Dance and fitness have gone together since Dr. Kenneth Cooper coined the term “aerobics” in 1968.1 Soon after, a flood of dance fitness programs had folks Jazzercising through the ’70s and Sweatin’ to the Oldies® through the ’80s. Though Zumba® emerged in the ’90s, incorporating Latin rhythms and fitness, Zumba’s true impact hit America in the 2000s and has expanded into many different genres of music. Now, an explosion of dance fitness programs has exercise enthusiasts passionate about returning to the dance floor to burn some calories while shakin’ their booties once again.
Ilyse Baker is an AFAA certified group fitness instructor based in Los Angeles. Her charisma , enthusiasm and contagious personality have led her to become one of the most sought after dance instructors in America. She has worked with celebrities such as LeAnn Rimes and Rihanna. Her program Dancinerate® is gaining popularity among the many dance fitness programs that have burst onto the scene in recent years.2
Why the surge in dance fitness programs? Baker feels reality TV may have something to do with it. “Since Dancing With the Stars has become so successful the last 10 years and So You Think You Can Dance, I think that people are …watching, and naturally getting off the couch saying, ‘I want to learn these moves,’” Baker says. “The benefit is that dance is so much fun and it makes you feel so good about yourself. And people become more confident and come alive when they’re on the dance floor.”
A Lifetime of Dance
Baker’s initial love for dance and fitness rose as a result of unfortunate circumstances. At the age of just 14 months, she was injured in an accident involving a drunk driver. One of her legs was broken. And doctors told her parents that she might never walk again.3 As a part of physical therapy, she needed a program that would keep her moving, so Baker’s parents enrolled her in dance classes. Throughout her recovery, she discovered this wonderful feeling inside that was brought out in her dancing. “I come alive through the dance. I am able to tell a story through the movement. I’m able to forget about the worries of the day. I’m able to relieve stress. That’s why I felt there was a need for me to get into the fitness industry on the dance side,” Baker explains. She went on to earn her BA in dance performance and dance education from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Baker earned her first professional dancing gig touring with Sesame Street Live® in New York and soon after, she took her style to sea entertaining on vacation cruises. Subsequently, this dancer decided Los Angeles was the place for her so she moved out West and landed an agent. She soon found a job working for world-renowned choreographer MaDonna Grimes as a dance teacher in her Hollywood studio. “She is amazing,” Baker exclaims. “I took all her classes and one day she cornered me and asked, ‘Why aren’t you teaching aerobics and fitness as well?’” Baker wisely took Grimes’ advice and worked on a couple DVDs as a background personality for fitness celebrities such as Petra Kolber, who also influenced her to get her group exercise certification. Baker chose AFAA for her certification and utilized her newfound skills to motivate people to get up and get moving! “Men and women of all shapes and sizes—I don’t care what they look like, what their background is—can experience learning dance routines,” Baker affirms.
But, not everyone feels comfortable getting up and dancing. Baker notes that when it comes to dance fitness, it’s up to the instructor to make clients feel comfortable and not intimidated by the word “dance.” “I think when you’re asking someone to make the shift into something that takes them out of the norm…there’s that fear,” Baker states. “If a person comes to me and says ‘I have two left feet…I’m scared,’ I tell them if you can bop to the beat of the music, trust me, have a good time and get out of your head…we’re closer to being successful. And the next classes will get easier and easier.”
Dancinerate is a 60-minute class in which Baker highlights different styles of dance keeping each session fresh and fun. “Some days I do Hip-Hop, some days I do Jazz, some days I do Broadway…and in the end I give them one hot routine and they not only walk out of class feeling better, but they’re saying, ‘I’m a dancer!’” Baker exclaims. Dancinerate is also available on two DVDs, Dancinerate: Sassy Jazz and Hip Hop Fusion and Dancinerate: Burn With the Beat. Individual workouts are available for digital download at http://www.ilysebaker.com.
Baker shows no sign of slowing down creating the first ever dance fitness workout DVDs from Weight Watchers®—Weight Watchers: The Ultimate Dance Party! fitness kit, which was self-designed by Baker and initially presented in every Weight Watchers meeting room location. Weight Watchers: The Ultimate Dance Party! can now be purchased on Amazon.com and at Wal-Mart, Target, Costco® and Sam’s Club® locations.
As for Baker’s own nutritional habits, she tries to stick to a “clean” diet consisting of six small meals a day. “I focus a lot on protein, vegetables and fruit,” she says. “I’m a big fan of bringing it back to basics. There are a lot of trends out there …. If you eat a consistent, healthy diet and you’ve got your major food groups in there, then you’re living a healthy lifestyle.” Does that mean no splurging? “Hey, I like my jelly beans and sweets here and there, but it’s all in moderation. Don’t deprive yourself , because it’s all about living normal,” Baker says.
In between all of her classes, dancing and fitness, Ilyse found time to bring out her style yet another way—her own clothing line. Using her name as an acronym, the I Love Your Sexy Everything® brand generates an array of stylish tanks and tees for the fit fashion connoisseur—sporting positive messages such as “I’m a Dancer,” “Take a Chance…Don’t Fear It!” and her trademarked “#You’llThankMELater.” All the great, colorful choices are available at her shop ilysebaker.com/shop.
Pearls From a Pro
For those who aspire to become a top fitness pro someday, Baker points out the importance of keeping good company. “Network with the right people and make sure you have positive and supportive people in your life,” she notes. “This industry can be really cutthroat and I think you have to be careful, listen more and really do your research. Learn from the experts.”
You can usually find Baker at Equinox, L.A. DanceFit and 360 Health Club in the Los Angeles area, and you can bet you’ll see a lot more of her dazzling smile and style for years to come.
- cooperaerobics.com/About/Our-Leaders/Kenneth-H-Cooper,-MD,-MPH.aspx (Accessed JAn 6, 2015).
- “Meet Ilyse.” com/meet-ilyse/ (Accessed Jan 6, 2015).
- VITI, L., “Ilyse Baker.” American Fitness, 30, No. 5 (Sep 2012): 22.