Julie Steffen may be a master instructor and the co-founder of WERQ Dance Fitness, but she spent most of her adult life as a CPA. “I was very active in my childhood” Steffen says, “but as an adult working full time, I was struggling to find the time to work out and also lacking any kind of direction.” It wasn’t long after friends introduced her to group fitness classes that Steffen teamed with WERQ co-founded Haley Stone to create the newest craze in group fitness. Not only is WERQ a hit at gyms, but Steffen and Stone have brought the pop, rock,and hip hop-based class to clubs, making it an afterWERQ destination as well. Steffen spoke with Our Town about fitness, dance tips and afterWERQ’s upcoming event at The Double Door.
Our Town First let’s talk briefly about Werq. How did you come up with the idea for the fitness classes?
Julie Steffen My business partner Haley Stone first mentioned developing the WERQ format in 2010. We were in her car and she looked at me and said, "Julie, we are going to start the next big trend in dance fitness. We're going to call it WERQ." I was a full-time CPA, teaching fitness classes part-time and I must have looked at her like she was insane. We're going to do what? Once she explained that the term WERQ was used in the hip-hop dance world to express confidence, dominance, and leaving your heart on the dance floor, I was sold. Haley and I began to hash out the format and the details behind the choreography design, and WERQ was born.
OT As a teacher, what’s your main concern when leading a class?
JS My students! Can they achieve? Are they able to follow my cuing? Are their heart rates high and are they crushing calories and building strength and cardiovascular endurance? My goal as an instructor is to inspire people to work harder than they think they can work on their own. Fitness is a lifestyle commitment, not a quick fix and creating achievable workouts that are fun helps participants return week after week.
OT It seems like more and more fitness and socializing are being combined. Why do you think that is?
JS We all struggle to fit what we need to do into 24 hours. Events such as afterWERQ blend all the fitness of a gym workout with the social experience of going out with your friends.
OT What do you think draws participants to the afterWERQ events?
JS The energy is always so infectious at afterWERQ – everyone is talking about their favorite song or favorite dance move and it's so wonderful to hear everyone so excited about working out. It is a fitness experience complete with a stage, concert lighting, dance floor and bumping stereo system. Also many participants enjoy getting out of the gym setting. There are no mirrors at afterWERQ so if you're intimidated by the wall full of mirrors in an aerobics studio, this gives you the option of getting lost in the dark, dancing like no one is watching. Also while I loved going out dancing in my early 20s, I'm past the time in my life where I enjoy the club scene. afterWERQ allows participants to still enjoy the nightclub setting without the high heels, makeup and random guy dancing behind you.
OT Your next event is at the Double Door. What are you looking forward to about the venue?
JS Double Door is such a great venue we absolutely love WERQing with them. The space is absolutely perfect for an afterWERQ. The lighting is great and the sound is just awesome. The instructors have as much fun as the participants at these events. We can't wait to be back on that stage.
OT The event runs for over two hours, will participants be dancing the whole time?
JS The workout itself is about an hour. We build in some time both before and after to socialize and enjoy the venue. Wear workout clothes and gym shoes just like you would if you were going to a WERQ class at a gym. Bring a towel if you want one and come ready to sweat! You'll find the participants at an afterWERQ tend to be very outgoing and we have a blast hanging out together after the event.
OT What’s the calorie output for a werq class?
JS Calorie output depends on 2 things – how hard a participant is working and genetics. As a participant, are you dancing your heart out, using your muscles and pushing yourself through the workout? If so you're calorie burn is going to be higher than someone taking it a little bit easier. Also, calorie burn varies person to person. A 90 pound woman will never achieve the same caloric expenditure as a 250 pound man when working at the same intensity level. I can tell you personally as a 5' 4'' 145lb woman I burn approximately 500-600 calories an hour during a WERQ class. My students typically range from 400 – 700.
OT Any advice for those interested in attending who feel self conscious about their moves?
JS Every new person says "I'm a horrible dancer" and the truth is it doesn't matter. The goal is movement and an intense cardio workout, not winning a dance audition, and your instructor is thrilled to have you there regardless of dance ability. WERQ instructors only change out a few songs each class so week to week you will learn the routines and become more comfortable with the dance steps. Remember that I used to be a full-time CPA! I can ten-key faster than anyone and I'm proud to know lots of nifty tricks in Microsoft Excel. If this accounting nerd can do it, love it, own it, and WERQ her heart out, I promise you can do it too! Give yourself permission to relax and enjoy. WERQ creates a fun, free environment where people allow themselves to let loose and move to the music. Dance ability is a learned skill just like anything else and with practice you just might be surprised by the dance diva hiding inside you.
AfterWERQ happens 6 p.m. June 26th at The Double Door. Purchase ticketsat http://www.doubledoor.com/event/277511-after-werq-werqout-chicago/.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah 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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