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Adding Culture to Exercise

Hip new exercise classes incorporate ethnic themes.
WebMD Feature

It's Friday night and the sound of Latin salsa is pulsating from a studio on Manhattan's Lower West Side. But the people inside aren't swaying to the music; they're working out on stationary bicycles: "indoor cycling." Instructor Giovanni Ortiz urges his class on, shouting "Muevetelo! Move it!" with a swivel of his hips.

As the country's population continues to diversify, so too does the demographic of those who teach workout classes. Bringing their cultures to the job, Ortiz and other instructors are reinventing the fitness craze popularized by Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons 20 years ago.

Ortiz first taught indoor cycling using meditative music filled with wind-like sounds and eerie flutes. But he quickly discovered the power of Latin music. "You need enthusiasm to do [indoor cycling]," he says. "Latin music gets to the heart of the matter. It gets into your soul."

Some instructors say they develop new classes from a desire for a change of pace. Others want to distinguish themselves in the booming fitness market.

"The easiest way to be different is to go back to your roots," explains Ken Alan, spokesman for the American Council on Exercise. "I think we're going to be seeing more and more of these kinds of programs in the future."

Going International

At Crunch Fitness Center in Chicago, aerobic exercising has been taken to a new level. Live drummers provide a Latin Groove beat at one class, while another features an aerobic jam to hip-hop music. In California, cardio funk and aerobic belly-dancing classes are the rage.

In New York, yoga has gone hard-core. Members of the New York Road Runner's Club can't get enough of Power Yoga, a class that focuses on poses that stretch the legs and build the lower back muscles.

Whatever the reasons behind the creation of these "ethnoexercise" programs, says Alan, they're good for the industry. "They put more things on the menu for the public to select." Ethnic-flavored programs attract many who wouldn't normally attend group classes, and help keep the faithful from burning out.

Alan also points out that every 15 years or so the fitness industry faces the challenge of turning a new generation into enthusiasts. "Girls don't want to do the same workout their mothers did. By tying in something ethnic, cultural, or even generational, you make it just different enough from their mom's workout."

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