Healthy Life, September 2018

Healthy Life, A Refit Revolution

A REFIT Revolution

“We believe fitness isn’t just for the fit … it’s for the willing.”
By Sharon Holeman

Erika leads a class at the Chapel in the Oaks. Photography by Sharon Holeman of Praise First Media, LLC.

What started as three friends teaching fitness classes at a church in Waco, Texas has turned into a REFIT Revolution! In 2009 Angela Beeler, Catherine Ballas, and Emily Field posted some original choreography on YouTube to help draw people to their classes. Rather than quick-fix results, the trio chose to focus on the joy of the journey – building a community of friends where everyone belongs regardless of their current circumstance. They wanted a place where people would feel acceptance and know when they walked in the door that “you belong here.”

The response to their teachings was astounding. By 2013 they had received enough encouragement and requests from fitness instructors wanting to teach their routines that they launched the REFIT Instructor Program. It combines dance moves to positive music and has been transformational to a great number of people. One of those is Baton Rouge’s Erika Bittner.

Erika was first introduced to REFIT through a friend at church. That invitation led Erika on a journey she was not expecting. “I never did anything related to dance, but as God brought REFIT into my life, a new love and passion surprised me,” she said. After two years of taking classes, Erika became a certified instructor.

“Physical health was a chore for a long time in my life,” she said. “I went to the gym because it was something I had to do. REFIT has changed my life because I enjoy the workout – but it is so much more. It’s a community of real people who do not judge. They encourage each other to be the best versions of themselves. And that gives me so much joy!”

Erika has multiple stories of how she has seen God working in the lives of those who become part of the REFIT community. She recalls with amazement a college friend who reached out to her to learn more about the classes. Her friend attended, and afterward approached Erika with tears in her eyes. The class had given her joy amid an overwhelming season in her life.

“The moment my friend shared her situation with me I knew God was in the details,” Erika said. “Nothing is too big or small for God. He wants us to trust and follow His lead! When we are in tune with the Holy Spirit and do the things we love, big things happen for His glory!”

Despite being a busy wife, dog mom, music teacher, and travel enthusiast, Erika makes time for REFIT. “Not only has REFIT transformed my physical self, but I have gained a new sense of confidence and fabulous community,” she said.

Classes are 55 minutes each, with fun choreography to songs that are positive or neutral. Attendees come to dance, sweat, smile, and laugh. “There is a release of stress,” Erika explains. “Nobody is distracted by cell phones, social media, kids, family, or work. It is a place for people to let go of the burdens of life and worship through dance. I see a huge difference in my attitude and mindset when I am doing REFIT. It is tough to minister to others if we do not take care of ourselves, and I find REFIT provides a place for self-care and stress relief.”

Erika ends each class with a pinky prayer “because we are too sweaty to hold hands!” The group sometimes shares a devotional or does a small activity. “This time really allows us to grow deeper and walk through life together, which is so powerful!” Erika said.

Erika teaches REFIT at The Chapel in the Oaks, along with instructors Morgan Barkas and Jessica Wright. While classes are on a brief hiatus during August, everyone is invited to brunch at The Crown at The Royal Standard on Highland Road on Saturday, August 25 at 10 a.m. Come meet some of the REFIT family!

Fall classes at The Chapel will kick off on Saturday, September 15 at 9 a.m. All classes at this location are donation-based, and everyone is welcome. Follow Erika and her crew on Facebook (I fit you fit REFIT) and Instagram (@ifityoufitrefit).

Other classes in Baton Rouge are held at Elite Gymnastics, Calloway’s Gym, Southern Oaks, and Women’s Center for Wellness. See refitrev.com for more information.

Sharon Holeman is a writer and photographer living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She was the project creator, coordinator, and co-author of the book Backyard Miracles-12 American Women, 12 True Stories, 1 Miraculous God. Previously published in Her Glory and Inspire Louisiana. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio and The Art Institute of Houston. She is currently attending Bethany College to further her pursuit of the Lord and His Word.

Faith Life, November 2016

Christian Dance Instructor Raises the ‘Barre’

by Lisa Tramontana

dance-3-jpgA children’s dance recital should be an event the whole family can enjoy. But if you’ve attended one in recent years, you might have experienced some uncomfortable moments. Little girls dressed inappropriately and dancing suggestively has become the norm at many dance studios.

Whitney Jones-Holland wanted to raise the “barre,” so to speak. An education major with a degree from Southern University, she had grown up dancing in her hometown of Houston, Texas, and dreamed of opening her own studio, but it would have to be one that adhered to high standards and Christian values.

“I wanted my students to be able to learn to dance with joy, love and excitement, but without compromising their values,” she said. “I wanted to be able to teach values that would uplift and inspire them.”

She didn’t know if anyone would be interested, but she began to pray about it, and the more she prayed, the more it seemed possible. During a road trip to Tennessee, the Lanier Elementary teacher got the proverbial “sign from God” — literally.

dance1-jpg“I was thinking about my dance idea, and I saw this huge billboard for some kind of guidance counseling. And then the word ‘guidance’ struck me, and I thought, ‘I never knew DANCE was in the word guidance. Then I thought maybe this was divine intervention. And suddenly I knew I would open a studio and I knew what its name would be … Divine GuiDANCE.

Today, Divine Guidance has more than 60 students enrolled in tap, jazz, ballet and creative movement classes. Dancers range from age 2 to adult, and participate in an annual recital each year, held at Faith, Hope & Love Worship Center, and at LSU.

dance2-jpg“The music, movements and costumes are not suggestive in any way, and don’t send out negative messages,” Jones-Holland said. “We pray at the beginning and end of every class. There is no yelling or fussing or pressure. We’re a team and we treat each other with kindness and respect at all times. Our instructors encourage students to believe in themselves in their daily lives, at home, at school, and in their communities. We are teaching them dance skills, but we are also sharing our faith, showing them love, and helping them deal with life’s challenges.”

Jones-Holland has a big heart, and a year ago, a new idea started weighing heavily on her. She would offer her dance classes free for an entire year. With 50 students, the idea could have had disastrous financial consequences, but just the opposite happened. “This was all faith,” she said. “My husband (Hansoni) supported it, everyone pulled together, parents donated what they could afford, and it was a huge success.”

The free training allowed many young girls to discover a love of dance in a supportive and caring environment. Many of them would not have been able to afford it otherwise.

Divine Guidance also enrolled students in the studio’s first dance, academic and enrichment camp, which will hopefully become an annual project serving about 30 students each year. Holiday camps are held throughout the year and in the summer.

dance-4-jpgJones-Holland, who is also mother to 4-year-old Holli, says her parents were instrumental in forming her faith life, and she is grateful to them for a gift she now passes on to other young girls. The parents of her students are grateful as well.

“There’s warmth and love in the way she teaches,” says Tonya Johnese, whose daughter Hannah studies with Holland. “Whitney is a great role model.”

Camilla Jones agrees. Her daughter, Ca’Myra, has been dancing with Holland since the age of two. “Everything about her studio is wholesome and for a parent that’s very important,” she said.

Divine Guidance Studio is located at 4523 North Blvd. For more information, call (225) 330-1648.