You’ve launched a dance-based group exercise programme. Why?
I’ve seen my two daughters try to tackle competitive sports at school and it’s made me realise there’s a big gap – an opportunity to create a way of keeping active even if you’re not an athlete of any kind.
I also know from my own experience how dancing can make you feel and give you confidence. It’s a lovely way of keeping active without feeling intimidated. I just wanted everyone to be able to get a bit of it.
Tell us about the programme
It’s called Diverse Dance Mix (DDMIX) and it brings together all sorts of styles and eras of music and dance. We do about 10 styles in every class, each with their own specially created music. We’ve created 20 genres so far – including flamenco, line dancing, 1990s vogueing, African, 1960s, Scottish reeling – and we’ll launch about 12 new genres each year.
Nowadays people expect variety, so we have to mix it up and make sure everyone finds something they like in each class – particularly as we want to bring in people who wouldn’t normally try dance.
The main thing is, DDMIX isn’t designed to put any pressure on the participants. They don’t have to be any good at dancing – it’s just about having fun. Even then though, if you have the word ‘dance’ in the title, people always take a step back – so we refer to it as ‘fitness aerobics’.
Where is DDMIX available?
We’re delivering adult classes in community locations in the UK, as well as at Champneys, and David Lloyd Leisure is looking to launch DDMIX as part of its DL Kids offering.
You can also download a virtual taster class from our website – but for me, it’s all about getting out and about with friends, doing the class together, having fun, maybe tying it in with going out for some tapas afterwards.
You mention DL Kids. Are children a big focus for you?
In fact my main focus at the moment is schools. For me – with the pressures at school only getting harder – it’s so important that kids have a release and a chance to express themselves. We’re therefore doing a number of pilots with state schools. The kids have no inhibitions and they love it. They love the bursts of energy and the chopping and changing between styles. We encourage them to jump a bit higher, to lunge a bit deeper, but we don’t make it technical and we never tell them they’re doing anything wrong.
We do eras like 1960s – with moves like the Monkey and the Funky Chicken – and we have a Rocky boxing theme for the 1980s, so it works for boys as well as girls. In any case, I think the public perception of men in dance has changed. Young boys are much more into it these days.
What results are you seeing from the pilots so far?
From the kids’ perspective, they’ve gone from ‘forgetting’ their PE kit to always having it with them, because they’re looking forward to the DDMIX classes.
The teachers have also noticed a difference in attitude. The kids get all their angst out in DDMIX, so they’re more focused in their academic lessons.
If we can continue to deliver strong results, hopefully we’ll get funding to roll DDMIX out as part of state school PE. But it will need support – it isn’t designed to make money, so we need funding to keep producing the music and programming.
What excites you about DDMIX?
It’s a chance to show people how dance can make you – can make everyone – feel. So many people shy away from it, even kids. They think dance isn’t for them. But I believe we make decisions far too early. We all have that heartbeat, that rhythm in us, and our classes show how simple it can be.
We’re not expecting people to become qualified dancers. It’s just about being active and happy. Happy being active.
What’s your message to gyms?
I think gyms sometimes believe that, unless people can feel a difference after their first class – walking away with aching muscles – it isn’t going to work. I don’t think that’s right.
Just giving people a sense of wellbeing, fun and achievement – having been able to put some dance steps together – will satisfy many people. I think gyms need to broaden their understanding of what people across all different age groups want.
Do you now dance for fun?
Absolutely. When I gave up dancing, I was constantly latching myself on to anything I could find to act as stress relief. I used to go to contemporary, jazz, tap classes, Zumba… After dancing all my life, it was a revelation to be able to enjoy it in such a different way. In the end, exercising has to be fun for me. I can’t get serious about it.