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Why Do Members Love Dance Fitness?

You spend countless hours creating the perfect mix for your group fitness schedule so that members will stay motivated to attend classes. What if you knew for sure what would keep people happy and wanting more? Motives are highly related to individual goals: the desired outcomes of participating in particular behaviors (Ingledew & Markland 2008; Strömmer, Ingledew & Markland 2015). In the realm of exercise adherence, not only must motivation precede the decision to adopt exercise, but also perceived and/or actual outcomes must keep exercisers motivated. Otherwise, these people will drift away.

This article reviews a study of 400 dance fitness attendees. The researchers wanted to determine what was motivating people to participate in dance fitness and what they perceived as its benefits. The results provide program directors and fitness managers with information about how to meet members’ needs.


In 1993, Markland and Hardy developed the Exercise Motivations Inventory to measure individuals’ reasons for exercising. The test consisted of a 44-item questionnaire that gauged participants’ interest in exercising and what people hoped to gain from exercising. The EMI measured how participants’ motives might influence their activity choice and what the relationships were among affective responses to exercise, involvement in physical activity and exercise motives. The EMI consisted of 12 scales (Markland & Ingledew 1997):

  • stress management
  • weight management
  • appearance
  • recreation
  • enjoyment
  • social recognition
  • personal development
  • affiliation
  • competition
  • ill-health avoidance
  • fitness
  • health pressures

A revised version, the EMI-2, included 14 subscales, adding two new items related to physical wellness—nimbleness and strength/endurance—and two revised subscales—positive health and challenge (Markland & Ingledew 1997). Further, the EMI-2 included information on assessing nonexercisers and their motives for participation or nonparticipation.

If people meet their motivational aspirations, then they will benefit from the effects of engagement. For example, if new members who are primarily motivated by weight loss do in fact lose weight, they will remain engaged with the activity that caused the weight loss. Contrarily, initial motives may differ from the gains achieved, affecting engagement either negatively or positively. In other words, initial motives may not necessarily be the reason why people adhere to a program.

In 2015, Strömmer, Markland and Ingledew published a revised complementary version of the EMI-2, addressing the absence of perceived gain measurements. The test, called the Exercise Motives and Gains Inventory, provides a means of determining the benefits and gains achieved as a result of exercise—and the effects of those outcomes on feelings of fulfillment. Each identified subscale has four associated motives corresponding to four gain items. For example, an affiliation motive might be “To spend time with friends,” and it would correspond to the affiliation gain item “It has allowed me to spend time with friends.” The EMGI invites participants to voice their reasons for exercising, and then to state the experiences and outcomes that resulted from their participation.

Details About the Study

Dance fitness classes have been appearing around the globe in unprecedented numbers over the past 10 years. According to Zumba®, over 15 million people in 180 countries are participating in Zumba (Zumba 2015). A limited number of research studies (e.g., Krishnan et al. 2015; Luettgen et al. 2012) have shown that this form of dance fitness falls within the recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine in terms of calories expended per exercise session, both for weight management and for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Dance fitness classes like Zumba appeal to potential exercisers because of the gains that are promised—in relation to weight loss and physical improvement, and in relation to enjoyment, affiliation, revitalization and stress management.

A relatively new dance fitness program, REFIT®, was created by a trio of fitness instructors who wanted to provide a community-based program with an emphasis not only on the physical well-being of participants but also on their emotional, social and spiritual well-being. REFIT’s mission and vision are to “Experience Fitness + Build Community + Make Impact” (REFIT 2015). REFIT started offering instructor trainings in 2011 to provide live classes away from the home studio—with a focus on the whole person: body, mind and soul.

Because of the “whole person” approach of REFIT, we decided to examine the exercise motivations and gains of REFIT participants more closely, using the EMGI to find out more about the perceived motivations and gains of dance fitness participants. We were particularly interested in the match-up between exercise motivations and gains. In other words, did participants’ gains match their original motivations for beginning the program?



Participants were recruited via social media: The founders of REFIT posted a call on their various social media outlets and through their network of instructors. Participation was voluntary, and the protocol was approved by the appropriate institutional review board. The questionnaire included both sections of the EMGI, separated by questions about class attendance, personal exercise adherence and current modes of exercise.



Only participants who indicated that they attended a live dance fitness class were included in the data analysis. Of the 522 who completed the online questionnaire, 400 were live class participants. History of attendance duration ranged from less than 3 months to several years, with 40% attending for at least 1 year. About 60% reported that they were regular exercisers.

Exercise Motives and Gains

We analyzed each motive and gain by combining mean scores from the corresponding questions (on a scale from 0 to 4, with 0 being Not important at all and 4 being Very important). The top four motives for attending dance fitness classes were positive health (3.59), revitalization (3.30), strength and endurance (3.29) and weight management (3.12). Interestingly, perceived gains did not exactly reflect perceived motives. According to the surveyed participants, revitalization (3.61), enjoyment (3.59), positive health (3.30) and stress management (3.24) were the top four perceived gains. Results indicate that the surveyed population chose to participate in REFIT primarily because of the positive health and positive lifestyle factors that the program offered. By contrast, few participants cited competitive environment or social pressures as a perceived motive or gain.

Discussion and Relevance to Fitness Managers

Data gained as a result of this study may be useful for designing programs to reflect the desired motives of a fitness facility’s population. With this information at hand, fitness managers can more effectively implement regimens that meet the desired goals of participants and align with their reasons for exercising. One result of note is that participants, particularly in the dance fitness industry, are looking for a program that promotes positive health benefits while at the same time fostering an enjoyable, revitalizing environment.

Another take-home message for fitness managers is that they should strive to implement a program that incorporates a sense of community at the same time that it addresses weight and health management concerns. More importantly, participants wish to find a fitness program that takes a holistic approach to their health and also addresses lifestyle factors that affect their overall well-being (e.g., stress). Dance fitness exercisers are motivated more by positive health benefits than by competition or social recognition. Their primary desire is to improve their health through a program that promotes fitness, is supportive and is conducted in an enjoyable environment.

Comparison of the motives and gains reveals an interesting pattern: While people start attending dance fitness classes for health reasons (positive health, strength/endurance and weight management) and to be “revitalized,” according to the perceived gains they keep attending primarily for mental health reasons (revitalization, stress management and enjoyment). Participants also report gains in positive health, although weight management does not appear to be a major gain that promotes adherence.

So, what is the bottom line for dance fitness classes? Fitness managers should train their instructors to promote classes that are fun, uplifting and, perhaps most importantly, enjoyable (not to discount safety issues, of course). Clients who are new to exercising will benefit more from a class that promotes the individual as part of an accepting group, as opposed to a class that promotes comparison and competition. After all, if people aren’t having fun, they will not keep exercising!

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