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Naples Daily News (Florida)

"Let's go to Colombia," Winnie Purple told us.

So, to a thrumming Colombian beat, we punched and kneed the air, warming up our bodies at the start of a World Fusion Dance class surrounded by Shangri-La Spring's tropical paradise.

On that recent Thursday morning, I also went to Hawaii, Africa, Haiti and back again with Winnie Purple.

Once a week, Purple leads her "tribe" of women through dance movements from around the world. You'd think Purple had spent her entire life traveling from island to island, perfecting her hula hips on Oahu, then traveling to Thailand to master the slow and controlled motions of traditional Thai dance.

Turns out, she's simply a product of a world-renowned dance academy in her Mexican hometown of Guadalajara, Jalisco.

But in her class at Shangri-La, her authenticity still shines.

Purple grew up in a music-oriented family. She started taking dance classes when she was 4 years old at her aunt's studio, Danzas Polinesias de Guadalajara Academy. There, she learned the dances of the world, mastering Polynesian dance, which covers the islands of the central and southern Pacific Ocean - New Zealand, Hawaii and Rapa Nui.

She also became a musician — a Latin jazz singer and percussionist — and explored painting and photography at a young age.

She arrived in Southwest Florida in 2001. You'll find her regularly performing alongside guitarist Steve Uscher at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples Lobby Bar in North Naples on Mondays and Fridays and at Bahama Breeze in Fort Myers on Saturdays, and in the dining room at Shangri-La on the last Thursday of the month.

Since Shangri-La started offering wellness classes about 3 years ago, Purple said she's been teaching there in some capacity.

She decided to fuse all her ethnic dances into a one-hour class, and I was all about it.

After our Colombian warmup inside the octagon-shaped room with picture windows, we went to Argentina. Purple led at the front of the class, which had no mirrors, making it a little tricky to follow along. My three female classmates and I balanced on one leg, engaged our cores and tried our best seductive tango.

Not sure if it worked, but balance, Purple said, is key.

"To me that is very important," she said. "That's the goal — to integrate balance with the strength with breathing. All those are the foundations of dancing."

Some of my female classmates danced barefoot. I decided to the do the same. It felt more tribal.

We shimmied our hips to the funky beat of the "Hawaii Five-O" theme song. The enchanting luau hips are all in the knees, Purple told us; dancers keep them bent to appear as if floating. I only wish I could channel Purple's sway.

Later came the fun props.

We used yellow fans in the Thai number, moving slowly and controlled with emphasis on the hands and fingers. Even though this was our slowest dance, I worked up the most sweat here, holding a squat position and moving only inches with each breath.

Then we traveled back to Hawaii to play with pretty patterned shakers, moving our hips and our shakers side to side with the beat.

We kept the Hawaiian flavor going, this time with drumsticks. Traditionally they are made out of bamboo, which makes an "earthly sound" when they are struck together, Purple said. Ours were maple.

In Haiti and in Africa, we drummed our sticks over neon plastic bins, thrumming a hearty beat and letting out a little stress along the way. We were warrior princesses, and I couldn't help but smile.

After class, Purple hugged her students and wished to see them next week.

"It's like this tribal family," she said afterward. "I think to bring, for at least one hour in your life, a little bit of that flavor, of that feeling of being part of a whole, I think it's beautiful. And the girls can feel it. We support each other."

World Fusion Dance

Sweat scale: 2 out of 5 drops

What to bring: Water to drink

When: 9:30 a.m. each Thursday

Where: Shangri-La Springs, 27750 Old 41 Road, Bonita Springs

Cost: $15 for drop-in, or $120 for 10 classes for up to one year after purchase (can be shared with family)

More information:

See more photos from the World Fusion Dance class.

Meet Me at the Gym is an occasional Tuesday column about Southwest Florida group exercise classes. Wellness reporter Shelby Reynolds finds the newest workout crazes, unique locations and the interesting people behind them, then gives it a try so you know what to expect. Have a suggestion? Email

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Photos by Nicole Raucheisen/Naples Daily News Instructor Winnie Purple leads her World Fusion Dance class on June 1. Linda Kurfist, background, shakes her hips while mirroring Purple during the World Fusion Dance class at Shangri-La Springs. Purple uses shakers during a Hawaiian-inspired dance at Shangri-La Springs in Bonita Springs.
June 13, 2017


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