Finding a workout that's fun and involves other people — and gets you out of the sterile confines of the gym — that's the Holy Grail of fitness, isn't it?

Finding a workout that's fun and involves other people — and gets you out of the sterile confines of the gym — that's the Holy Grail of fitness, isn't it?

Some wildly-dressed, high-energy, fitness crazies in Ashland think they've found the answer with something that's exploding across the nation — or at least on YouTube. It's called Dance Walk, and it's just what it sounds like. You dance, but you do it while walking out there in public on the sidewalk.

No, you are not carrying signs suggesting you occupy anything, except maybe your bootie, as you prance unrestrained down the street with your dancing homies and beckoning anyone from "the public" to join in and be your dancing friend.

"It's absolutely free-form improv," says Natalya Koogler, a tie-dyed grandma who gets the event going on Facebook, choosing a time and place to launch — and using such rhythmic, old favorites as "Little Darlin" and stuff by Elton John, Donovan and Michael Franti, played on a boombox.

It's great for street theater, acting out inhibitions, making new friends and seeing the town. And it's free. But is it exercise?

"Yes! It's an amazing workout. I'm sweating so hard, I've had to pace myself," she exclaims, adding that the usual route on Saturday mornings is from the Growers Market at Oak and Main, down the "Beaver Slide" from Lithia Way to Water Street, through the Crafter's Market on Guanajuato Way behind the Plaza, then back through town to the public library.

"Lots of people join us. It's great fun, but once only two people came and I was too embarrassed to do it."

Koogler's granddaughter, middle-schooler Emily Allen of Phoenix, says, "She's the UnGrandma. Dance/walk is just regular stuff. It's the way she always is. Sometimes we do the hula to it."

Of course, being improv, Dance Walk is no scientifically measured, hardbody-making workout, but it bases a lot of its claims for health and fitness on the fact that "if you ain't havin' fun, you ain't gettin' really fit," Koogler says.

"It's critical to start the day with fun. Then you just remain uplifted all day. Dancing always brings you a better mind set, especially in these terrifying times. The movement is tremendous for keeping you in good health."

Prancing about the Plaza recently in a group of about seven people (others would dance for a while and move on), Will Spears of Talent stopped to say, "It's great exercise, feels really good, lots of fun and people on the street always smile and laugh — and some join in. It has a positive effect on them."

Wendy Seldon of Ashland said she dreamed of dance/walking before it became popular and saw her Southern Oregon University classmates dancing to and from class with her.

"It's such a great form of self-expression. I dance as often as I can. It brings out the joy in everyone and enlivens us. Instead of walking around in the same, set frame of mind, thinking and analyzing, this so reminds me of the real joy in life," says Seldon.

Aletha Nowitzky says she takes every opportunity to dance, and "I'm definitely up for a new venue. For health, I say if it's enjoyable, then it's good exercise. I don't like exercise that's too hard, especially when you're not in the mood for it."

The fad got its start from a guy dancing down New York's Fifth Avenue with earbuds booming, says Koogler. A reporter did a package on it at He started doing his own dance walk and drew in scores of people to follow suit.

Koogler posted a local Dance Walk Facebook page at, where she wrote, "Fun new fitness craze! Join us in a walking dance mob downtown Ashland every Saturday (as long as it's not raining in the morning). Meet at 10:15 a.m. in front of the Ashland Library, we'll bring the music, you be ready to shake it!"

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at