Q&A: Dance Instructor Liz Swenton
Liz Swenton, the instructor of “Cardio Dance Party” classes at the Boston Center for Adult Education, teaches new routines each week that are influenced by her technical dance training and her years as a cheerleader. We talked to Swenton about her weekly dance parties and why, she says, dance can give an escape from difficult circumstances, even if it’s just for an hour.
When did you start dancing?
My parents put me in one of those little kid ballet classes when I was three and I fell in love immediately. I danced until age 18, but when I got to college dance wasn’t a big focus for me anymore. I was on the cheerleading squad so that was dance related, but I wasn’t strictly a dancer. After college, I was looking for dance classes because I missed it. I tried Zumba, but it was the same moves over and over again. Eventually, I tried a hip hop class and I liked it so much that I ended up teaching the class when the instructor left for another gym.
What do you love about dance, and why is it a good workout?
I love the rush of dancing and being in front of people. Now that I teach, I like that everyone is at my class to get in shape. My goal is to help people start a healthy lifestyle. I’ve struggled with body image, so I want people to get healthy no matter what shape or age they are. Dancing works every single muscle group, and it’s also great cardio. It’s one of the best workouts out there, and it’s often so fun that you forget you’re working out, too.
When did you start teaching at the Boston Center for Adult Education, and how is it different from teaching at a dance studio or a gym?
I had been taking cooking classes at the BCAE for a while, so I reached out to them and proposed a hip hop dance class. It was the first time they had offered a dance class and it was a hit! What I love about BCAE is that the same set of people come for a six to eight week class, so I get to see their progression week after week. The classes are also small, and I often have five or ten people in each class depending on the time of year. Most of them are women in their late 20s and early 30s, but I also have guys, and I get people who have been dancing for their whole lives as well as beginners. Next month, BCAE is offering a program called Take for $10 that allows people to try out any class at the facility one time for only $10. It’s a pretty good deal if you’re looking to try something new.
What are your classes like?
I like to use real dance terms and dance techniques during class. In a gym setting, you often don’t get the technique aspect of dancing, but my students seem to like the technical side of things because on top of getting a workout, they’re also learning. My classes are all high energy and all upbeat music, and the workouts use every single muscle group. I try to focus on one muscle group during each class, and the classes are great because you end up getting a workout and feeling sore without noticing that you’re working so hard. I teach one dance routine during each class, and the routines are vastly different from week to week. Each routine is 45 minutes of cardio, and it incorporates 5 minutes of a warm-up and 5 minutes of a cool down.
How is your class different from traditional cardio dance classes like Zumba?
Well, Zumba is Latin dance and there are set moves, so you perform the same moves over and over again. My classes are more focused on dance technique and learning. My routines are inspired by tap routines, my cheerleading background, hip hop routines I’ve done in the past, Zumba moves, and even ballet. I make up dance routines in my head and then work on them in the kitchen and my boyfriend makes fun of me. Clearly, I love it!
What makes dance so cathartic for you?
Dance just lets you be free. You don’t have to think. It’s an hour in your day when you can listen to music and just have fun and move. A couple of years ago, my boyfriend tragically passed away. I was going through certification to become a dance instructor at the time, and that distraction really helped me to focus on me and get through a very tough time. I love teaching dance because I can help my students escape and relax, too.