Why Greek dance workout leaves fitness buffs 'smiling' in suburbs

  • New to the Chicago area, "OPA-cize" is a popular fitness class that started in Australia.

    New to the Chicago area, "OPA-cize" is a popular fitness class that started in Australia. Courtesy of Vicky Georgacopoulos

  • "It's a double bonus. You have a good time. You work out. You listen to Greek music," Vicky Georgacopoulos says of the fitness classes she teaches.

      "It's a double bonus. You have a good time. You work out. You listen to Greek music," Vicky Georgacopoulos says of the fitness classes she teaches. Katlyn Smith | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 2/29/2016 4:51 PM

"Opa!"

Now don't you find yourself moving your feet, lifting your arms and looking for a plate to smash?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

And that's why "OPA-cize" may be the perfect name for a fitness class.

But Vicky Georgacopoulos uses another Greek word to describe the workouts she teaches in Glen Ellyn, Elmhurst and Des Plaines: "Kefi."

Literally, it means "fun." But Georgacopoulos says the English translation doesn't quite capture the spirit of the word.

"It's this feeling. It's like the extreme, euphoric kind of fun feeling when you're totally involved in the moment, totally involved in the fun and in the music," Georgacopoulos said. "And you kind of get lost. Once you reach that point, you don't even realize you're working out anymore, and that's the whole point of it."

Georgacopoulos is the only instructor in the Chicago area teaching OPA-cize, an hourlong, calorie-busting class that incorporates traditional Greek dance and music (no smashing plates). A fellow Greek woman who has a background in Latin dance launched the first class in Sydney, Australia, in March 2015.

"By the time they leave, they're smiling," Georgacopoulos said of the participants in her class. "And that's great, because they came in with who knows? Stress from home, from work, whatever. And for that one hour, they forgot it."

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When she came across a Facebook ad on the class, Georgacopoulos immediately contacted the founder, Kathy Skettos, and completed online training to become an instructor.

"Vicky's passion for Greek music and dance shines through her every time she dances," Skettos said in an email. "She is a lovely person who has time for everyone and is fun to be around."

Georgacopoulos, a new stay-at-home mom from Bloomingdale, had been searching for an outlet and a way to get back into shape.

"I'm on the journey, too. I just had my daughter," Georgacopoulos said. "I want to lose weight. I want to get fit. This is something I believe in that I knew would work for me."

For Georgacopoulos, it's also a chance to satisfy her nostalgia for Greek culture. Her father was born in Greece. It was her first language. She went to Greek school as a kid and participated, on and off, in a folk dance troupe.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Have you seen 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'? Very similar to that -- minus the Windex," she tells a reporter about her family.

Valerie Rimstidt, too, signed up for OPA-cize to embrace her heritage. Rimstidt, whose grandfather was a Greek native, drove more than an hour from Rochelle to a recent class in a gym at the Grace Lutheran parish in downtown Glen Ellyn.

There, Georgacopoulos' students really were smiling doing squats and leg kicks in between dance moves.

"I saw this and I thought it's for everybody, every level," Rimstidt said. "Go for it."

Georgacopoulos also is quick to point out that you don't have to be Greek to participate.

"It's not about your size, your shape, your age," she said. "There's 70 year-old women who are dancing with 19-year-olds, and we're doing the same thing. It's all ages, all ethnicities."

And as a former schoolteacher, Georgacopoulos knows how to put her class at ease. If students don't quite grasp the steps yet, Georgacopoulos tells them to march in place. Just keep moving.

"The communication, the rapport that you build with people is just like the same rapport you have to build in the classroom with students, making people feel comfortable, making sure everybody feels accepted," she said.

Georgacopoulos began offering classes in late January. Every session is different and involves group dances that help build a "sense of community," she said.

"It's a double bonus. You have a good time," Georgacopoulos said. "You work out. You listen to Greek music."

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