Dancing away the pounds

Saturday, August 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Not many people love to exercise.

But while clicking your heels to the beat of updated Irish tunes, shaking all you got to the latest hip-hop release, or making your stomach do the wave to melodious south Asian music, you might just realize that exercise is not just exercise anymore.

Local dance instructors say dancing provides hearty aerobic exercise, and that classes for clickers, shakers, clickers and wavers are becoming more popular in the Tulsa area.

Kinsey Westwood, a student at Oklahoma State University, commutes to Tulsa to study a dance not often seen on this side of the pond _ Irish dance, similar to Riverdance.

Westwood has dance experience and has been studying the form about three years.

``It's just something different,'' the 19-year-old said. ``It's really awesome to be up there with a line of girls all doing the same thing. And it's fun and good exercise.''

Sandy K. Grigsby, who would only admit to being the oldest in her Irish dancing company, is a fitness professional and has been dancing with teacher Rhonda Pettibone since Pettibone began giving Irish dance lessons at her studio, Dance, Inc.

Grigsby said she's still dancing at her age because once she started, she never stopped.

``Dancing is it,'' she said. ``The cardio is unbelievable.''

She enjoys Irish dance over traditional forms like ballet, tap and jazz, partly because it is a challenge. ``It makes you breathe and keeps your circulation going. That's for sure,'' Grigsby said.

Pettibone learned Irish dance while growing up in show business in Australia. She said the type she teaches in Tulsa, based largely on springing into the air doing various foot steps, is the most aerobic dance she's ever performed.

``If somebody wants an aerobic-type workout, this will give it to them,'' she said.

Pettibone has students as young as 4, and teaches about the same number of adults as children. While most of her students are female, she hopes for more men, saying the form is good for guys who ``have a complex'' about dancing.

A dance form that young adults of both sexes increasingly enjoy is hip-hop.

Jayme Ward, teacher and owner of The Dancers' Answer Studio, 8600 S. Lewis Ave., said hip-hop doesn't take a lot of formal technique, so it is good for those with little or no formal dance training.

Most of Ward's hip-hop students are teenagers; she doesn't advocate the form for those under age 10, because of some common, provocative moves, or for those over 40, because they generally don't like hip-hop music enough to dance to it and could risk injury.

``Hip-hop is just a freestyle, loose dance that only requires some rhythm and funk,'' she said.

There are more than a half a dozen forms of hip-hop, Ward said, from the informal street dance, which started on New York City street corners, to breakdancing, which involves spinning and other body movement on the ground. Then there's the self-explanatory hoppin' and steppin'.

Hip-hop is gaining popularity because of its presence in music videos, Ward said.

``If music moves you, and you're not really inspired to exercise, this is a way to exercise without even knowing it,'' she said.

Hip-hop is an excellent form of cardiovascular and muscular exercise, she said, but also improves a person's sense of rhythm and timing.

Ward, a former aerobics teacher, said hip-hop is probably twice as fun as a typical aerobics class and is safer for the legs, despite the fact it probably doesn't burn as many calories.

Jennie Speed, 17, has been taking hip-hop classes with Ward for about nine months, and just started jazz and pom as well.

``I just really like the style of it,'' she said. ``It's different than everything else. It kind of challenges me because its different.''

Speed believes that hip-hop dancing is more of a workout than other forms of dance because it is faster paced and requires more movement.

Beth Reiten has a simple reason for continuing the dance she began learning three years ago, belly dancing. ``I do it because it feels good,'' said Reiten, a 32-year-old librarian at OSU, who commutes to Tulsa for belly-dancing classes, practice or to perform with a dancing troupe, the Purple Roses of Cairo, at the Shadia Dahlal Dance Conservatory.

Reiten and many others feel that belly dancing uses more natural body movements than traditional forms like ballet.

A beginners' class at Shadia Dahlal's studio includes intensive stretching and then practicing a couple of typical dance moves such as squeezing the gluts to create the look of hip popping, walking while squeezing the gluts, and using chest and abdominal muscles to make the torso wave.

Belly dancing provides an excellent aerobic workout that burns around 350 calories an hour. It also makes for muscle work and stretching.

Janis Moody, who also uses the stage name Arianna, is the owner of Gypsy Fire, another local belly-dancing studio located at 6815 E. 15th St. She said yoga and stretching are incorporated into her classes, which are open to women of all ages, and even beneficial to pregnant women.

She said that belly dancing has many mental and emotional advantages as well, raising self-esteem, helping with a woman's body image and helping women through difficult mental states.

``It feels good mentally as well as physically,'' Reiten agreed, also speaking of the obvious benefits of using belly dancing as exercise _ tone and weight loss.

``I have energy. I'm more comfortable in my clothes, and I'm comfortable in my own skin again, which is just as important if not more so.

``That's honestly what keeps me coming back.''