Fitness for all

Pastor’s wife offers dance ministry to foster friendship, fitness, fun

By Jessica Brodie

GILBERT—Peppy Christian music plays from speakers in the fellowship hall at Beulah United Methodist Church, the room dim as a dozen or more women of all ages begin to take their places.

“Let’s get started!” says the instructor, pastor’s wife Mary Rowell, her long brown hair tied back in a ponytail as she smiles at all gathered.

Immediately, visitors get the vibe of a safe, no-frills, no-pressure space, the kind of come-as-you-are fitness zone that makes working out easy and fun. The clothing choices vary—salmon pink and electric-blue workout ensembles and neon athletic shoes blend seamlessly with women garbed in khaki walking shorts and crisp white sneakers. Everywhere you turn, someone is smiling or laughing at a joke or giving a quick hello-hug.

This is REFIT® at Beulah, what Rowell calls a “powerful and uplifting fitness experience” for every body regardless of age, experience or ability.

REFIT®, a nationwide “fitness with a purpose” program, fuses dynamic and positive music, both Christian and secular, with upbeat dance moves to raise the heart rate and build lean muscles. Family-friendly and value-based, the program emphasizes having fun while getting fit—and forgetting about perfection.

“It’s a chance to give your body, mind and soul a time to be challenged and recharged,” Rowell said. “We’re creating a fitness experience that changes people from the inside out.”

The classes focus on the heart as a muscle and a soul, and more than once during the class Rowell reminds participants to focus on the words of the song as they follow the moves.

One song, “Start Over,” tells people they don’t have to keep living with the regrets of the past; they are a new creation in the risen Savior: “Regrets, no matter what you've gone through; Jesus, He gave it all to save you. He carried the cross on His shoulders, so you can start over.”

Another song, “Alive,” lifts up God as our ultimate freedom and the light in the darkness: “You are alive in us, nothing can take Your place, you are all we need, your love has set us free,” the song proclaims as the women jump and turn, twist and sway, in time with the beat or not at all.

God’s persistent nudging

Rowell brought REFIT® to Beulah in fall 2014. A jazz, tap and ballet dancer since the second grade, Rowell minored in dance education in college and was a member of the Columbia College Dance Company; she also had her own dance studio for a number of years. But as the years passed and joint and other health issues increased, dancing took the backburner.

“For several years I had been saying, ‘When I lose weight, gain time and reduce joint pain, then I would teach dance,’” Rowell said.

But God had something else in mind. His nudging persisted, and one day when she was looking online for a program that would put together her love for the Lord with dance and contemporary Christian music, she came upon some REFIT® choreography on YouTube.

“I followed that to their website, saw the upcoming training and signed up before I could change my mind,” she said.

She attended the REFIT® training in August 2014 and “the pieces came together,” she said. She realized she couldn’t put conditions on God’s call to lead the classes at Beulah. So broken body and all, she started teaching six weeks later.

Of course, God knew what He was doing. People immediately responded, and the classes have today become a source of fellowship not only for Beulah’s women, but for other Christian women in the community—Presbyterians, Catholics, Baptists and “nones.”

Every Tuesday from 7-8 p.m., Rowell teaches the class. She charges $5; half goes to the church’s building fund, and the other half covers licensing, music and other expenses.

Rowell offers five playlists alternating 14 songs, nearly all of them Christian. Half of the choreography is from the REFIT® founders, and half Rowell makes up. Before every song, she shows participants the moves so they’ll be able to follow along easily. They all go at their own pace and skill-level; some hop, shimmy and pivot with ease. Others stay low-intensity, keeping a steady pace and their feet on the floor. All of it works, and all of it helps.

“The key is just to keep moving,” Rowell said.

‘Doesn’t matter what your hair looks like’

Participants say the classes are fun and helpful on a variety of levels.

“I think it’s great,” said Rosalie Stevenson. “You move parts of your body you haven’t moved before or haven’t moved in years. We get together in a circle and pray for each other at the end, and you feel comfortable, not like you’re at a gym. It doesn’t matter what you wear or what your hair looks like.”

Cindy Curtis struggles with back and neck pain, and she signed up to get a little exercise, plus maybe make some friends. A recent transplant from Connecticut, she said she found that and more.

“It really loosens my body up, and it’s good physical therapy for me, plus helps me lose weight. It keeps me more limber,” Curtis said, taking a swig of water during a break. “When I first started I couldn’t do some of the jumps, and now I can!”

Gayle Terrell signed up because she wanted something new to do. Her husband died two years ago, and she’d just joined Beulah after having been out of church for some time. She said the classes have been a balm for her body and her soul.

“Everybody has a good time—everybody. You just come and do it,” Terrell said. “It’s fellowship and fun and just getting out and about and forgetting about things.”

A big, loving family

Indeed, at the end of the day, Rowell said being able to come together, get fit and become friends with other Christian women is what it’s all about. Every class ends with a big group prayer and a positive sendoff—a big loving family, no matter what.

“We dance together, laugh and cry together and pray together,” Rowell said. “I am very blessed to be a part of this ministry.”

Rowell is willing to share what she’s learned about offering the classes with anyone interested. For more on REFIT®, visit To talk with Rowell, contact her at 803-463-8974, 803-892-2842 or [email protected].

Get Periodic Updates from the Advocate We never sell or share your information. You can unsubscribe from receiving our emails at any time.