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All-Abilities program in Bethel Park teaches dance steps that everyone can learn

| Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Lynne Squilla (center) leads an Improvement through Movement class at Locke's Personal Fitness Monday, September 9, 2013.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Lynne Squilla (center) leads an Improvement through Movement class at Locke's Personal Fitness Monday, September 9, 2013.

Fran Watona had never taken an exercise class in the past. Patti Murphy had always loved music and dance but had physical disabilities.

The women signed up for All-Abilities Movement, a class given by Improvement thru Movement, and are enjoying exercising to music.

“I love it,” said Murphy, 52, of South Park. “Exercise has always been a part of my life … I swear by movement,” which she thinks has helped her retain her abilities.

Murphy has cerebral palsy but does not need a wheelchair.

“It's just a fun class; it's great exercise,” said Watona, 60, of Castle Shannon. “It's low-impact, dancing to music … This has been a very good experience.”

Improvement thru Movement, which dance instructor Janet Furtney of South Park owns, holds the All-Abilities Movement class at Locke's Personal Fitness in Bethel Park.

Furtney teaches classical ballet, ballroom dancing and other classes through her studio, which has no space of its own.

A year ago, Furtney became a certified Masala Bhangra ambassador and recently added Masala Bhangra and Bollywood steps from India to the All-Abilities Movement routines.

“It's unique,” Furtney said. “We created (All-Abilities Movement) ourselves.”

Furtney said Improvement thru Movement plans to demonstrate the program next week in a senior citizens' residence.

“Unlike Zumba, we really do the dance steps to the music,” said instructor Lynne Squilla, 56, of Mt. Washington. The class has been around for about three years and combines dance steps such as cha-cha, Broadway show combinations, Russian and other ethnic folk dances with Tai Chi, yoga poses and light free weights. Squilla said the aim is to improve breathing, stamina and strength.

If the music calls for cha-cha, “we really do cha-cha,” Squilla said.

“It's not just aerobics. We do swing numbers and the Lindy Hop, but you don't need a partner.”

“Nobody needs any dance experience to take this class,” Furtney said. “It's a fabulous workout.”

To increase the fun factor, Squilla has the students use top hats, derbies, canes, feathered masks and other props.

“We try to keep it interesting,” she said. “It's not as high-impact as some of the other programs, but there's a lot less pounding. It's a solid hour of this stuff. We always do weight-bearing exercises to hip-hop (music). Sometimes at the end, we use ballet to cool down and get stretched out. It's based on all the (dance) disciplines that are out there.”

Murphy gave Squilla high marks for “knowing about people and letting them decide” how far to exert themselves.

“Lynne is one of a kind; she really knows her stuff,” Murphy said.

“She really makes the class fun,” Watona said.

Although many class members are women 35 and older, men and women have taken the program, including a male high school student. Murphy said the class members have a good deal of camaraderie.

“It's good for you physically and emotionally; it's good for the soul, too,” Watona said.

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