“ UK Fitness Club Les Mills „
I have easily taken over 1000 dance classes in my life. Think ballet, tap, modern, acro, jazz, national, Greek, salsa and the weird Mexican thing that is Zumba. Think shows, exams, festivals. Think medals won in competitions held in pink churches in the backstreets of Blackpool. I like to dance, and when it's an energetic class that gets me fit at the same time then I win twice. Enter Body Jam, the dance themed class from the Les Mills series of workout options (the same people who brought you Body Pump, Body Combat, Body Step etc). Body Jam is one of the newest and (so far) least popular classes at my Mexican gym. It is timetabled twice a week, compared to Body Combat and Body Pump which rack up 10 and 8 slots respectively.
All the classes in the franchise work in the same way. Teachers must be certified specifically for this class, they must use authorised routines, and the set choreography that accompanies these. They must dress the part, which for Body Jam means a uniform of baggy, combat style pants with the BJ logo on. So far, so good.
What I find really strange about this class, though, is that the instructors are not dancing teachers. They may be aerobics instructors, or personal trainers or whatever, but most have not had proper dance training, which was a first for me since I've had some very qualified teachers before. You also get the impression that the choreography was designed by someone with more of a fitness background than dancing one. So, the result is more of a dance-aerobics class than a pure dance one, but it's fun, and a good workout nonetheless.
The classes start with a warm-up that works different body parts in isolations (ooh, proper dancing terminology there). You work your legs, obviously, but also your shoulders, your chest and your back, and your hips. This takes maybe 5 minutes and is more to get the body warm than to stretch it out. What comes next is what the BJ people call "some uncomplicated but exciting dance combinations". I would beg to differ. I do not always find these easy, and in any class I've taken people will already be tripping over their own feet at this point. The instructors have to use the set steps as previously mentioned, and although this builds up the combination with lots of repetition, the choreography is so tight they don't have time to stop and go over anything that people are finding hard. You keep adding bits to the combinations until you have a mini routine, and then you "perform" this all in one go several times through.
The next stage is a sort of recovery phase, where you can get your breath back, grab some water, and gradually build back up to another energy peak. There are generally two "routines" per class, with some shorter combinations in between. The two parts are never combined, so you don't have to remember the bits you learnt at the beginning of the class. Finally, there is the requisite cool down and some stretching before you slink out of there.
The dance moves you'll find in a Body Jam class are hip-hop / street dance style with a few more classical shapes thrown in. Think spins, a few Fame leaps, some kicks and body popping. Even though they're supposed to stick to the official releases and teach the class from start to finish, our instructor mixes things up, teaching routines from different releases all in one class. Sometimes she asks us what we feel like, and the answer is usually something with a Latin Rhythm, so we also have salsa and meringue moves perhaps more frequently than the track listings would suggest.
You can see said track listings for the different releases here: http://www.btstalk.com/music/body_jam.php Body Jam draws on a wide range of musical sources, including Beyonce, Shakira, Daft Punk, The Ting Tings, Kanye West. They have some classic songs as well as current or recent chart stuff, and it ranges from high energy to a bit more chilled depending on what part of the class you're at.
The choreography is really not that easy, and since it changes each class, just when you've figure it out it's time to move on. However, there are various options during the class, either a low impact one (like walking on the spot, not jogging) or a lighter choreography one, like doing just the steps without the arm movements. Our instructor always starts off with the full, complicated version, does this a few times and then calls out "Option!" and shows you the alternatives. There is no pressure to do the more energetic or more complicated versions but since in my gym we dance facing the mirrors, it's blatantly obvious who is not doing the same moves as the rest of us, which I guess some people might find uncomfortable. Equally, when you go wrong in front of a mirror, everyone can tell, because it's not normally just a case of using the wrong foot - it's more likely that you'll be spinning out of sync with the rest of the class, or bobbing up when they bob down. This may or may not be important to you, but I can imagine some people not gelling with the choreography and giving the class a miss after a few attempts.
Mostly I do this class at the weekend, when my gym is not very busy, but this week thanks to a cancelled class I also went one night, and the experience was very different. The studio was packed - more than 40 people were participating - and this affected the class in two ways. Firstly, it was hard to see the instructor, and you had to copy the person in front of you, hope they were copying the person in front of them, and pray that someone at the front knew what they were doing. Secondly, once you could see the steps, you couldn't really dance them, because there was little room. I was confined to scooting left and right no more than the people to either side of me were scooting left and right, which meant a less energetic, more constrained workout. If you want to fling yourself around, it's important to see the space, and know how many people have signed up before you take the class.
As a dance class, I do not rate this too highly. I don't like the way you learn a new routine each week without adding to the old ones. I don't like the way the focus is on dancing with attitude and less about precision (and smooth lines are positively frowned on - I'm the only one who has straight legs when we do arabesques, because I can't make myself not). I don't like the way you don't work on technique, or learn more demanding moves as the weeks go by - depending on what you know, and what CD they're using, you can switch from easy to hard and back again with each class you take. However, as an aerobics class, I do like it. The routines are energetic and therefore a good fat-burner, and you're constantly moving for the whole 50 minute class. I usually do a Body Combat class and then the Body Jam one straight after, and literally crawl out of there after my 2 hours are up. Or in other words, after doing this for a few months, I feel it is helping turn jelly thighs into a jammin' body.
When I bought my house, I decided to turn my second spare bedroom into a trophy room (ahem). In the end, it turned into a study with a trophy alcove when I remembered I'd never won all that much in my dancing / prancing / gym days. Well, I'm never going to win even a piddly bronze medal for coming 3rd out of 3 for Body Jam, but I do like it. I would recommend this class with the aforementioned caveats - go looking for a traditional dance class and you may be disappointed, but go expecting a more modern version of aerobics (fewer Grapevines, more spinning) and I think you might enjoy it.
To find a class near you, there is a class locator here:
A fitness training program that gives you a cardio workout where you are free to enjoy the sensation of dance.