New exercise craze combines Pacific Island dance with reggae music, drums

"Hula? Me?"

The idea had never crossed Charlotte Conerly's mind, yet here she is, sarong and all, wiggling her hips to a snappy drumbeat.

But this isn't a luau -- it's a fitness class.

"It really works the abs and all the legs," says the Farr West college student. And, she adds, "I might not be shaking my tush like a pro can do, but I can feel it."

Conerly is catching on to the new exercise craze called Hot Hula fitness. The workout combines traditional Pacific Island dance movements with reggae music and Polynesian drumbeats.

Lisa Loomis -- the one with the pink tropical flower in her hair -- started teaching the new routine in June at a Farr West fitness center.

When folks first hear about Hot Hula, Loomis says, they often ask, "Do I need to bring a hula hoop?"

No hoops are required, and no exercise gear, either -- not even shoes. Bare feet are preferred for the workout, which attracted more than 30 women on a recent weekday evening at Elevated Fitness in Farr West.

And don't forget your "lava lava," as the sarong is called in Samoan. Loomis pulls several brightly colored ones from a bag and hands them out as participants arrive.

The lava lava helps accentuate your hip action during the various dance movements, Loomis says.

Then, too, the island-style attire just adds to the atmosphere.

"We want to have fun," the instructor tells the women as her class begins. "It's a Hot Hula party."

Island pleasure

Hot Hula is billed as a total body workout targeting the core muscles, and that appeals to Loomis, of North Ogden, because "I'm a strong believer that the core is your powerhouse."

The routine works and tones from the navel down -- abs, quads, glutes, obliques -- but also the shoulders and arms, says creator Anna-Rita Sloss in a phone interview from Aliso Viejo, Calif., near Laguna Beach.

Improved balance and weight loss are other benefits of the routine, Sloss says.

The personal trainer developed Hot Hula fitness in 2009 and says since then it has "exploded" in popularity, with some 500 certified instructors throughout the United States and New Zealand.

Sloss, a Samoan who grew up in New Zealand, wanted to develop a workout that reflected her own heritage and would "give back to my community."

"Hula," which means "dance" in Hawaiian, was chosen for the workout's name because it's the most familiar Polynesian dance, Sloss says, but the fitness regimen incorporates dances of many island cultures.

"(People) think of Hawaii and it always puts them in a happy place," the trainer says.

But the workout's "wow factor" comes from the addition of reggae music and hip-hop moves, she says.

'Ring of fire'

Besides toning, Hot Hula also offers cardio benefits, Sloss says, since participants move continuously and thus elevate their heart rates. Beginners can burn 500 to 600 calories during the one-hour session; advanced students may knock off up to 900, she says.

As her class begins in Farr West, Loomis tells the women to expect some sore muscles the next day.

"This is not a high-impact cardio class ... but you will sweat," she warns, adding, "You'll look like you took a shower."

Loomis, who also teaches Zumba, says she had never heard of Hot Hula until a student asked her about it earlier this year. She discovered a certification class taking place in Utah and signed up.

Besides Farr West, the workout is offered at a few fitness centers in Bountiful, Salt Lake City, West Valley City, Provo and Orem.

"It's something totally different than any other class that I've taken," says Tammy Hoyt, who, with her husband James, owns Elevated Fitness.

Hoyt says she likes the low-impact nature of the exercise, especially since she's healing from inflamed tendons in her knees.

"You get a really good workout all the way around; I call it 'the ring of fire,' because it burns all the way around," she says.

Say 'aloha' to fun

Most folks -- men can do Hot Hula, too -- show up at class in T-shirts and shorts.

But "you can wear a flower in your hair and look like you're going to a luau," says Tau Taumoepeau, who teaches the Polynesian workout in Bountiful.

The fitness class breaks down elements of the various movements and then combines them into a routine. Participants learn a complete dance over a period of weeks, then a new one is introduced, Sloss says.

Jill Bommer, a dance major at Weber State University, tried Hot Hula for the first time at Elevated Fitness and says the workout was easy to follow, whether or not you've had dance experience.

"I think anybody could do it if they wanted to," the Ogden student says.

Ashley Ray has been coming with her mother and sister since the hula workouts started in June. The trio are also veterans of Zumba, a Latin dance-inspired exercise, but Ray says the two classes are very different.

"(Hot Hula) is definitely hard work, but this is mellower than the Zumba," says the Harrisville resident, who likes that there's no "jumping the whole time" or "struggling to breathe."

Get a wiggle on

For Loomis, "Dance is such a powerful way to reach across cultures. Not only am I learning dance, but I'm learning another culture."

"I like the fact that young, old, fat, skinny, it doesn't matter; we're all here for one thing -- to get in shape," says Conerly, a University of Utah student.

Even though she has taught traditional Polynesian dancing for years, Taumoepeau says she never thought of it as a workout before. The first time she tried Hot Hula, she says, "I really loved it just because it was familiar to me."

But there's no need for newcomers to be intimidated by this fitness class, Taumoepeau says.

"Polynesians are very friendly people -- well, at least I am," she says. "Our culture is very inviting -- sharing."

Sloss, who is designing Hot Hula workouts geared for seniors and men, agrees, saying it's been rewarding to share her heritage while promoting fitness.

As she explains, "It really is the spirit of the family; we call it 'aiga' ... Hot Hula is the spirit of family."


Try Hot Hula fitness at one of these Top of Utah fitness centers:

* Elevated Fitness, 3677 N. State Road 126, Suite X, Farr West.

Classes are at 8 p.m. Thursdays. Cost is $5 per session, or a punch pass -- good for any 10 classes at the center -- is $35. For information, call 801-731-2205.

* South Davis Recreation Center, 550 N. 200 West, Bountiful.

Classes are at 6 p.m. Mondays and 11:10 a.m. the last Saturday of every month. Cost is $5 per class. For information, call 801-298-6220.

* Skills Fitness, 1525 S. Main St., Bountiful.

Classes are at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays; participants must be club members. For information, call 801-298-5050.