Dancing your way to Keeping Fit

Billy Blanks Jr. (SUPPLIED)

Billy Blanks Jr. (SUPPLIED)

He's the son of legendary Tae Bo creator Billy Blanks - a name synonymous with fitness.

And while Billy Blanks Jr. has busted his butt to live up to the family name, the energetic 30-something exercise buff has also made a name for himself in the fitness world.

"Obviously, I started young, teaching karate for my dad," Blanks Jr. says in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

"But my first love was always dancing. So I kinda stayed in that vein."

And therein lies the difference.

While his famous martial artist father sticks to his patented taekwondo-boxing hybrid, Blanks Jr. is capitalizing on his passion for dance fitness.

"The biggest key to staying in shape is to find the thing that you love," he explains. "And once you find it, find ways to do different stuff with it."

Dance fitness provides plenty of opportunity to mix things up, says Blanks Jr., whose resume includes starring in a touring production of Fame and dancing in music videos with Madonna, Quincy Jones and Paula Abdul.

"With dance, what's so great is different styles of dance work different parts of your body," he notes. "African is more your core and your cardio. Whereas, if I do Russian, that's my lower body. It's legs."

Blanks Jr., along with his actress wife Sharon Catherine Blanks, just released a fitness DVD called Dance With Me: Cardio Fit.

The DVD workout, designed by the husband-and-wife team, keys on three dance forms: hip-hop, country and Bollywood.

It's the first in a planned Dance With Me series created in conjunction with Lionsgate, the industry's leading fitness studio, and ExerciseTV, the leading fitness digital network.

Besides creating fitness DVDs, the couple keeps busy teaching up to 13 classes a week at 24-Hour Fitness locations throughout the L.A. area.

And the fitness instructors practice what they preach, working up a sweat alongside class members.

"Sharon and I are different than most teachers," adds Blanks Jr., a fit 185 pounds at six-foot-three. "Most teachers teach and walk around the class. We actually do the workout with the class. We do everything we ask them to."

It's not unusual for the dynamic dancing duo - hands-on parents of six-year-old son Elijah - to teach three classes in a day.

"Our work happens to be also our play," says Sharon, an athletic 120 pounds at five-foot-five.

But that doesn't mean they don't work hard. They do - for a good physiological reason.

"Your body adapts to whatever you're doing, basically, in three-month increments," Sharon explains. "Being that we teach every day, we're constantly pushing ourselves in class. We do a gradual push with our students because you don't want them to get used to the workout."

You always want to make sure you're challenging yourself, advises Blanks Jr.

"When you feel like something's getting easier, then you have to go up a notch," he notes. "Even in our class, there are certain styles that feel easier, but there's always a way to push those styles and make them a little harder on yourself, whether it's bending your knees a little more or taking bigger steps or adding a jump to it."

So to review: workouts should be fun, but never easy.

Dance fitness certainly is both fun and challenging.

That's why Blanks Jr., although obviously biased, often suggests dance as an effective form of fitness.

"Even people who are like, 'I have two left feet and I can't dance,' like to dance to some degree, whether they're by themselves or they're somewhere and they hear a song they like and they start to groove," he says.

"I'm not going to make you into Baryshnikov, but I'm going to find a way to show you that dancing is a form of fitness."

Billy and Sharon's fitness tips:

1) Find an activity you love and make it into a workout. If it's fun, you'll stick to it.

2) Prepare your meals for the week on a Sunday night. Then you can just grab it and go. There's nothing faster in terms of fast food than what you have right in front of you.

3) Invite balance into your life. When you want to be your absolute best and absolute healthiest, you have to have balance.

Cary Castagna is a certified personal trainer through Can-Fit-Pro. Visit the Keeping Fit blog here