issues that come out of inflexibility like a higher likelihood of being injured.

“Flexibility gives the value of feeling more free in movements and prevents and rehabilitates injuries.

“I would say do hot yoga because it really does give you everything—balance, flexibility, muscular strength, muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness.” >>>


Latin Dance

The energetic Hazel Tenorio has created something new in town—aerobics to a Latin beat. She combines salsa (Caribbean with African influence), cumbia (out of Colombian folk dance), merengue (from the Dominican Republic), and reggaeton (Spanish reggae) to create a rhythmic, saucy, workout experience.

“I haven’t seen any classes like it in America. But in Costa Rica there’s a class in every gym,” says Tenorio, who is originally from Costa Rica. She returns there one month every year to catch up on the latest Latin aerobics dance steps and imports them back here to enliven her class.

Her choreography is original and lively but covers all the basics of normal aerobics.
Latin dance aerobics began when St. Luke’s Center for Community Health asked Tenorio to create a class at the Blaine County Fitness Center to promote community health.

“I taught in Costa Rica for four or five years and then I moved here. I’ve been working for the hospital where I’m in charge of the Interpretation Department.” Tenorio has her master’s in translation and can conduct the exercise class in both Spanish and English if needed.

The class combines motor skills in movement coordination, flexibility, and cardiovascular strength. The moves increase motor skills by repetition and by coordinating the different parts of the choreography. Doing it continuously and fast improves cardiovascular endurance.

To the music of artists like Shakira, the participants move their hips for strengthening abs and their upper body for working the waist. “We move everything. I try to do a lot of legs, but also hip movements to work your abs and your waist. I work the muscles in the arms, back and shoulders. I design the class to work all the muscles.”

Memorizing up to 15 different Latin movements to create the choreographed routines keeps the mind challenged.

The trick, she says, is to enjoy working out. “There are few people that really love exercising and lots of people that know exercising is important because of health but think it’s kind of a pain to go to the gym. They make up excuses all the time, but going dancing is fun. Using the dance movements and music attracts more people and it’s so much more fun. The emotional part is the important first step,” adds Tenorio, “getting people to actually come out to class because they really want to.” >>>




“…you have a beauty in yourself that’s just about being yourself.” — jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis

“I definitely see Nia as a conduit for people’s creativity,” says Britta von Tagen, a black belt Nia instructor. Von Tagen’s atmospheric Nia of Sun Valley studio in Ketchum certainly reflects that creativity—trimmed with glowing white Christmas lights and decorated with antique mirrors, a red star-shaped light, a bronze sun, and multi-colored ribbons hanging down the walls. Von Tagen’s blonde hair falls to her waist and silver bracelets curl around her arms. A couple of participants are adorned in tie-dyed T-shirts.

The artful exercise routine was created by fitness instructors Carlos and Debbie Rosas. They combined the free fluid movements of modern, jazz and Duncan dance, the discipline and precision of martial arts (tai chi, tae kwon do and akido), and the flexibility of the healing arts (Yoga, Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique) with a powerful new musical m_lange.

Nia originally was the acronym for Non-Impact Aerobics or Neuromuscular Integrative Action—integrating the mind and body in movement. Created in 1983 at the height of the no-pain-no-gain exercise movement, Nia was meant to be a fitness class that emphasizes the natural joy of movement instead of the pain.

“The first principle of Nia is the joy of movement,” avows Hailey’s white belt Nia instructor Mona Linehan enthusiastically. (Different levels of training earn different belts—white, blue, brown and finally black.) Linehan was turning 50 and needed something new in her life when she “fell in love with” the music of Nia. She was finding the repetitiveness of cycling class boring and was ignited by the spontaneity of Nia—there are times during the class when the bare-footed participants are encouraged to let the music move them to create their own dance—legs jumping, arms swaying.

The music is certainly one of the most striking aspects of Nia. Original musical blends inspire the participants. Nia routines such as “Firedance” bring the enthusiasm of Celtic music. “Dreamwalker” elicits the shimmies of African dance and the kicks and slashes of akido and tae kwon do.

“Opal” flows to New Age music. The music is powerful and elicits a different experience in each class, although every class includes the regular elements of warm-up, body-conditioning, cardiovascular and stretching.

“It’s a great way to start your day,” says Linehan as her class begins in the Pure Body Pilates studio looking out at the pink hills of the Hailey sunrise. Besides conditioning, she says there is an emotional/psychological element. “It’s changed the inside of me. I have more self-acceptance.”

This is the healing aspect of Nia. It has been practiced by breast cancer survivors and Linehan says it is helpful during menopause and has been recommended by menopause expert Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of The Wisdom of Menopause.

But Nia is for all ages, says von Tagen, one of only 13 Nia trainers in the world today. She has students beginning at age two and also teaches Aqua Chi—water Nia—at the YMCA and Zenergy pools. Some of the goal elements of Nia, she says, are “agility stability, mobility, strength and flexibility.”

Some of the principles, she shares, are “dancing through life” and an “awareness of yourself moving through life so you’re more fluid moving from place to place. It’s not repetitive or rote. The movements follow the music so closely that you feel like you’re a part of the music.” >>>


Tai Chi

Created hundreds of years ago in a Chinese monastery, tai chi is moving people in a new way today.

You’ve probably seen them on TV. People in China dressed in white, performing slow-flowing statuesque movements every day in the park. This is the ancient art of tai chi developed by monks as a moving form of meditation. Since then the art has been used as a form of martial arts and a means of preventive health that has become popular in the West.

In Hailey, at the Blaine County Fitness Center, local instructor Shellrae Garnes begins the class calmly with soft flute music and breathing exercises called qigong. It’s all about “learning how to slow yourself down. Learning how to strengthen your body from the inside,” says Garnes, who is a certified instructor of the National Tai Chi Chuan Association.

Participants follow a series of fluid, graceful movements positioning the torso, spine, arms and legs into moving sculptural poses that increase focus and balance. The postures are as poetic as their names—“white stork spreads wings” or “partition of the wild horse’s mane.” The monks created the style to replicate the natural movements of animals and birds.

Attention is required to each tiny movement, even to the positioning of wrist and fingers. This concentrated focus cleanses the mind of the stresses of the day.

The placement of the feet is an important element—always keeping the balance between the two feet no matter what direction you are moving. Studies show these low-impact tai chi movements promote balance and flexibility in everyday life, reducing the risk of falls.

The benefits are psychological, too. This flowing, non-confrontational form of martial art helps you to have a more balanced way of dealing with the problems of everyday life, according to Garnes. Tai chi is the study of yielding and blending with outside forces instead of fighting them. It’s a path to neutralizing attacks through leverage in the joints based on a coordination in relaxation, rather than in muscular tension.

“When you’re all riled up or when you’re afraid, you can’t see clearly,” says Garnes. Tai chi helps you gain “a stillness that allows you to see things from a clearer vantage point.”


When the pulsating Latin music begins, the everyday housewife transforms into a hip-shakin’ mama for an hour. It’s like a disco in Rio minus the smoke and cocktails. Or, the secret dancing you do at home in your underwear with the radio turned up loud.

With arms swaying and hips gyrating, Zumba class members slide, dip and spin following instructor Lory Rainey.

“I’m having the time of my life!” enthuses Rainey, a 35-year local who was inspired by classes in Arizona like those at Alice Cooper’s Destiny Dance Studio. Now she’s morphed from being a waitress at The Kneadery into a full-time certified Zumba instructor.

Zumba (Colombian slang for “fast”) is an aerobics fitness dance class that fuses the music and steps of flamenco, merengue, mambo, cumbia, and salsa, to name just a few. And it’s a lot more fun than the treadmill.

“It’s an unbelievable fitness class,” Rainey declares. “First of all, it’s the music. You just can’t help wanting to move your hips and get into the rhythm.”

The class includes intermittent or interval training with alternating fast and slow periods. “You get an aerobic workout as well as a strength-training workout—squats, lunges, arms—biceps and triceps work, and a lot of core work.”

The Latin dancing has “really opened up my creative side, my passionate side,” continues Rainey. And there are other benefits. In the last few months Rainey lost 11 pounds and is amazed that for the first time in her life she has “a six-pack of abs” and is “actually wearing a jock bra and workout pants in class—not covering myself up anymore.”

Although Rainey just introduced Zumba to the Valley, it’s one of the hottest new fitness crazes boasting over 10,000 instructors worldwide.

Necessity was the mother of invention when Colombian Zumba creator Beto Perez forgot to bring music to his workout class one day, ran back to his car, grabbed his favorite Latin music CDs, and a fitness movement was born.


Check to see when the next six-week series of classes begins or contact Rainey at


Crystal Thurston has attended her favorite aerobics class for many years because of the music, the teacher and, best of all, the camaraderie of friends that are always there to have fun with. She loved trying out all these new ways to move her body and hopes that it encourages everyone to experience more fun and fitness in their lives.



This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.