- Associated Press - Saturday, August 13, 2016

ROXBURY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) - A Roxbury woman is appealing to two growing Morris County demographics - country music fans and those interested in fitness classes - by combining the two into a unique workout.

Country Fusion is a country music-themed dance fitness class that uses easy-to-follow choreography to create a fun and energetic full-body workout for people of all ages and skill sets.

Creator Elizabeth De Gennaro told the Daily Record of Parsippany (https://dailyre.co/2b1iKfV ) she didn’t begin to enjoy country music until a few years ago, when artists like Luke Bryan provided enough crossover appeal to open the flood gates.

“The first song I remember loving was Luke Bryan’s ‘Country Girl’ and I choreographed a routine to it for one of my dance classes and everyone loved it,” said De Gennaro, 32, of Roxbury. “From that response I thought, ‘what if I do this for a fitness class?’”

It also helped that the music brings back fond memories of her childhood.

“I grew up on hip hop, but my family always vacationed near Lake George (in New York), and when we were up there, I loved the cowboy vibe,” De Gennaro said. “But country is huge here right now and still growing. I’m seeing shows and they’re sold out. There’s a real appeal to the music. I like that it tells a story, but there are also a lot of songs that have an upbeat vibe and others that are really sexy.”

So De Gennaro created Country Fusion in March 2015, and she had plenty of experience to draw from. She said she has danced since she was 2 years old.

“Hip-hop and jazz, then ballroom and Latin,” De Gennaro said. “I’ve danced and taught dancing my whole life.”

After years of competing, she began to teach in her 20s, leading fitness classes when she turned 23. At 25, De Gennaro launched her own dance studio on Long Island and later produced an off-Broadway show. She’s also appeared as a dancer on TV shows, including “Boardwalk Empire” and performed in burlesque festivals.

So when she moved to Roxbury from New York City last summer and launched Country Fitness in the fall, she was prepared. All she had to do was find the right mix of songs, which she did by listening to the catalogs of her favorite artist and making note every time she heard a song on the radio she thought would work for the class.

“My favorite artist is Kenny Chesney so there’s a few of his songs in there,” De Gennaro said. “His ‘American Kids’ is actually a really great line dancing song.”

The 50-minute class is based on interval training, switching between about 15 slow and fast songs to raise and lower the heart rate. Through each song, De Gennaro leads the class through her choreographed routine.

“The beat stays the same through all of the songs, so it’s easy for people to pick up,” De Gennaro said. “The speed, dances and steps change each time but over time you see the repetitions and learn the dances.”

While most of the songs in her playlists are in the country genre, De Gennaro said she adds the “fusion” element by throwing in four “wild cards” each session to mix things up. These songs come from different genres of music, including Latin, salsa, belly-dancing and hip hop.

The cool down portion of the session at the end always features line dancing, which involves slower and easier movements than the other songs.

“It’s fun, but it’s a real workout,” De Gennaro said. “By the time you’re done, you’ll have burned at least 500 calories, all while learning how to dance.”

Kaitlyn Reynolds, 26, of Mount Olive has been participating in Country Fusion since it started and has become De Gennaro’s de facto assistant.

“I loved that’s it’s different than anything else out there. It’s got the country vibe but it mixes in other types of dancing, too,” Reynolds said. “It’s a lot more fun than going on a machine in a gym where a minute can feel like an hour. Time goes really fast here. Liz really gets people excited about it.”

Reynolds and her mother were some of the earliest adopters of Country Fusion, helping spread the word when De Gennaro was new to area and didn’t know many people.

De Gennaro now has five weekly classes in Morris County, which she said have continued to grow in the nine months since she started.

Her weekday evening and Saturday morning classes are now packed, with about 25 people per session.

“It’s amazing. More people are coming out every single week,” De Gennaro said. “It’s going very well, but I’m a perfectionist. This is only the beginning.”

In October, De Gennaro will begin certifying instructors who will take Country Fusion outside of Morris County.

“It’ll be a seven-hour course. I’m working on the manual right now,” De Gennaro said. “I’ll have to make sure any instructors that graduate will be able to not only teach the choreography but also know the body well, because this is a fitness class first.”

She’s also taking classes to become a registered dietitian. And at the end of the month, De Gennaro will release a Country Fusion DVD for people to work out at home.

Thursday at Horseshoe Lake in Roxbury, De Gennaro got her class started with a classic, “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show, before kicking into high gear with the high-energy tune that launched the idea for the class, “Country Girl.”

As one hit transitioned into another, the newcomers started to pick up the moves, and by the end they were all one uniform group, working out to some country songs.

Cowboy hats, blue jeans and boots aren’t necessary to participate in Country Fusion. People should dress comfortably, as for any other fitness class.

Country Fusion classes are held weekly in Roxbury, Whippany and Boonton Township. A single class costs $12, with discounted rates for five and 10 class bundles. Go to https://countryfusion.net/ for more information, including a schedule.

“If you’re interested you should give it a try,” De Gennaro said. “Everyone here is very welcoming and willing to help as you learn in the beginning.”

For anyone looking to learn some line dancing, De Gennaro is hosting a fundraiser at 6 p.m. Aug. 26 at the Horseshoe Lake Pavilion. She will walk attendees through an hour and a half of country line dances. The event costs $20 with proceeds benefiting the Antler Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary.

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Information from: Daily Record (Parsippany, N.J.), https://www.dailyrecord.com

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