Dancing into shape: Hip-hop, Zumba and funk pump up heart rates, burn calories

If you've watched "Dancing With the Stars" or "So You Think You Can Dance," you may have noticed that all the contestants have really great bodies.

Whether their specialty is ballroom dancing, Latin dance or funk, they're all well-muscled and have nary an inch to pinch.

You wouldn't be jumping to conclusions to assume dancing can get you in great shape.

According to fitness experts, dancing gives a good cardiovascular workout because it increases your heart rate for a sustained period of time, which burns calories and conditions the heart. And because most styles of dance require bending and moving in every possible direction, it also works many different muscles.

Here are three styles of dance that may help get you in shape:


Kendra Hill, president and founder of Hype Cheer and Dance Inc. in Milwaukee, said dancing is also a good way to get in shape because it's fun.

Dancing "is a form of exercise that doesn't feel like work. It's like entertainment and exercise combined," she said.

Her style of dance is hip-hop, and she said "kids get excited about it because they see these dancers on TV. There's a lot of talk about childhood obesity, and I do believe hip-hop can be a method to combat that.

"It's difficult to get people to exercise because they think it's work. When it comes to dancing, naturally every human is inclined to move to the sound, whether it's square dancing or hip-hop."

Her company offers dance and cheerleading classes for youth and adults at Milwaukee area recreation centers, private camps and clinics. She also holds dance competitions and is part of the Remix Hip Hop Dance Company, which performs locally.

Every style of dance benefits exercisers differently, Hill said. Even when doing one style of dance, the music and choreography can change the intensity and the muscles used.

Those who do hip-hop burn calories from the fast movement, but they also work muscles because they must isolate them, she said. Dancers' moves are low to the floor, so hand, arm and leg movements must be coordinated. This improves overall coordination as well as the core, Hill added.

She said anyone can learn hip-hop - even those who are rhythm challenged.


At the United Community Center in Milwaukee Zumba classes are in full swing and are helping members get in shape. Zumba is a fitness program inspired by Latin dance.

Amanda Nelson, fitness coordinator at the center, has been teaching Zumba for about six months and said members love it.

"It works the entire body, but it's exceptional for working the core because of all the twisting moves we do," she said. "Because the arms are held up, it gives a great shoulder workout, and there is a lot of lower body work - specifically inner and outer thighs - because we do a lot of cross-over steps."

People tell her "they can feel it in their legs - mainly in the hip area" after taking just one class, she said.

Nelson said Zumba classes also rate high when it comes to burning calories, and that exercisers can get cardiovascular benefits similar to that of running a six-minute mile. However, with Zumba you use more muscles than when you run, she said.

Zumba classes typically are 80 percent dance moves and 20 percent moves that are selected by the instructor. Exercisers say they enjoy the classes because they love moving to the music, said Nelson, who has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is a certified personal trainer with American College of Sports Medicine.

She said it takes most people six to eight classes to learn the choreography but that the workout is structured so that there is no pressure to do the moves perfectly.

"We just want you to just dance and have fun - we want people to be inspired by the music."

Nelson said that even though dance workouts burn calories and tone muscles, she always suggests members "do a few strength training workouts per week for a well-rounded workout."

Tita Mendoza, who is also a Zumba instructor at the center, said these classes attract mainly women, but that the center also has capoeira Angola and salsa classes that attract both men and women.

She described capoeira as an African-Brazilian art form that combines dance, martial arts and music. The class starts out slowly and increases in tempo.

"It improves flexibility, creativity, strength, endurance, self esteem and discipline. The music is Latin inspired with a softer beat," Mendoza said. Salsa classes have faster music and moves, and participants tend to move around the room more than in the other workouts, she said.


Another popular style of dance is funk. Sisters Nicole Towns and Tasha Seals have been attracting crowds for about eight years to their team-taught class at the Milwaukee YMCA.

They say that although their workout is not technically a dance class, it is "dance infused."

Seals said exercisers can get in shape fast in their classes because they do a lot of repetitions of dance-like moves in the workout. "And we speed up the music. We use just about every muscle possible. You're burning those calories because you're working harder. It works upper and lower muscles."

Seals says exercisers could burn 400 to 600 calories in their hourlong class, get cardiovascular benefits similar to running at a fast pace, improve bone density by doing the moves with impact and that the workout can be as strenuous as a high-impact, high-intensity aerobics class.

After a first workout, participants often say they feel the effects.

"A lot of people say their whole body is sore." said Seals, who, along with her sister, has fitness credentials through the YMCA. "We do let them know they should work at their own level and that they can modify moves if need be - we encourage that."

"But this is a class for everyone," said Towns. "You can take it to a very, very high intensity. But you can also bring it down. I took the class and taught the class while I was pregnant, and I was able to modify the moves."