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There's something very appealing about an exercise routine you can do in a tank top and a sarong.
That's how instructor Beth Lane dresses for "The Method: Afro-Brazilian Cardio," a total-body workout that features high-energy dance steps with African and Brazilian flair. The live drumming and Lane's tropical wardrobe help to make this program feel like a night out at the dance club, not an exercise routine. And that's certainly a plus.
So is the DVD format, which makes it easy to jump among the disk's three workouts without waiting for all that troublesome rewinding.
"Afro-Brazilian Cardio" is a 43-minute program split into three segments. There's a quick, all-purpose introduction and three 14-minute routines, each increasing in difficulty.
All three feature the same format. Lane and her class of eight exercisers - six women, two men - begin with a warm-up that focuses on flexibility. There are hip rolls, shoulder shrugs, slow kicks and other moves designed to warm and stretch the muscles.
In each segment, Lane teaches a series of dance steps, then slowly blends them into a routine. The steps are lively and fun, with names like "cow kicks," "sowing seeds" and "watusi twist." The steps have a pleasing earthy quality, and it's completely appropriate to perform them with a sense of freedom and abandon.
Because the moves are mostly free-form, Lane tends simply to demonstrate the steps rather than explain them in detail. This is an unorthodox way to lead a routine, but in this case, it works fine.
It also helps that Lane leads her group through the moves many times, so that you can hone your technique and master the rhythms.
Although the moves aren't difficult to learn, they're surprisingly strenuous, with lots of high-impact kicking, twisting and hopping. Lane and her class perform the moves barefoot, which might be difficult for those with knee or back problems.
Traditional athletic shoes will be too cumbersome for the quick steps of this routine, so if you want additional foot support, it might be a good idea to invest in lightweight dance or fitness shoes with pliable soles.
This is one aspect of the routine that could have used some modification, with some of the exercisers doing a low-impact version or performing easier steps. At the very least, Lane should have offered some tips for making the high-impact moves a little less jarring to the bones and joints.
The routine's format, with three brief segments, seems a bit curious until you realize how exhausting 14 minutes of kicking, twisting, hopping and stepping can be. You won't mind a bit when the cool-down comes around, as it will give you a few minutes to relax, get your breath back and prepare for the next segment.
You'll need to get through all three segments to really work your complete body, but even in short doses, "Afro-Brazilian Cardio" is a good way to inject some variety into a fitness program that has lost its oomph.
(c) 2003, Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.