I Do Dances in Asheville Citizen Times, March 15, 2011

Hitting the dance floor in Asheville is good exercise, good fun

7:55 PM, Mar. 14, 2011 


Kathleen Hahn (right) leads a "Dance and Sweat" class at the Homewood Event Center in Montford. From left Annabell Lisa, Tara Letts, Sam Jones, and Magda Randolph learn some moves for the class, open to all levels of dance experience. 3/8/2011--Bill Sanders / Bill Sanders/wsanders@citizen-times.com

Written by Casey Blake


To find your dance: Dance Asheville offers daily listings of dance opportunities from contra and line dancing events to trance dance and salsa classes. Visitwww.danceasheville.com to see and submit upcoming events.
To contra dance: Visit www.oldfarmersball.com/schedule to find English country dancing, contra dancing and other regional dances in WNC.
To belly dance: Mahsati Janan teaches beginner belly dancing classes year-round. Visit www.mahsati-janan.com to learn more about classes with Janan, or visit www.ncbellydance.org/class for other listings of belly dance opportunities.
To dance like Beyonce and Janet: It's not too late to join Kathleen Hahn for a booty-shaking good time with Beyonce and Janet Jackson. Visit www.idodances.com for Hahn's class schedule or to learn more about personalized wedding dance choreography.

 ASHEVILLE — Asheville is nothing if not a haven for alternatives, and fitness is no exception.

 While the area has its fair share of gyms and traditional exercise regimes, locals are also getting fit more creatively: by dancing. 

Unlike hitting the treadmill or elliptical machines, Asheville fitness professionals say, dance can incorporate fun, unusual elements that some exercisers need to stay moving.

“The best thing you can do to make exercise a lifestyle is to find a way to be engaged with how you're moving,” said personal trainer Peggy Emory of Training Partners in Asheville.

“If that means running or lifting weights, that's wonderful. If that isn't what works for you, then go line dancing — that's great exercise. But you have to think outside of the box.”

Emory recommends zumba, the explosively popular dance-fitness craze found in most gyms, but points out that a gym setting doesn't work with every personality, and can't always fill a full fitness void.

“Use belly dancing as a way to move and work your abs in addition to a workout of crunches,” she said. “Or go contra dancing to get your cardio in, and hit the salsa clubs for some leg strengthening.”

Belly dancing is one of Asheville's signature seductive festival dances, and according to belly dance instructor Mahsati Janan, it's one of the best workouts in town.

“Belly dancing is aerobic, it works a lot on flexibility, and it's amazing for core strength,” said Janan.

“But one of the most attractive things about belly dancing is that it's not the kind of thing you have to have been working on since you were a kid. You can become accomplished in this type of dance even if you come into it as an adult,” she said.

“You definitely don't have to be tiny to get into belly dancing, and there's such a celebratory feel of acceptance here. Anybody can love it.”

Kathleen Hahn, a dance teacher, yoga instructor and certified personal trainer, believes in a fitness strategy of fun first.

“The reality for a lot of people is that if you're walking into a class thinking, ‘I'm going to exercise now,' it's a lot harder to get yourself to do it,” Hahn said.

“If you walk in thinking, ‘Oh, I'm just going to a superfun dance class,' it's a lot easier to do.”

Hahn, who runs a company in Asheville that specializes in personalized choreography for first wedding dances, has also embarked on a new teaching style — the school of Beyonce. Hahn leads two class series that teach the steps to Beyonce's “All the Single Ladies” and Janet Jackson's “All for You” music videos.

Hahn also works with a particular brand of dancer in Asheville that not every instructor will dare to tango with: the nondancer.

“I'm usually amazed at how quickly people with no experience can pick up choreography — I think everybody has a hidden dancer in them,” said Hahn, who welcomes dance novices to all her classes. “It's inspiring to help people let their guard down and let loose.”

In addition to the fun factor of a booty-shaking good time, Hahn said a dance session can be more than just entertaining.

“Dancing is really one of the most beneficial ways to exercise if it's done right,” said Hahn. “Dance is very full-body and works a lot of different muscle groups. It can be very aerobic and strengthening, and you're always doing something different.”

Ann Dunn, owner of the Fletcher School of Dance and artistic director of the Asheville Ballet, agreed that dance is more than just pretty movement.

“It's the best exercise in the world, and it combines that with a spiritual and emotional component,” she said. “Classical ballet combines all machines you can find at the gym, but you're not just doing it to stay fit, you're doing it as a human being.”

Even for the less hard-core dance enthusiast looking to shed a few pounds or tone up, Asheville has a beginner class for everything from Afro-Brazilian dance at Terpsicorps Dance Studio to the Western North Carolinian favorite, contra dancing, held weekly at The Grey Eagle and Warren Wilson College.

“Asheville is a place for creativity and doing things a little differently,” Hahn said. “Dancing is about letting loose and being uninhibited, and you don't have to be a pro to do that.”