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Add some WOW! to your workout

Bored with the gym? Bored with your love life? Ratchet both up a few notches by exploring a new (yet ancient) form of exercise - dance.

We're not talking tap dance or the old soft shoe or even aerobics … no, no, no! We're talking the sensuous, come-hither undulations of belly dancing and the beautifully bawdy and sinuous gestures of pole dancing.

Instructors and students of both art forms point to the positive attitude and confidence they gain through dance. The transformation from slumped and depressed to a "diva attitude" happens through movement, says Gwen LaShonse-Balma, former professional ballerina and owner of The Poledance Experience in Medford.

"The quickest way to not feel depressed is to stand up, take deep breaths, move your body," she says. "Once you do that you're sending a message to your brain that you're in control. The more you practice, the more it happens and soon you can move mountains - get a better job, get a raise, find a boyfriend, and your kids will listen and respect you."

All this through sensual, sexy, sometimes silly dance?

"There are a lot of people getting more and more interested in it," says Emily Alrick, belly dance instructor at Tribal Fusion in Ashland. "I think women are tired of going to exercise classes that are geared to make them smaller. Here they're going to classes where you're making friends, dancing, listening to music. It's really joyful to do."

The first thing most students notice is the sense of community in their dance classes as women of all shapes, sizes and ages come together.

"In our culture, women are often catty and competitive. Not here," says Ashland chiropractor Cindy Wright, who has been belly dancing for about six years. "In belly dance, there is nothing but support and celebration of each other. You feel like you have joined some fabulous sisterhood where we appreciate all the other forms of womanhood besides the supermodel."

Belly dancing aims to dispel the harsh personal judgments most women have about their bodies and can be the vehicle that drives a person away from a lifetime of body issues.

Pole dancing delivers equally stunning results. "Once someone drops their inhibitions, you get more juice out of life," says LaShonse-Balma. "You're not so worried about what other people think and that's attractive."

An enthusiastic dancer-for-fun, Ashland Realtor Kirsten Schipper started pole dancing to supplement her hiking and yoga fitness routine. Her first class was "terrifying and exhilarating all at once."

"I was terrified to be in front of people because I'm rather shy but I was exhilarated because I was dancing again," she remembers. "It made me feel right at home and in my body which was what I was missing in my day-to-day life."

With moves like the Stag, the Swinging Stag, the Martini and the Reverse Corkscrew, it's hard not to have fun "working the pole," say students. And it doesn't hurt that nearly every woman looks good doing it.

In fact, both belly and pole dancing have been credited with keeping romance alive and well in a relationship.

"It's the best thing that ever happened to me and my marriage," says LaShonse-Balma, who learned pole dancing as a way to stay sexy and fun as she approached her 50th birthday and 16th anniversary. "I get dressed up and it's the best entertainment that we have brought into our home."

Of course you don't need a partner or even a romantic life to justify involvement in either of these physical art forms-they're both killer workouts and produce not only a rockin' "bod," but oftentimes a new sense of strength and empowerment. And the workout's a heckuva lot more fun than an hour on the treadmill!

Maybe it's the belly rolls, maybe it's the exotic music, maybe it's the heightened heart rate. Whatever it is, belly dancing and pole dancing deliver great workouts without the exercise bikes, competition and group-think of gyms.

Available for beginners, intermediate and advanced students, tribal belly dance classes focus on strength training to hone a healthy core. Expect up to 12 women in a class, which starts with a stretching warm-up. Specific exercises that strengthen abdominals and the lower back are added, followed by drills.

"This is where we break down the movement over and over at different speeds to music to get the muscle memory that we need," says Emily Alrick, instructor at Ashland's Tribal Fusion. "Then we'll make variations on that to show what you can do with it to change it and make it your own."

All belly dancing can lead to improved posture, core strength and flexibility. "These are things that keep your body younger and can help in avoiding osteoporosis," Alrick says.

In pole dance classes, expect to start with a warm-up followed by lots of stretching to prepare for hip circles, says Gwen LaShonse-Balma, owner of The Poledance Experience in Medford. "Then we'll do cardio and strength training before working the pole," she says.

Because the pole work requires upper body strength and uses the built-in resistance of a student's body weight, it creates a better workout and burns more calories than a good gym session, says the instructor. "The result is improved muscle tone and strength after just a few sessions."

Add some WOW! to your workout