Laugh your way to fitness in Berkshire
PUBLISHED: 11:47 24 January 2014 | UPDATED: 11:47 24 January 2014
You'll end up feeling and looking better, but at Fitsteps it's the sheer joy of taking part and the fun along the way that makes the difference, Jan Raycroft decides
Imagine a dance or fitness class where the smiles seem to stretch longer than the steps, the women are not worried about what they are wearing and, whether watching or taking part, it all seems to be sheer entertainment.
The music starts up, a routine begins, and half way through it a lady skips out from the second row of those taking the class and does a high speed shimmy to the table where I’m sitting in the perfect spot to enjoy an experience that is better than anything on the TV that night.
“How brilliant is this! It’s fantastic,” she laughs before quickly gliding back into line. She’s absolutely right – this is better than chocolate, champagne or your choice of naughties for lifting the spirits.
We are at Bearwood College on the edge of Wokingham, watching Strictly Come Dancing star Ian Waite lead a session of Fitsteps, a new dance fitness programme that is so much fun you don’t even realise you are getting fit.
Reading-born Ian developed Fitsteps with fellow Strictly dancer Natalie Lowe and contestant champion swimmer Mark Foster. The dancers have mixed proven fitness techniques with the graceful steps of ballroom dancing and the more up tempo steps of Latin dances.
It’s sweeping the country as word spreads and more instructors see the results and sign up to run classes in sports centres, village halls and school gyms.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking: “Sounds lovely, but it won’t work for my two left feet.” Stop right there, start tapping your toes, because no one is going to be judging your moves or footwork, least of all Ian, who seems as spiritually uplifted by the session as the ladies and chaps following his lead.
The nearest he gets to instruction is during a quick change of music when he announces: “Now, apart from the newbies, everyone should be going in the same direction.”
Ian’s got the giggles, which is a good thing as most of the class (and us watchers) are in the same position. You catch up, follow the person in front or keep an eye on the snake-hipped perfection of Ian, cackling merrily as you re-capture your pace.
Having said that, there are many times when the class finds a perfect rhythm and there is the shared confidence booster of a job well done.
When we visited, Ian thought our arrival was his big surprise for the class. What he didn’t know is that they were planning to surprise him. As he began one routine there was a mass scurry from the ranks (a couple of ladies tipped us off that this was going to happen) leaving Ian open-mouthed as they descended on a pile of bags at the back of the hall.
They had bought a set of canes to add to the routine and quickly returned to their spots to ‘put on a show’. It was brilliant entertainment and, best of all, no one poked an eye out! Remember, this is a mixed group of people, from new mums to gracious grandparents, and very few would claim to be dance floor experts before signing up. Among that very few at Ian’s class, and one of those making all the right moves, was line dancing three-times world champion Jon Knights of Winnersh. You never know who you’re going to bump into (literally) at Fitsteps!
The session at Bearwood College was sandwiched between a Zumba class and one for ballroom dancing beginners. What was interesting is that while some of the Fitsteps class said their goodbyes and went home, a number stayed on for the dance session. Having picked up the basic steps in Fitsteps they were now moving on to real waltzes and rumbas.
Ian’s love of life spills over into the class, which has developed into one big family in every sense. His mum Linda helps organise sessions and then joins in herself. Dad Alan is also a regular attendee, usually sorting out the music.
But this is Ian Waite, full of stories and drama, and that doesn’t tell half the story.
“My parents got divorced when I was 10 and my father was looking for a new lady in his life and realised that dance classes would be a good choice. So he dragged me along as a way of getting in!
“The thing is, I was into football and rugby at school and didn’t want to do dancing at all, so he kept me there by insisting I had to go to look after my younger brother, David.”
It turned out that Ian was a natural dancer. He won award after award and went on to take the title of ‘European Latin American Champion’ by the age of 17. After 15 years of maintaining a top ten ranking position in the world, making European and World finals and the Strictly Come Dancing appearances, it was a natural progression to go into the world of fitness.
We should complete this little tale by recording that dad Alan went on to marry the dance class instructor, so it seems both Waite males made all the right moves.
Even so, sporty Ian might have taken a different direction, and there’s a clue in the huge strides and wingspan of this 6ft 5ins ‘piece of elastic’ as he takes his class through the steps.
He loves playing tennis and is good friends with Judy Murray, mum of tennis star Andy. So sessions on the court and trips to Wimbledon are fitted into the dancing schedule.
And remember, if you are still not convinced your feet could follow the moves of Fitsteps, Ian was told he was too tall to succeed at Latin American dancing – and confounded the doubters.