The body electric
At first glance, the Saturday morning Zumba exercise class at PulsePDX at Northeast 36th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard looks like any other — a diverse group of people in workout clothes chatting, stretching and getting ready to dance.
But when the class starts, the house lights go down, two teachers welcome the class from a raised stage, the music begins, and the nightclub lighting comes on. It is those elements that set the studio apart from others, says owner Jennifer Nielson.
“For each of our dance fitness and cardio/strength classes, we have a light tech on stage to help create the partylike atmosphere. That, combined with an amazing sound system and a special shock-absorbing floor, creates a class experience like no other,” she says.
Nielson adds, “Because we don’t have mirrors and we have nightclub-style lighting, the studio is very nonthreatening and helps people to relax and feel less self-conscious.”
Her students agree.
The setting “takes the meathead gym out of it and turns it into a personal date with yourself. You can feel sexy, and any age, gender or color can feel good,” Kristina Grimm says.
“This is a positive space where people feel energized. The lights give people a party-club atmosphere and the focus is not on the people around you. There are no mirrors, so you don’t worry about your body, you concentrate on the workout,” Christopher Rose adds.
The idea for the studio began four years ago, when Nielson and another Zumba teacher noted that a typical gym environment, with harsh lighting, inconsistent sound systems and mirrors, did not create the partylike atmosphere that a Zumba class should have.
Together with a third partner, they began renting nightclub space, but soon realized they needed their own facility.
PulsePDX opened on Sandy Boulevard in March 2013, enabling them to offer a wide range of classes, including teacher training, and now the venue can be rented to host special events and
“I have an amazing staff of teachers, receptionists and light techs that keep everything running smoothly and help to create our special, vibrant community,” Nielson says.
“Our tagline is ‘group fitness reimagined’ and we take this seriously. Our classes are unique, fun, challenging and effective, and they are led by an incredible team of dynamic instructors. While the atmosphere is what may hook students initially, it is the great classes and instructors that keep them coming back.”
Each of Nielson’s instructors brings a different set of skills and training to the studio, she says, noting that one teacher is a massage therapist, another performs with a local circus and another has a personal-trainer background.
Nielson was a ballroom dance instructor for years, and discovered Zumba only seven years ago. Now she is certified and licensed to teach a wide range of Zumba and fitness classes.
The DJs up on stage with the teachers keep the sound levels adjusted, but they really are there to create a light show.
“During classes such as Zumba, Pound, U-Jam and Zumba Toning, the light tech is choreographing light changes to each song to change the mood of the room, enhance the music, and create more excitement for each class,” Nielson says.
Phoenix Clarke teaches the Saturday morning Zumba class at Nielson’s side. He started taking Zumba classes in Texas and permanently moved to Portland only five weeks ago.
He works full time as a business analyst for iovation Inc., a Portland fraud prevention company, and previously came to the city once a month for six months for his company. It was on one of those business trips that he heard about PulsePDX.
When he walked into the studio, he did not know what to expect, but says from the first moment he met Nielson at the front desk he felt welcomed.
“I felt like I walked into home, like I had been coming here forever, even before I got into the studio. I love this place. It removes all the elements that make us feel self-conscious,” he says.
He came to PulsePDX classes on every business trip, eventually moving up to guest-teaching spots, and considers Nielson his mentor.
Students who attend classes at PulsePDX span the spectrum from young college students to retired citizens and everyone between, Nielson says.
“One of the most rewarding things is seeing friendships develop between people of very diverse backgrounds who wouldn’t usually cross paths in their daily life. The love of dance and music is universal and has an amazing way of uniting people,” she adds.
Students attend PulsePDX for many different reasons, Nielson notes, including to reach health goals, overcome physical challenges, for stress relief, to distract from major life events, to make friends, or just to have some time to themselves.
She adds, “Whatever their reason, we have a class for them and an environment that accepts and honors where they are at each day. For that one hour, they get to decide what it is they need and know that they will be accepted and welcome as they are.”
For more information about PulsePDX, visit www.pulsepdx.net or call 503-985-8355. The studio is at 3602 N.E. Sandy Blvd. in Portland.