Six Dance-Cardio Exercises to Boost Energy and Beat Boredom

Lena Weib

Cardio doesn’t have to be boring. One good way to shake up your routine? Dancing. 

Even bad, Elaine-on-‘Seinfeld’-style dancing counts toward the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recommended 150 weekly minutes of moderate-intensity activity. And for lots of us, it’s way more fun than running on a treadmill or spinning on a stationary bike.

After teaching fitness classes at nearly every major gym in Manhattan, including Equinox and New York Sports Clubs,

Matthew Johnson Harris

joined Ailey Extension in 2019. A former Broadway performer and choreographer for Carnegie Hall, he married his love of dance with his passion for fitness and introduced hip-hop cardio classes to the public arm of New York’s acclaimed

Alvin Ailey

American Dance Theater.

Mr. Johnson Harris, 34 years old, has taught everything from spin to Pilates and observed that dance makes people feel particularly vulnerable.

 “I start every class with affirmations and by saying, ‘Dance like nobody’s watching,’ because most times no one is,” he says. “Even people with two left feet still have two feet that can move.” 

The following are some of the moves that appear in his 60-minute classes. He suggests performing each exercise for one minute and gradually ramping up the tempo as you master the coordination. Once you can do each move for one minute, loop the workout or extend the time per exercise. His workouts are normally choreographed to 90s hip-hop and Beyoncé, but he says any song with a consistent beat will work.

The Workout

Across the Floor

Why: This exercise improves coordination while dialing up your heart rate and tapping the stabilizing muscles in the body. It’s also great for toning the biceps.

How: Step forward and to the right with the right foot while bringing the left hand straight across the chest from right shoulder to left and then down by your side. Step forward and to the left with the left foot while bringing the right hand across the chest.

After taking four steps forward with each foot while performing the coordinating upper body moves, step backward and to the right with your right foot and then back and out to the left with the left foot. Keep your elbows glued to your hips and with each step back pump your arms upward as if performing a biceps curl. After four steps backward with each foot repeat moving forward.

Mr. Johnson Harris demonstrates the forward portion of the Across the Floor move.

Sassy Squats

Why: A glute blaster, this exercise also works the quads, hamstrings and hip flexors while allowing you to have some fun with the boring squat.

How: Stand with your feet just beyond shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing at 45-degree angles. Slowly drop into a deep squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground. At the bottom of your squat tap the ground with both hands. Squeeze your glutes as you use a count of four to return to starting position. Slowly add in movement, bringing the knees in and out on the way up and down and pumping the hands in the air or out to the sides. 

Mr. Johnson Harris does a Sassy Squat.

Core Blaster

Why: This exercise is a good alternative for people who can’t do floor core work because of lower back issues, Mr. Johnson says.

How: Think of this move as running in place with high knees, plus an added hand-to-knee element, he says. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms overhead and core tight. As you raise your left knee to hip height, bring both hands down to tap the top of the knee. Now raise the right knee and bring both hands down to the top. Tap left, right, left, right then reverse to right, left, right left. Start at a quick march and slowly pick up the pace. 

Mr. Johnson Harris performs the Core Blaster.

Pepper Grinder

Why: This exercise builds flexibility in the spine while strengthening the core.

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How: Stand with your feet 6 inches apart and arms crossed in front of your chest so your wrists stack on top of one another and your elbows are parallel to the floor. Drop into a low squat and twist your hips to the left as you simultaneously raise your wrists to shoulder height and twist the upper body to the right. Your gaze should follow the direction of your twist. Rise up and come back to center. Repeat the twisted squat in the opposite direction.  

Mr. Johnson Harris performs the Pepper Grinder exercise.

Arm Isolation Pop

Why: This exercise raises the heart rate while also targeting the small muscles in the shoulders.

How: Stand with your feet together. Raise your arms so your fists touch in front of your chest and elbows are parallel with shoulders. As you step your left foot to the left side, open your arms out to form a “T” shape and look to the left. As you return your feet to center, bring both fists in to meet at the chest. Step out to the right and bring your arms back to the “T” and look right. Continue alternating sides. 

Mr. Johnson Harris demonstrates the Arm Isolation Pop move.

Criss X Cross

Why: This explosive cardio exercise is a calorie burner that also builds coordination.

How: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Punch the right hand then left hand directly in front of you and then take the right hand followed by the left hand down and behind you. Next jump crisscrossing your feet, left foot in front of the right, then right in front of left. Continue alternating upper and lower body motions.

Mr. Johnson Harris demonstrates the Criss X Cross move.

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