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Half of the 1,000 members at Factory Fitness and Dance Centre are dance members...

and salsa. “It’s all taught very simply and participants should be able to pick up the steps within a class,” says Langridge. So far, so full of potential, and indeed

reports are of an average 23 participants per Strictly Fit class compared with 14–16 participants as an average across the board of the Fitness First group ex timetable. Many clubs are said to be launching extra classes to meet demand, and Fitness First in Germany, Italy and Australia are now interested in launching the programme. “It’s group exercise in the truest sense of the word, meeting a social as well as a physical need and appealing to everyone from late teens to 70-year-olds. We’re also seeing more men attending than we expected,” says Langridge – a sentiment echoed by all of those offering dance, who attest to its universal appeal (see information box, right). However, I went along to my local

Fitness First in Clapham Junction, south-west London, to try out the class for myself – only to fi nd it had been

Most gyms have small catchment areas; our courses are destination activities that people will travel for


removed from the timetable due to lack of interest. Are there any learnings from this for other operators thinking about setting up a similar offering? “We believe a busy class is always to do

with class time, its suitability for the club’s membership, and the instructor,” says Langridge. “In this case, we may have got the timing wrong: 8.30pm may be too late for Strictly in this club. With its young professional member base, people want to work out when they leave the offi ce, before they go out to socialise.” Julian Aston, owner of north London-

based independent club Factory Fitness and Dance Centre, adds: “You never know for sure what will take off. We’ve tried Friday night jive, for example, as well as rock ’n’ roll. You’d have thought those would be popular but they never really took off in that time slot. “The biggest risk, particularly for

independents, is that you commit to an instructor for a class and then members don’t come. The ballet class we’ve just launched has proved so popular we’ve introduced a second session, but the instructor agreed to a trial period where she was only paid if people attended.” Langridge continues: “Around two-

thirds of our sites are still generating fantastic numbers, with the most successful clubs being those that took a calculated risk, shuffl ing their timetable to provide a peak slot for Strictly. Overall it’s exceeded expectations, particularly when the show fi nished in December.”

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a long-term trend?

But if the peak in interest came as the show finished, how enduring is the Strictly effect, and should clubs consider a possible ‘sell-by date’ on dance’s appeal before rushing into offering more classes? “If Strictly wasn’t on this year, I

personally don’t think the demand for dance classes would be as strong. I think its popularity relies on media coverage,” says Bletso. However, Gillespie insists that: “Dance schools have always been sustainable if they’re run properly, even before Strictly came along.” And Elaine Coulthard, national fi tness manager for DW Sports Fitness, considers class success to be independent of TV schedules. “We haven’t seen a growth in dance following Strictly, and it would just be a gimmick if we were to introduce more classes off the back of it,” she says.

“But then we had lots of very popular dance classes already – salsa, ballroom, line dancing, Latin and so on. “If anything, the only shift has been that

people are a bit more knowledgeable about dance. Rather than coming in and asking if it’ll give them a good CV workout, they come in saying: ‘I want to have a go at mambo’. But ultimately, we wouldn’t want to dictate the schedule at a national level, because dance preferences vary greatly by area.” Referring to Fitness First’s Strictly Fit

and LA Fitness’ much-publicised deal with Alesha Dixon, Coulthard insists: “I personally don’t think you need to spend

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