Stay fit during the chilly winter months

As a chill settles and autumn blows into winter, the tendency to burrow inside increases across Whidbey Island. Fortunately, plenty of activity aficionados have created ways to keep everyone inside while remaining active, engaged and fit-as-a-fiddle.

From kettlebells and clogging to Bollywood and belly dancing, there’s no reason to be bored on the island this winter. All these activities are casual, drop-in friendly, and require little, if any, pre-registration.

Backyard Kettlebells

Those with children may already know about The Backyard play space in Langley – but what’s just dawning on grown-ups is that the play isn’t all about the little ones. In fact, the Backyard kettlebell sessions are just for adults and take place five days a week.

The unique thing about joining the kettlebells group at The Backyard is that it takes place in its own dedicated space while still being open to kids on the other side of the huge open-format room. So everyone can see one another while still having their own age-appropriate activities. It’s a family affair in the truest sense, and even those kettlebellers without kids enjoy the sense of community created in the design and layout.

The Backyard is a nonprofit organization started by Sarah and Zach Ruggenberg, who are trained and certified in the latest fitness trends for all ages. Sarah specializes in what’s known as NatMove in which fitness is based on natural body movement, while Zach is a certified StrongFirst kettlebell instructor.

In the kettlebell sessions, participants work out with cast iron balls that have handles attached to the top. The classes include balance and movement exercises that incorporate the kettlebells in various ways, and a typical group includes males and females varying in age from 16 to 70 and of varying levels of fitness and experience.

Some aspire to become toned and build muscle mass, while others have a goal of improving back strength or better balance.

“I teach people to move safely and effectively,” Zach said. “And people do get stronger, with more defined muscles, weight loss, better cardiovascular and respiratory systems … as people slowly increase their skill levels, their body awareness increases too, along with flexibility, mobility and confidence.”

But the most important thing is that it’s enjoyable, Zach explained. Case in point: In November, they have a community event call Friendsgiving at which everyone comes out, brings a potluck item, engages in a communal workout with kettlebells, and then it’s time to eat and hang out.

As a nonprofit, the mission is to make the “alternative fitness playground” available to all ages and fitness levels, regardless of ability to pay. There’s a sliding scale payment approach that means nobody is turned away, even if they can’t pay anything.

For more information, visit The Backyard website at or call 425-299-4178.


For most people, clogging probably conjures up images of wooden shoes and traditional Dutch outfits. Many have no idea that clogging is actually an American folk dance originating in Appalachia. The percussive “foot-tapping” style of dance has influences from Holland, Germany and the British Isles but has been shaped by both Native American and African dance customs.

Now, clogging has tapped its way across the heartland and into almost all states and communities – including Whidbey Island. After years of employment as a high school teacher, Cyndy Jenson discovered that nobody was offering clogging classes on the island and decided that she would “tap up to the plate.”

She now offers clogging lessons and sessions at Island Dance in Langley and at the Oak Harbor Senior Center. They’re available on a drop-in basis without a long commitment, though most people get hooked, she said, and want to progress to higher skill levels or stay engaged with the evolving groups.

Known by various names such as flat-footing, buck dancing, jigging and back-stepping, it’s basically dancing in time to music with a heel move occurring on the downbeat.

“It’s a toe-tapping, heart-thumping activity,” Jenson said, “and we dance to modern, country and generally any kind of music with a great beat.”

There’s no need for a partner, since the dance traditionally occurs in a formation that’s similar to line dancing. All ages and genders are welcome, and there are several options for foot gear. Some opt for hard-sole or tap shoes, but others, including the instructor, choose to glue jingle taps onto a comfortable pair of sneakers.

“You may tone up your body and even lose a few pounds,” Jenson said. “You’ll have a blast and meet some of the most fun-loving folks on the island.”

For more information on classes, contact Island Dance at 360-341-2221 or the Oak Harbor Senior Center at 360-279-2555.

Bollywood and Belly Dancing

It’s not surprising that Bollywood and belly dancing intermingle in a class taught by Arianne Movassaghi. The dance entrepreneur and owner of Dance Artistry grew up in a Middle Eastern family and started her own Bollywood/belly dance company at just 18 years of age.

Now 29, Movassaghi specializes in “fusion dance,” which combines several techniques to create a unique and evolving style. In her class at Island Dance in Langley, she teaches belly dancing and Bollywood dance with varying infusions of Latin, jazz, ballet and/or contemporary movements layered into the Middle Eastern style.

It’s a drop-in class on Tuesday nights, with no registration and no prior dance experience required or necessary. Since it’s not a performance class (as many of her other offerings), belly dancing is not for show or recital – it’s for anyone who wants to learn something exotic while also getting a workout with dance, stretching and body strengthening.

Movassaghi explains that the art of belly dancing came from ancient rituals and folk dances of Middle Eastern cultures. General consensus is that it began in Egypt, but artifacts show its early presence in Greece, Sumer, Persia, Hungary and Spain. The root of the name “belly dance” comes from the French Danse du ventre, which translates as “dance of the stomach.”

A typical dance session includes people ranging from age 15 to 60, and each dance session begins with warm-up exercises. It then moves to isolations that tone and strengthen specific muscles and muscle groups, and finally to choreography where students learn how to move with beauty and technique.

“It’s a fun workout, and anytime you exercise, your physical and emotional state benefit,” Movassaghi said. “It also boosts your self-esteem. Through practicing dance, the body becomes more supple and graceful and literally learns to move more beautifully.”

The recurring class takes place on Tuesdays from 6:45 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. at Island Dance in Langley. Cost is $15 per session. For more information, email or call 425-305-6233.

Becca Swan participates in an adult kettlebells class at The Backyard in Langley. Photo by Wendy Leigh / South Whidbey Record

Becca Swan participates in an adult kettlebells class at The Backyard in Langley. Photo by Wendy Leigh / South Whidbey Record