Strictly Come Dancing inspiring County Durham people to waltz their way to fitness

People in the region are discovering how the steps of Latin and ballroom dancing can improve health and fitness

Instructor Kimberley Cowan with class
Instructor Kimberley Cowan with class

Fans of popular TV show Strictly Come Dancing have seen for themselves how hitting the dance floor has helped the celebrity contestants to slim down and tone up.

TV presenter Susanna Reid is said to have lost 7lb and journalist John Sergeant more than two stones when they were put through their paces by the professionals during their time on the show.

Now County Durham health project Move into Sport, which aims to tackle obesity, diabetes and heart disease has teamed up with award-winning North East community enterprise Nouveau Dance and Fitness to offer classes in FitSteps – a unique exercise programme designed by Strictly stars themselves.

FitSteps is the result of a collaboration between two of the UK’s most famous ballroom dancers ,Natalie Lowe and Ian Waite, and Britain’s most successful swimmer Mark Foster.

During training sessions for the show last year the trio came up with the idea of mixing the graceful steps of Ballroom with the up-tempo steps of Latin dances to stay fit and keep trim in a way that would appeal to everyone – even if they couldn’t dance.

Moves that audiences have enjoyed on-screen such as the Jive, Cha cha, Samba, Tango, Waltz and Quickstep are broken down into easily learnable sections that can be delivered at varying levels of effort to match different fitness levels.

There is no need for a partner and groups and participants have included men and women ranging in age from nine to 74.

The FitSteps classes are part of the Move into Sport programme that has already helped more than 18,000 people to introduce more activity into their lives by getting involved in sports and activities ranging from running and swimming, to netball, rowing, martial arts and much more.

Funded by Sport England and Durham County Council Public Health with the aim reducing diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the beginners’ classes aim to make activities so fun and enjoyable that participants forget they are exercising.

FitSteps sessions are being offered at a number of locations across County Durham by award-winning social enterprise Nouveau Dance and Fitness.

Instructor and keen dancer Kimberley Cowan underwent training with Natalie Lowe herself and says the feedback from participants so far has been fantastic.

“Everyone has seen from the show how much fitter the contestants are by the end,” she said. “FitSteps really gives you a whole body workout, but you are having so much fun, you don’t realise at the time.

Julie Brammer taking part in FitSteps class

“As well as your legs and stomach, a lot of people say they are surprised by how their arms ache afterwards too.

“We start of by learning a few steps then putting them into a simple routine.

“I’ve had brilliant feedback from people, such as how it has helped lower their blood pressure, lose weight and also make friends and socialise too.

“It also a great class for people just getting back into exercise as you can put as much effort in as you like.

“One lady at a class has had a hip replacement and while she has found she can’t manage some of the turns, still joins in with most of the steps. Her high blood pressure has fallen since she started the classes and she says she feels happier too.

“Dancing has been a big part of my life since I was two and I love being able to pass on my love of dancing to others in these classes and seeing them catch the bug.”

Nouveau Dance and Fitness delivers fun, affordable, innovative and effective dance and fitness programmes across the North East.

Founder and director Bethany Ainsley said: “Dancing can really be infectious and it is a great way to get people moving. When you are enjoying yourself and having a laugh you don’t realise you are exercising.

“Everyone who has watched Strictly has seen how the celebrity contestants lose weight through the course of the series and now these classes mean that anyone can include the dance steps into their weekly exercise regime.”

John Sergeant dances with Kristina Rihanoff on Strictly Come Dancing
John Sergeant dances with Kristina Rihanoff on Strictly Come Dancing

For Avril Summerbell, 70, the FitSteps class at Birtley Boxing Club has been the perfect way to revive her love of dancing and keep fit and healthy at the same time.

The retired teacher already kept active with golf and yoga but when doctors told her she was at a risk of osteoporosis she decided to add a more weight-bearing workout out to her exercise regime.

“It gives me a bit of a buzz and I feel like I have a lot more energy,” Avril said.

“I also feel more toned and have lost a bit of weight since starting the classes. I used to love rock n roll dancing, but only get to do that once in a blue moon now, so this has been a great way to get dancing again.”

Avril’s daughter Penny Taylor, 46, also attends the class and not only feels fitter and more toned, but finds it a great stress-buster too.

She said: “It’s a brilliant class because you can adjust it to your level of fitness, and you can make it as energetic as you like.

“I love Strictly Come Dancing and used to watch it when I was a child when it was just Come Dancing, so it’s great to learn some of the steps and then be able to recognise them on the show.

“It’s also very social and I have met up with lots of people I have not seen for a long time.”

Julie Crammer, 55, a PR Consultant from Washington, found the FitSteps class has complemented her weight-loss programme.

“I’d lost two stones with Slimming World, but felt I wasn’t getting any fitter and then a friend suggested I try FitSteps,” she said.

Zumba session in Broad Street with The Princess Carers Trust and Ian Waite
Zumba session in Broad Street with The Princess Carers Trust and Ian Waite

“I was a bit worried as I am so uncoordinated, but the steps are broken down and easy to follow.

“I really enjoy it and it is so much fun. It’s not like the gym, where you think ‘when will this torture end?’

“Instead when the hour is up we are all really disappointed and want to keep on going. I feel fitter and more toned already.”

As well as FitSteps, there are also tap and Zumba classes taking place across County Durham as part of the Move into Sport programme, along with a wide range of other sports and activities, all tailored for beginners.

Andrew Power, physical activity manager for County Durham Sport, said: “Areas within County Durham have some of the lowest sport and physical activity participation levels in the country and this is reflected in the wide range of health inequalities in the area.

“These programmes aim to provide the people of County Durham with a wide variety of recreational activities to take part in, that are accessible and sustainable.

“Move into Sport works by delivering a range of projects in the community from running to rowing, dancing to table tennis which people can participate in either for free or at a very low cost, depending on the activity.

“There are now over 60 Move into Sport providers throughout County Durham who are well on the way to delivering 270 beginner courses of recreational sports by early 2015.”

To find out about the Move into Sport courses near you visit

Dancing offers many physical and health benefits as it keeps the body and the brain active.

* It improves muscular strength and endurance

* Enhances muscle tone and strength

* Helps people lose and maintain their weight

* Strengthens bones and reduces the risk of osteoporosis

* Improves aerobic fitness

* Enhances psychological wellbeing

* Is a sociable activity


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