Dorie and Mark Wexler danced into the Colorado Springs fitness scene five years ago with a saucy Latin-inspired dance workout called “Zumba.”
They shook their hips in karate studios and high school gymnasiums — any place in southern Colorado, really, where a group could get their merengue on — and in 2006 they opened Springs Salsa and Dance Fitness Studio in Old Colorado City.
Five classes a week turned into more than 40 and revenues grew by 400 percent in five years. The Wexlers, who now employ 13 instructors, opened a second studio in 2009 at Galley Road and Powers Boulevard and this year they plan to open a third studio.
“It really took off very quickly,” said Mark Wexler, who teaches a variety of evening classes at both studios and by day is a psychologist in private practice. “It overwhelmed us.”
Their repertoire grew to include salsa dance lessons, Zumba toning classes, Masala Bhangra dance fitness classes, TRX suspension training classes and pole fitness classes. They launched Zumbatomic, modified Zumba classes for children ages 5 to 12, and they rent their studios for private party lessons. A series of 10 classes is $80.
“We kept adding classes and more classes to our schedule — it was crazy,” said Dorie Wexler, a native New Yorker who started fitness dancing in 1999.
The American Council on Exercise, a national nonprofit certification, education and training organization, lists Zumba as one of the most popular workout trends for 2011. The dance workout takes steps from Latin dances including the rumba, mambo, cha-cha and flamenco and fuses it with interval and resistance training.
“The message is that dancing is a legitimate form of fitness for heart health,” Mark Wexler said.
Dorie and Mark Wexler trained with Zumba’s creator Beto Perez, a Colombian-born choreographer, in 2005 in Miami. Dorie Wexler said she’s not surprised by the Zumba cardio-fitness craze. In her years as a salsa dance instructor and nutrition consultant she has not seen a fitness workout that keeps people as interested over a long period of time, she said.
“Typical dance class has a tendency to be complicated — too much technique,” Dorie Wexler said. “Sometimes people just want to dance.”
The Wexlers met in 2004 on a fitness Internet dating site. Mark Wexler, who practices martial arts, holds a doctorate in psychology. He was a captain in the U.S. Army and served in the first Gulf War, then worked as a civilian psychologist with the Army for 15 years.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Dorie Wexler left a corporate New York-based job to become a Jenny Craig consultant. She had already been dancing salsa and Zumba and lost 60 pounds.
“At the 9/11 point, I changed everything,” Dorie Wexler said. “I said, ‘I’m not going to die in a corporate building.’”
The Wexlers married in 2005. After they were certified to teach Zumba, they shopped their dance fitness skills all over Colorado Springs, but it was so new, no dance studio or gym would hire them. That’s when they opened their own 3,300-square-foot studio.
“We had to create the dance fitness student from the ground up,” Dorie Wexler said. “Everyone was into the gym — but it’s a different atmosphere when you start shaking your hips and shaking your booty and shimmying your shoulders.”
This time of the year, when people are making New Year’s resolutions to get fit, enrollment at both Springs Salsa and Dance Fitness studios is up.
“I’m telling women, it’s OK, shake what you’ve got,” Dorie Wexler said.