Dance Fitness Facilitator Gets People Grooving Outside
For years, Heather Winia has been inviting people to get their groove on outside. During West Michigan’s warm weather months, she can be found leading dance sessions at parks, beaches and even on Grand Rapids’ iconic Blue Bridge.
Her dance classes attract people of all ages and fitness levels. The allure is spending time outdoors and moving. Winia describes the dance sessions as the most fun-filled, high-intensity interval training she has ever done.
Students often tell her that dancing just makes them happy. They can sing and move their body any way they want and adjust their intensity depending on how they are feeling that day.
“The music moves you, and you just are there, present 100%, and get to enjoy it,” Winia said.
She teaches the Body Groove fitness style, performing two to three moves per song focused on a different purpose or benefit. There’s no right or left, or front or back.
“You get to do it your own way. It’s not choreography at all,” Winia said. “It’s really simple. A couple of moves per song and then we just dance them. You have time to really get into them and explore possibilities. Then, you can get creative with it. If you want stronger legs, then you take it lower so you can experience how lower feels in your body. You get to see how it works in your body, and the benefits then come along with all that creative exploration.”
Just get moving
She has been teaching the Body Groove method for 11 years and is one of 10 master teachers of the style around the world. Winia majored in dance at Hope College, then taught fitness classes at Grand Valley State University for 14 years.
Her dance sessions appeal to those who might not prefer traditional methods of exercise.
“One woman began coming 10 years ago. She comes to my class, and any event if she can possibly get to, and she just will say, ‘I hate exercise but I love dancing,’” Winia said.
In her dance fitness sessions, there are no lines, so people aren’t staring at someone’s back. Everyone moves around in a free flow. As they move past each other, they might stretch out an arm to high-five each other or give a booty bump.
“It’s just a fun way to connect with people that you don’t even know, ” said Winia.
Dancing with the flow
Her advice is to just turn on the music and get moving. Even taking a break during the day to dance to one song can boost your mood and energy, she says. Sometimes the biggest challenge to joining her dance sessions is not feeling self-conscious about the dance moves.
“We’ve heard people say, ‘I was dancing in my living room and I felt so stupid.’ You can’t get it wrong. Nobody’s there judging you. We’re just judging ourselves,” said Winia. “Nobody cares what you look like. We need to give ourselves permission to be amazing, to be competent, to be cool, to be weird.”
A fitness instructor for about 30 years, Winia also teaches outdoor yoga, cross training and paddleboard fitness.
Still, she believes dancing offers benefits not found in most traditional forms of exercise. For example, running and walking typically don’t move the body sideways or have people crossing their feet or going backward.
“If we want to be able to move all these ways and be capable, dancing is one of the best ways to do that,” Winia said. “I love yoga, and I feel like it aligns us and helps us stretch, but it doesn’t always help us with fluid movements. When we dance, we can flow from one body part to the other. It keeps us more flexible and mobile.”
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Photo credit: Heather Winia