From booty slapping to ab crunches to mountain biking,
exercise in Grand Rapids takes many forms.
By Terri Finch Hamilton | Photography by Michael Buck
Listen. You can hear the sound of people sweating. ’
Over at Brandi Angelosanto’s dance exercise studio, it sounds like hip-hop music, punctuated by the occasional “Woo!” and the sound of women slapping their booties. Here, sweating is sexy.
At the VanBonn House in East Grand Rapids, it’s the sound of laughter, then mountain bike tires hitting the road as the whole family bikes together, including a college kid and a Detroit daughter who return for the fun.
And if you’re awake at 5 a.m., turn your ear toward the YMCA in Belmont, where 82-year-old Fred Peeples burns up the fitness equipment and cheerfully chats with his many fans. You’ll hear a lot of “Hey, Fred!”
All over town, fitness sounds good.
Finding fitness through dance
Saturday mornings with Brandi Angelosanto are booty busting.
For music, think Pitbull, T-Pain and Nicki Minaj.
Picture yourself as a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader. Wiggle seductively like an exotic dancer. Slap your booty. You get the idea.
It’s pure fun, with a dose of sexy.
These aren’t your mom’s exercise moves. Or, maybe they are. Everybody’s welcome at Booty Beat class, and it has a way of making you feel 10 years younger.
“At Booty Beat, you laugh, you giggle, you have fun,” instructor Angelosanto, 35, says. “Each move has a name: girl fight; boom, boom, pow; booty flurry. Put the moves together, and you’re dancing.”
Angelosanto, lithe and cheerful with swingy red hair, has been dancing since she was 3 years old.
“I loved it so much, even as a little kid,” she says. “I clicked with it, and it became part of me.”
She has photos of herself as a kid at dance class, arms and legs in perfect position — as all the other little girls stare off into space.
If it’s dance, she’s done it: ballet, jazz, modern, tap. She twirled batons and shook pompons. She competed in ballroom dance, perfecting her fox trot and cha cha.
When she learned Grand Valley State University was offering a new minor in dance, she went back to school to earn one, even though she had already graduated.
She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology, a bachelor’s in physical education/corporate fitness and wellness, and a long list of dance fitness certifications. She’s been a fitness instructor for 12 years.
Ask her to describe what it is about dance, and Angelosanto gets poetic.
“When I dance, I get instant gratification,” she says. “A sense of comfort — like I’m doing something I belong to. I feel joy, excitement. A piece of music could come on in my car, and I start grooving.”
She laughed. “People probably look at me funny. I can’t help it. I feel the music.”
She thinks for a minute. “That’s it, right there,” she says. “I feel the emotion that comes out of the music and I interpret those emotions through my dancing.”
Her mission is to make fitness fun — through dance.
Exercise is viewed as work, she says.
“We work so much in life. When it comes time to exercise, the last thing we want to do is work some more. People think, ‘I have to go to the gym, I have to run on the treadmill, I have to lift weights.’ It becomes mundane and boring, and that’s how we lose people.
“It’s very intimidating,” she says. “They see all these machines and they don’t know what to do. It’s work. It should be fun.”
On her travels to fitness conventions in Miami, New York and Chicago, she saw fun classes.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh — why don’t we have these in Grand Rapids?”
She was one of the first Zumba instructors in town back in 2007. These days, her Artistic Grace studio — space rented for now from CARE Ballet Studio, 2661 29th St. SE — offers Booty Beat; Piloxing, a calorie-busting mix of boxing, dance and Pilates; Hip Hop Hustle; and Diva Tease. That last one is a special class for private group celebrations. Think feather boas and Girls’ Night Out parties.
Next up: pole dancing. Angelosanto took a training class in July to teach it.
“It’s becoming huge in the fitness world,” she says. “People think it’s stripping, but it actually started in India 2,000 years ago as a sport. American women didn’t start doing it until the Depression, to make money. We’ve kind of poisoned the art.”
Booty Beat works the whole body — more so than running, she says. Really put your booty into it and you can burn 800 to 900 calories working your legs, arms, cardio and core.
She eats natural and organic, does yoga once in a while and loves stretching.
But mostly, she dances. And smiles.
“I want to attract women who want a great workout but who want to feel like a woman, too,” she says. “People who want that element of play.”
Fitness, family style
On Thanksgiving, when most people are loosening their belts after too much pie or poring over Black Friday ads, Todd and Kelly VanBonn and their two adult children get out next year’s calendar and fill the weekend squares with races.
Bike races. Running races. Races the four of them will do together — after they start the day at a 5:15 a.m. spin class at the YMCA.
The VanBonn family rides mountain bikes together whenever possible.
The logistics aren’t easy. Daughter Kelsey, 24, is a teacher at Waterford Public Schools in the Detroit area. Son Kohl, 21, is a junior at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant. But they make it work, because for this East Grand Rapids family, fitness — and togetherness — is a priority.
“It’s been nice,” Kohl says of the time spent mountain biking with his dad. “He goes mountain biking with me a lot. It’s definitely nice.” He smiles. “Until he beats me.”
“That’s why I do it,” 49-year-old Todd says with a grin. “I like to beat him.”
The family fitness routine started evolving about eight years ago when Kelly heard herself encouraging Todd to start exercising. It would help manage his Type 1 diabetes, she told him.
“I weighed 260 pounds then,” she says. “I thought to myself, ‘Wait a minute. You have a disease you’re not in control of, too.”
The real turning point came when she was on a flight for her job as a travel agent and she had to ask for a seat belt extension. “That was embarrassing,” she says.
So she joined Weight Watchers.
“It was just timing,” she says. “It’s hard to do something like that when your kids are little. Mine were in high school, and I could say, ‘I’m going for a walk. You can come or you can stay.’ I finally had the freedom to say, ‘I’m doing this for me.’ When you’re a mom, everything is about your kids.”
At first, she says, she was too overweight to exercise.
“But after I lost about 40 pounds, I started walking a little,” she says. Todd walked with her.
“I’m diabetic,” he says. “And I guess my wife wants me to live forever.”
“The key is to have support,” Kelly says. “Even if it’s one person reminding the other one: ‘Remember, we were gonna walk tonight.’”
Before, she says, “We were a family of slugs. We watched a lot of movies.”
Kohl, a cyclist, was the only one who exercised.
Kelly decided to start riding her bike to her office at 28th and East Paris Avenue — about a five-mile ride. A year later, at one of her son’s mountain bike races, “I thought, ‘That looks cool. I think I can do this.”
For Mother’s Day, she got a mountain bike. For Father’s Day, Todd got one.
“I was the last one to join the biking,” Kelsey says. A longtime runner, she still prefers that, and she and her mom enjoy running marathons together. But as she attended the bike races to cheer the rest of her family on, she started to feel left out. So she got a bike, too.
Suddenly, they were a family of mountain bikers.
Weight Watchers helped the whole family switch to healthier eating habits, Kelly says.
“We totally changed the way we eat,” she says. Whole oats and grains, few processed foods. “I had to learn what a normal-sized portion is.”
When they’re apart, they still run together, sort of.
They e-mail each other daily about their runs, checking in with each other about how far they went.
Kelly got an e-mail from Kelsey just before Thanksgiving. It wasn’t asking about turkey or pie. It said, “I’ll be home the day before — think we can get eight miles in?”
“The coolest thing is the family part of it,” Kelly says. “How many 21- and 24-year-olds do you know who want to spend the weekend with mom and dad?”
“At work, everybody thinks it’s odd,” says Kelsey, a high school English teacher. “When everybody talks about what they’re doing over the weekend, and I say I’m going to bike with my family, they all look at me funny.”
Todd and Kelly bought an RV so the family can camp together when they travel for races. “Those camping weekends — I wouldn’t trade them,” Todd says.
For their 25th anniversary, Kelly and Todd climbed in the rig and headed to Kentucky to go mountain biking for 10 days.
Kelly laughs. “It’s just what we do,” she says.
A lifetime of fitness
It’s 5 a.m. at the YMCA in Belmont, and 82-year-old Fred Peeples is through the door the minute it opens. He hits the weight room, the elliptical machine and the stair stepper in an impressive round of early-morning fortitude.
Dirk Bruyn looks on as Peeples hits the floor with a handled wheel, rolling back and forth with his sinewy arms.
“There’s few of us who use this,” Peeples notes as he rolls.
That’s probably because it looks really hard, Fred.
“It is hard,” he says with a grin.
He’s an inspiration,” says Bruyn, a residential builder from Belmont. “I can’t do all he does.”
“Now to the crunch machines,” Peeples announces, heading to the Nautilus Nitro Plus abdominal machine.
At age 82, Fred Peeples still hits the YMCA early in the morning for some aerobics and strength training.
Peeples’ workout is punctuated by a lot of, “Hey, Marty!” “Hello, Danny — how ya’ doin’ buddy?” and “This is Denise. How are you, Denise?”
“Everybody knows him and everybody loves him,” Bruyn says. “He knows every person here by name. This is like his family.” He smiles. “Fred works hard and he socializes hard.”
“I don’t want to achieve the body of Charles Atlas,” Peeples notes as he squirts disinfectant on the machine he just used. “I just want to stay healthy.”
He’s been at it his whole life. He started roller skating when he was 6 and kept it up until he was 76, often hitting a roller rink every night and skating three to four hours — “just for the joy and the relaxation and the exercise,” he says.
He couldn’t skate much during his four years in the Air Force, but picked it up again when he got out.
“I traveled a lot after my retirement from GM,” he says. “And wherever I went, I took my roller skates.”
But by age 76, Peeples started to worry. He saw friends his age suffer broken bones from falls and watched as they never fully recovered. So he hung his skates up in the garage, where they still remind him of good times. Then, he joined the YMCA.
He’s there when the doors open Monday through Friday. Most days he hits the Belmont Y, but at least once a week he goes downtown. He has friends at both places, and Fred is a friendly sort of guy. “I like to see everybody,” he says.
Usually he spins and lifts weights, but you also might find him on the elliptical or taking some laps in the pool.
On days he isn’t working, it might be 9 a.m. before he leaves. Four hours of exercise, Fred?
He laughs. “Oh, no,” he says. “It takes me that long to get out the door because you have to talk to everybody. Well, I have to talk to everybody.
“I like to find out the history of a person,” he muses, as he hits the stair stepper. “If you keep to yourself, you don’t get the opportunity to get knowledge about other people.”
Peeples retired from General Motors as a supervisor in 1986, but some days he works as a fill-in maintenance worker at apartments managed by the Grand Rapids Housing Commission. On those days, he has to get in, exercise, and get out to be on the job at 7:30 a.m.
“I do it to stay healthy and fit,” he says.
It appears to be working. He’s 82, but Peeples doesn’t look a day over 50.
“I don’t look my age at all,” Peeples notes. “And I don’t feel it, either.”
He had hip replacement surgery in August and was back on the treadmill eight weeks later. He passed his last physical a few weeks ago with flying colors. He says his doctors are always complimenting him.
“I have five siblings and I’m the only one left,” he says. “And I’m the only one who exercised. I look at other people younger than me, and they don’t look as fit as I am.”
When he worked at GM, all the supervisors had scooters to get them around the expansive plant at Burton Street and Burlingame Avenue SW in Wyoming.
“I didn’t want one,” he says. “I walked.”
Years ago, he was a smoker, but he quit at the age of 42.
“I gained 45 pounds,” he says. “Oh, my, I didn’t know food could taste so good.”
The weight gain bothered him, so when a co-worker suggested he eat just once a day, Peeples tried it.
“The first four days, I got a headache,” he says. “The fifth day, I didn’t have a headache and I’ve been eating one meal a day ever since.”
He’s been married for 64 years to his wife, Helen. They have a daughter and two granddaughters.
Peeples loves the camaraderie at the Y. He sort of started it.
“When I first started going, I’d say good morning to everybody, and a lot of them looked at me like I was crazy,” he says. “But I kept it up — ‘Good morning. Good morning.’ I started introducing people to each other. I got everybody involved.” He smiles. “I’m a people person.”
When he shows up at 5 a.m., he takes “roll call,” he says, and if any of the 5 a.m. regulars aren’t there, they have to explain their absence to him the next day.
On his 80th birthday, his Y pals threw a party for him with cookies and balloons.
“I have so much fun,” he says. “I talk to everybody. It’s very soothing, at my age. I know it’s good for my mind, as well as my body. It’s like therapy, you know?” GR