10 Dance-Inspired Fitness Classes You Have to Try

In a fitness rut? Let loose—and tighten up—with these dance exercise classes. Don’t worry—leg warmers are optional

November 9, 2012
dancer stretching on barre

You can achieve the long, lean look of a ballerina even if you don't have a clue what first position is. (Search: What is first position?) Ballet-inspired barre workouts use the ballet barre as a prop for bodyweight isometric moves, holding positions like pliés and squats for a minute or more to work both major and smaller stabilizing muscles. "It's very challenging," says says certified group fitness instructor Lisa Welko, president and owner of Ellipse Fitness. "You are moving deeply in ways you wouldn't otherwise, even with dumbbells."

Sign Up! Look for Pure Barre, The Bar Method, and Barre3 locations in your city. They are some of the most popular barre franchises and have locations across the country where all they do is barre. At your first class, talk to your instructor about any knee or hip limitations so she can work with you to safely modify poses.

Discover how to sculpt a lean yoga body in 15 minutes a day!

pole dancing class
Pole Dancing

After an hour session on the pole, this dance/gymnastics/acrobatics hybrid workout will leave you feeling muscles you never knew you had. Pole dancing classes can build serious strength, especially in your core and upper body, says Welko. (Video: Go behind-the-scenes at a pole dancing class!) Intro classes often start with spins such as "the fireman," in which you hook your legs around the pole and spin (not drop!) to the floor. Most of the class is spent on the pole learning tricks, but often includes floor work to shore up strength and get you ready for advanced gravity-defying moves. (Use this poster to motivate you to try something new!)

Sign Up! You don't have to put your pasties on to work up a sweat. Wear comfortable--and supportive--fitness apparel. Depending on the class, you'll wear sneakers or go barefoot.

Zumba class

Since it took the floor in 2001, Zumba has become today's most popular dancercise class, with 140,000 locations across more than 150 countries throwing "fitness parties" every week. Zumba matches moves from Latin, Creole, and African dance traditions to top 40 tunes in fun, loose, and laughter-filled groups of all ages and fitness levels.

Sign Up! Zumba is a trademarked class and certifies its instructors, so ask your gym point-blank if its Zumba instructors are certified, says Welko. A trained instructor will be able to get you the best burn while protecting you from injury. You can also find a party near you at zumba.com.

Bollywood dance class

Bollywood is a term used to describe Hindi-language, often-romantic musical films--and the foot-stomping, fast-paced dance moves that go with them. Bollywood dance combines Indian folk moves and hip-hop moves to Hindi pop beats.

Sign Up! Search Bing for Bollywood dance classes near you, but be warned they haven't swept every American city--yet. Luckily, Bing's virtual shelves are stocked full of Bollywood fitness videos.

Burlesque dancer

Once a staple of cabaret and gentlemen's clubs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, burlesque-style dancing has become an empowering outlet for fitness-minded femme fatales. "The first step to getting fit is feeling comfortable in your skin," Welko says. In burlesque fitness classes, students do moves like the infamous bump-and-grind and shoulder shimmy along with squats and lunges to build strength. Try watching Christina Aguilera in Burlesque and not want to get her body! (It's rumored she spent 14 hours a day dancing during the filming of the movie.) Some classes even play tunes from the movie's soundtrack to get you in the mood.

Sign Up! Run a Bing search for "burlesque fitness classes" to find a class near you, or liven up your living room with a burlesque workout DVD. Either way, wearing comfortable workout clothes is the way to go. Some women like to jazz things up with some fishnets or a boa. Do whatever makes you feel flirty--and fit.

Salsa dancing

If you love all things Latin, it's time to move those hips to the beat. Salsa mimics the hip-gyrating movements of...well, you know...and works your hips and legs like crazy. Plus, salsa lessons are muy social, and your newfound friends will make sure you don't miss a class.

Sign Up! Dance studios, rec centers, and gyms offer beginner salsa classes for students of all ages and skill levels. They typically involve performing sultry steps with a partner, so either bring someone with you or be prepared to get up close and personal with some strangers. And while the chicas on Dancing with the Stars wear high heels during their numbers, beginners should wear sneakers to prevent a twisted ankle.

Nia class
Courtesy of Nia

If you combine dance, martial arts, and yoga, you've got Neuromuscular Integrative Action, or Nia Designed by two former aerobic instructors, the program encourages each participant to move across the entire room, and discourages the use of mirrors, all to help seal the mind-body bond. "We all need to realize weight loss is not just about exercise and diet. Our mindset has to be right," Welko says. "When we strengthen the bond between mind and body, that's when you are going to really improve your health."

Sign Up! For a relative unknown, Nia is in a shocking amount of cities. Search by ZIP code at nianow.com. And leave the sneakers at home.

Belly dancing
Belly Dance

You've never moved your hips like this. Belly dancing's sexy swiveling and sashaying works your hips, pelvis, and core to tone deep, underlying muscles and increase your flexibility. It's low impact, making it a great option for any joint-conscious gym-goer. With its roots in Moroccan, Spanish, Egyptian, and Russian cultures, belly dancing classes often feature traditional music, scarves, and even tambourines, which can all up your fitness routine's fun factor.

Sign Up! Once you start looking, you'll be shocked just how many gyms offer classes in belly dancing. But remember that it focuses on hip, pelvic, and core movements, so it's best when combined with other workouts for a full-body burn.

Hip hop dance class

If loud music and full-out dancing is your thing, hip-hop dance classes are sure to get your heart pumping, Welko says. By teaching fast-paced routines, some classes even promise to burn up to 650 calories per hour. So if you really want to burn fat, go all-out and don't worry about looking silly in the mirror. (Everyone is looking at themselves anyway.)

Sign Up! Hip-hop dance classes have been straight-up gym-class heroes for decades now, so ask your gym if it offers classes and if its instructors are trained. (Having crazy good moves isn't enough of a credential to teach.) Hip-hop involves a lot of jumping and quick body isolations, which can pose injury risk for newbies, so start with a beginner's class if you're new to the moves.

Masala Bhangra
Courtesy of The Masala Bhangra Workout
Masala Bhangra

Luckily, you don't have to be able to pronounce this dance class to get down. (FYI, Masala means "spicy" in Hindi and Bhangra is a traditional folk dance from Punjab in northern India.) It blends Bhangra, Bollywood, and traditional exercise moves for a low-impact cardio workout.

Sign Up! Masala Bhangra is a trademarked fitness workout, so for the real deal, search for classes near you at masaladance.com and beware of any "Masala Bhangra-inspired" workout classes. You can also check out Masala Bhangra's workout DVDs on amazon.com.