NEW YORK Exercise loves company and adores rhythm, so why pound a treadmill when you can dance your cardio workout away?
Experts say dance-based workouts, from Zumba to Bollywood aerobics to flexes at the ballet barre, can take your fitness from grind to gladness, with an international flair.
"It's killing two birds with one stone," said instructor Rahul Nath, of the Bollywood-inflected aerobics class he developed and teaches at a 24 Hour Fitness center in California.
"You're learning the basics of a world dance while burning calories and building up the cardio," he said. "You come out of the class dripping with sweat, which is what everybody wants when they come to a gym."
The dance fitness class is not the dancer's dance class, according to Nath, a professional actor and dancer. He draws a careful distinction between the technique-based dance classes of performers and his fitness class, where the workout commands center stage.
"Fitness is the main key, to simplify the moves and get more aerobic elements in there" he said. "It's easy. To learn the art is another avenue."
A performance-based class could involve five or six moves in a 10-second routine, he said. But the fitness class repeats the same moves for up to 30 seconds.
"So people are comfortable in that move. Then I move on to another move within that format."
Bollywood dancing is generally classified as dancing to the soundtracks of East Indian movies, such as "Slumdog Millionaire, but Nath said the genre has absorbed so many Western influences, from hip-hop to rhythm and blues, that it has become accessible to all fitness levels and ages.
"(Choosing the) music is half the battle," Nath said. "Most people in my class are neither dancers nor Indian, so that's what makes the class so attractive. When you hear it you want to break out."
Driving music, easy-to-follow moves and the fun of forgetting you're exercising might also account for the runaway success of Zumba, a Latin-inspired dance fitness class.
Zumba and other dance workouts ranked ninth in the American College of Sports Medicine's recent survey of 2,620 health and fitness professionals worldwide predicting top fitness trends for 2012.
"Zumba seems to have hit that happy place where people can let go and be themselves," said Tim Keightley, who oversees group fitness at Gold's Gym, an international chain.
"Time flies by, and people don't feel stupid if they can't dance. Zumba's been here to stay for some time," he added.
Keightley said many older gym goers tend to crave a less solemn approach to fitness.
"Everyone talks about baby boomers," he said. "We find that older adults want to enjoy themselves. They don't want to take (their workouts) so seriously."
At Equinox, the national chain of luxury gyms, director of group fitness Carol Espel was genuinely surprised by the runaway success of Barre Burn, a low-impact, metabolism-boosting group fitness class that combines elements of dance and yoga.
"We had no idea that members would go so crazy for this class," Espel said.
What doesn't surprise her is the enduring popularity of dance fitness classes in general.
"Dance has always been around," she said. "It's the joy of movement. It will never go away."