Photo by Bret Grafton
“Dance is in my blood,” says Chicago fitness professional Haley Stone. “My mom has a BFA in dance, my sister went to Juilliard on a dance scholarship [and] I’ve been in love with the dance since I was four. It seems really natural with me to fuse my passion for dance and fitness.” As the creator of WERQ which she founded with Julie Steffen, that’s just what Stone has done. “WERQ,” she says “is a dance term. It means you are killing a dance move, dancing with your heart on your sleeve, and living that moment on the dance floor.” Stone spoke with Our Town about group exercise trends, fitness secrets and WERQ’s growing popularity in Chicago and throughout the US.
Our Town What attracted you to the fitness world?
Haley Stone I’ve participated in sports since I was about eleven, but it was in college where I truly got hooked on Group Fitness classes. One of my favorite instructors suggested I get certified. I worked a “real job” for a few years and teaching fitness classes was always an a la carte gig. I decided that the fitness world motivated and challenged me in a way my full time job couldn’t, so I committed to the fitness industry full time and love it.
OT What have been the most significant changes in group fitness over the last decade?
HS What I love about the fitness world is the ever-changing trends. Currently, metabolic conditioning and dance fitness are the popular kids on the block. Step and choreographed kickboxing…not so popular anymore. You have a lot more men participating in classes, which I think is thrilling. To be able to teach men, women, young, old, pregnant, obese and more in one class is a true challenge.
OT What inspired you to create WERQ?
HS WERQ has been in my head for a long time. After working at various gyms and teaching loads of different formats, I just thought I can do this, and if I fail, I’m no worse off than I am right now. My friend and fellow Fitness Pro, Julie Steffen and I were driving in my car after a high-energy class we had taught together. It was apparent to me that we could work together as a team in the fitness studio and in business, so I spilled the idea and she immediately got it. The name, the bigger picture…everything and we began to hash out the details of WERQ.
OT How is WERQ different than Zumba?
HS I get this question all the time. Zumba is Latin and international rhythms with core dance moves you see in every class-salsa, merengue, cumbia, raggaeton. WERQ is all pop, rock, and hip hop, top 40 hits, most popular songs of today. When people already know the songs, they catch on to the steps quickly. Plus, we change up the dance moves so that your body doesn’t get used to doing the same thing over and over and risk repetitive use injuries. Beyond the basics, WERQ has a unique warm up that previews the moves you see in class to “burn the circuit” in the participants’ muscle memory. The cool down combines yoga-inspired static stretching with balance poses for increased ROM and injury prevention. Another major difference, WERQ Instructors are all certified Group Fitness Instructors and are educated on how to deliver a safe and effective WERQout. Once you take a WERQ class, you’ll feel the difference immediately.
OT What if you are the worst dancer ever?
HS Every new person says “I’m the worst dancer ever.” Doesn’t matter. The point of WERQ is to move and have fun doing it. My advice to new people is always the same; give yourself time to get into a groove. The first time you take WERQ, it will be a lot for your brain to handle. But instructors only rotate out a few songs at a time, so the next week, you’ll get to do the same songs again and you’ll be better. The vibe in a WERQ class is fun and free. Give yourself permission to throw your arms in the air, sing along, move your feet and WERQ.
OT In your opinion what is the most common pitfall for those who can’t seem to get fit or lose weight?
HS Their mindset is wrong from the start and they want a quick fix. Being fit is a lifelong commitment. And losing weight, in a healthy way, is a slow process. It’s very rewarding over time.
OT How important is diet?
HS If you want to lose weight, you can’t just workout. You’ve got to come at it from all angles. I hate the word diet. I’m not a fan of following a certain regime. Portion control is paramount.
OT Back to WERQ, is class choreography identical to the choreography you’d see in the music video for a specific song?
HS WERQ choreography is designed in a way that suits the style and feel of the song. Many times we draw inspiration from the official music videos and pull out a move or two. But the choreography isn’t as intricate as the dance scenes in a Beyonce, Britney or Usher video. WERQ makes dance accessible to all levels of fitness and dance ability [by putting] together choreography that everyone can groove on.
OT How many calories can a student expect to burn in an average class?
HS The short answer is 400-900 depending on the length of the class and your body size. Bigger bodies burn more calories. Smaller bodies burn fewer. In a 45-minute class, most my students are burning over 450. In a 60-minute class, most students are burning over 600.
OT What’s the reaction to WERQ been like?
HS WERQ has exploded in Chicago. You can find it now at Cheetah Gyms, Xsport, Fitness Formula Clubs, Midtown Athletic Club, and more. We’ve also launched in other parts of Illinois, Michigan, South Carolina, Texas, and Indiana. We get emails everyday from around the country from people who want to take a WERQ class. We continue to book WERQ Instructor Trainings as quickly as we can to get more WERQ Instructors up and running. [Someday] I hope to have WERQ on every Group Fitness Schedule in America. It would be my dream come true to hear that people are getting fit and losing weight across the country doing WERQ.
Follow Haley Stone on Twitter.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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