Chicago choreographer Sherry Zunker created BeMoved fitness classes 'to connect people'

By Clare Curley

Sherry Zunker's choreography has been performed by The Joffrey Ballet, River North Chicago Dance Company and Giordano Dance Chicago. The artistic director of River North from 1990 to 2001,
her latest goal is to make even the least lissome among us feel like the pros in her shows, regardless of age. To that end, Zunker created (and trademarked) BeMoved®, a dance fitness class popping up in places like Chicago’s new Studio 3440

Between choreographing musicals, Zunker, 52, certifies teachers to lead a growing number of BeMoved® classes throughout the country. I caught up with her as she was about to embark for a directing gig on a cruise ship.




How would you describe BeMoved?
It is hard sometimes to explain. BeMoved is a non-stop dance movement experience. I create each class just like I would create a show. My intention originally was to give people a dance movement experience an untrained dancer wouldn’t normally have.

I’ve done 30 to 40 shows for Royal Caribbean [cruises where] I’ve got to appeal to people in demographics from their 20s to their 80s. With Royal Caribbean, the shows are similar to musicals, to that idea. I wanted to do the same kind of warm-ups that I do for professional or advanced students, but without all the technique.

The classes contain an enormous range of methodologies that include "backup singer moves," "roaring 20s," "rhythm country & Blues" and a host of other genres. How did you come up with all these moves?
I just did it based on all the different styles of dance I’ve had to do in shows. It’s based on how I build a show musically. I’ve choreographed professionals for all those genres. I come up with a style of music [for each class], and there’s going to be more to come. I just did a new one from the '80s.

What inspired you to create a new dance fitness experience?
When I was in my late 30s I could not find any kind of exercise I could do where I wouldn’t get hurt. From a dance perspective, I didn’t want to do aerobics and jump up and down. I’d see older people in these classes and think, it’s not really good for them and it’s not that interesting. I wanted different varieties of music rather than just bang bang bang, that fast beat.

So it had been percolating in the back of your mind.
I feel like it’s been 30 years in the making. So much of my history has come in handy, but it really started three years ago. Once I decided to do it, it took a month to put all the components together.

How many teachers and locations are teaching it?
We will soon have 45 licensed instructors. I think the class is taught in about 18 different Chicagoland locations. We have licensed instructors in 11 states. Classes are up and running in L.A., Iowa, Florida, Idaho
also Colorado and Nevada.

Your work covers the concert dance realm, musical theater, corporate entertainment, production shows, television, video and film. So maybe the mix of dance styles in BeMoved shouldn’t surprise people.
If you know me, it wouldn’t surprise you. The beginning and end of class contains more from my original style — jazz dance mixed with modern and things that seem organic. Also ballet technique, like the ballet arm movements, but with a more natural feel. And the genre part [in the middle of class] is more like the commercial dance I’ve done.

Your website says BeMoved also keeps us socially connected and enhances us mentally.
Dance improves your mental capacity, especially with coordination. It also works your brain. One of the reasons I did BeMoved at first was for people who were 40 to 55 because I felt there wasn’t something out there for us. As you get older you typically get more isolated. I wanted BeMoved to connect people.

 
But I’ve seen many young people in classes, too.

Absolutely, it appeals to all ages.

What are you currently working on outside of BeMoved?
Right now I’m directing the musical "Chicago" for Royal Caribbean. I’m in charge of the entire show and all of the scene work. We rehearse for one month on land and then are on the ship for 10 days. Between that and BeMoved, those two things keep me super busy.

I’ve taken Zumba and hiphop at fitness clubs, and classes that typically work in pop music. The Bollywood and Broadway BeMoved classes I’ve taken offer sort of a break from the usual fare.
I do think it offers a lot more variety for somebody. The difference is I have choreographed for over 30 years. I had no intention of getting into the fitness business.

Will this prepare me to perform in musicals or Indian films?
(Laughs) Actually, it absolutely helps everybody to dance. Many singers and actors come to this class.

It sounds like your current plan is to take it to cruises.
We’ve done a pilot to packed classes but it’s a matter of finance. Right now BeMoved is in dance studios, fitness clubs, yoga studios, corporate wellness centers, park districts. There’s another level of training for people with physical challenges, so it’s also in centers for intellectually and physically challenged adults.

Do you envision BeMoved becoming the next Zumba, a worldwide Latin dance fitness trend created by a dancer/choreographer?
I would love for it to be that big because I feel so passionate about the fact that it can change people’s lives. You really need to have an extensive dance background to teach BeMoved.

What celebrities do you envision taking BeMoved classes someday?
I would see a lot of people doing it.

How about Brad Pitt?
I don’t know about Brad Pitt.

Clare Curley is a freelance writer in Chicago.