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Youth Fitness … Make it Fun!

by | Main Blog, Population Groups

“Childhood obesity is a huge problem in our society, so programming any form of dance, sports, or tumbling/gymnastics classes are very important to keeping our children physically fit and healthy.” ~Karol Johnston

As fitness professionals, we can help battle the childhood obesity epidemic. One strategy that works with well with kids: Put a disguise on exercise!

The Fun Factor

We can lure in kids by disguising exercise with fun.  This is the exact approach that Zumba took with its slogan, “Ditch the workout, join the party!” As a result, Zumba created its own astonishing healthy epidemic: 15 million participants in 180 countries take classes at 200,000 locations (Zumba.com).

Here’s how the disguise works for Zumba:

  • First-time exercisers enter the Zumba arena, lured by disco lights, tassel-accessorizing cargo pants, and upbeat catchy music.
  • They get absorbed in the fun party-feel and their endorphins take over.
  • Before they know it, they are now addicted to Zumba and must regularly attend the “party,” all while improving their overall health.
  • Next thing they know, they are decking themselves out in their own new Zumba pants.

Since the astonishing success of Zumba’s dance craze, numerous other dance-based fitness formats*—from Hip Hop to Belly Dancing to Country—have emerged with the same energy and outlook: the fun factor is top priority and, therefore, the disguise. And working with kids is no different!

*Check out our Fitness Education Directory for a full list of Dance Fitness certifications and workshops.

Dance-Fitness Classes for KIDS - an Interview

More fitness facilities—both small private clubs and large city organizations—are starting to offer kids dance-fitness classes, luring in kids with fun games, dress-up, and playful instructors. If your fitness facility does not yet offer any kids dance opportunities, consider starting some (check out my article Bringing Group Exercise into Schools: Dance, Strength & Yoga for suggestions on how to do this).

Let’s take a look at what works for an organization that has been providing such opportunities since the 1980’s. Near Portland, Oregon, Cedar Hills Recreation Center, which is in the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District (THPRD), offers over 40 kids dance classes per week, such as Hip-Hop Street Dance and Belly Dance. The center also offers a large number of gymnastic and sports-related classes, but for the purpose of this article, we will focus on their dance program.

Chelsey Stanger and Karol Johnston, who are two acting Recreation Program Coordinators at Cedar Hills, share insight and advice on how to incorporate dance classes at your facility.

My questions are in bold. Notice that their answers always circle back to having fun.

Angie: What is it that kids seem to like most about the dance classes at Cedar Hills?

  • Chelsey: Kids enjoy the fun, friendly environment we offer at the Rec Center. They enjoy the games, friendships, and learning new routines. The younger girls love their tutus, games and seeing all of their friends in class. When kids are having fun, they are engaged and want to keep coming back.
  • Karol: Dance classes get kids moving! It gives them the freedom to be themselves and have fun expressing themselves through dance.

Angie: What does Cedar Hills do to keep kids returning for dance classes?

  • Chelsey: To keep kids returning to our programs, we try to provide a FUN and safe environment for them to learn and grow. Our instructors implement games and funny quotes to keep their attention throughout the entire class. When class is over, the kids line up for a sticker or a stamp (and some say that is their favorite part)!
  • Karol: We offer classes for all age groups, starting as young as 3 years old and up to 13 years. This allows children in our community to continue to participate and move up to more advanced level dance classes. We also offer various types of dance classes, from the traditional ballet and tap, to creative dance, to hip hop. So there’s something for everyone.

Angie: What advice do you have for group-fitness instructors who would like to implement a kids dance class at their fitness facility?

  • Chelsey: Being a fitness instructor myself and having worked with kids, my best advice is to stay upbeat and animated. Kids LOVE to hear the joy and happiness in your voice when you are explaining an activity. I tell instructors to pretend you are talking on the phone with someone and you want them to hear your smile!
  • Karol: Also keep in mind the days and times you are offering the classes, as weekends are good for working parents. Consider classes after school, and make sure not to offer classes too late in the evening for younger children. Lastly, you’ll want to be prepared with your curriculum, making sure you have your goals & objectives defined for your classes. Children learn best while they are playing, so have a balance of fun and skill learning in your classes and they will be a success.

Angie: What kind of instructor requirements are necessary to lead dance classes at Cedar Hills?

  • Chelsey: A dance background is a MUST. Zumba Kids also requires a specialty certification.

(end of interview)

Other Considerations

The fun factor is crucial, but here are some additional serious considerations when incorporating kids dance-fitness formats into your programming:

  1. MUSIC SELECTION: Your normal favorite dance songs are not going to cut it for this crowd. Listen to lyrics carefully: avoid references to sex, alcohol, and drugs. Also, to avoid copyright infringement, choose music from professional fitness resources (learn more in this article on music licensing laws: Can I use this song in my group exercise class? Music licensing laws).
  2. REPETITION for easy learning. Keep dance routines simple with repetition in key places, such as the chorus. Feeling successful is a part of having fun. (These tips for creating easy to follow dance classes can be applied to any youth dance class.)
  3. COST of classes/sessions: Consider offering steep discounts and/or scholarships for kids who demonstrate financial need.
  4. COMMUNITY SIZE: If you reside in a small community, weekly classes may not sustain. Consider implementing special monthly events, such as a Friday “Kids Night Out” that involves dancing, fitness “games,” yoga, or other popular attractions in your community. It will still bring kids to fitness instead of a slothful video game.
  5. ADDITIONAL EDUCATION: Kids’ bodies do function differently than adults’. Consider seeking out additional education and/or training for this population. Discover all the options in our Fitness Education Directory - Youth Specialty Certifications & Courses.

WAIT! What if dance isn’t your thing? No problem. Just think like a child! Seek out activities that kids feel are “fun.” Start asking questions. Research what the kids in your area are into right now.  Cup stacking? Skateboarding?  Jump roping? Talk to people and have some fun!

Make sure to check out Choreo Exchange to find fitness “games” for kids. Plus, if you love working with kids and have some great ideas, make sure to add your own class ideas and plans to the exchange!

Whatever fitness activities you prepare, be sure to disguise the exercise and get kids moving!!

Works Cited

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