On National Sporting Heritage Day, Founder Member the Keep Fit Association, shares its long history with us

To celebrate National Sporting Heritage Day today,  30 September, one of our Founder Members, the Keep Fit Association (KFA), has a long history which they have shared with us

The Association’s keep fit journey was started by Norah Reed, Organiser in Physical Education to the Sunderland Education Committee.  It all began in the North East of England in 1929 with attendance of just over 100 a week, rising to around 2,500 a week by 1934 with classes spreading to villages and towns in Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire.

Nora started by running classes herself and never taught to less than 100 women and girls. The women enjoyed the work, and it enabled them to forget, for a while, the high levels of unemployment and deprivation that they lived with in the industrial towns.

Nora expanded her classes, taking over dance halls for keep fit work, and charged 3d (just over 1p) for entrance. Reaching 400 to 500 attendees in one session, the participants enjoyed keep fit at the weekends in addition to the regular weekly classes.

In Sunderland, Nora proved that given the right kind of work and the right kind of leaders (now teachers) the general public was more than ready to reap the benefits of the keep fit adventure and that the women of the day were just longing for an opportunity to keep fit.

Nora Reed pioneered the idea of running a programme of easy to follow exercises and movements that could be carried out to music. Reed called her lessons a ‘Keep Fit Adventure’, and strongly believed these sessions should be available for everyone; she wanted people to see that gymnastic exercises could be fun.

These wonderful classes expanded across the country and in 1956 the Keep Fit Association came into existence as a national body dedicated to the provision of safe and effective movement and dance fitness classes.

Enthusiasm for keep fit grew substantially throughout the 1930s. Eileen Fowler was a strong advocate for the benefits of exercise for all, having first set up classes in 1934. In 1956 BBC Radio broadcast the first of 600 keep fit classes by Eileen and she later demonstrated daily exercise sessions on television.

The links between the Association and Rudolf Laban developed in the 1960s.  Seamlessly amalgamating function fitness advocated by Reed and Fowler and with the fundamental nature of Laban Dance created the Keep Fit Association’s unique Laban Dance Fitness methodology.

When the Keep Fit Association drew up its training policy in 1962 together with the then national Adult Education Authority, it did so in conjunction with Lisa Ullman, who had worked closely with Laban for many years.  The training policy ensured the teachers were professional and well trained, and a nationally recognised teaching qualification was developed, based on Laban’s analysis of movement.  This policy set in place the Keep Fit Association’s commitment to using Laban’s analysis of movement, which continues to this day.

Throughout its long history, the Keep Fit Association has dedicated itself to the provision of safe and effective exercise, movement and dance. Based on Rudolf Laban’s principles, classes provide a holistic workout with functional fitness through creative choreography. Rather than presupposing one style of movement, Laban’s analysis is concerned with a person in relation to the world and the people around them. He believed that dance should give joy to people, through moving together, offering a way for them to reconnect with their communities and each other. The core class style is structured to give a full body workout that is achievable and fun. Classes are choreographed to music ranging from pop to classical.

The Keep Fit Association’s classes take a holistic approach to fitness, seeing fitness to be life-long. This can be readily confirmed by the fact that many members have been attending classes for 40 years or more.

Throughout the years the Association has continued to be relevant with development of specialist training to support older adults and Sit and Stay Fit classes which are designed for the less agile, reflecting the ageing population. Maintaining and improving posture and mobility helps prevent falls and includes memory-strengthening exercises. Youth Moves classes, for those aged 4 to 16, is non-competitive with exercise, creative movement and dance.

The Keep Fit Association holds numerous classes across the country and many local social events and dance days, where members can perform and bring a unique and much-loved aspect to their Laban Dance fitness offering.  The performances mirror the quality offered to Association members in classes all around the country every single day.

The Association has much to be proud of over the years.  Since the 1960s, regular classes have been complemented with festivals and shows that allow those who want to, to perform. For many years, the national performances at the Royal Albert Hall in London and latterly the Symphony Hall in Birmingham, have brought together classes and teams from across the country to celebrate the versatility of the dance discipline.  The productions take months of solid commitment and dedication and the results are a delight to experience.  Every event shows the Keep Fit Association at its very best, in the way that every single participant and producer creates and executes interesting and challenging material with great composure.

Teachers are more than instructors as they are trained to Level 3 to deliver creative movement and dance classes which are effective and safe for everyone and improve all aspects of physical and mental wellbeing. The excellence of the teacher base is of great pride to the Keep Fit Association. Classes are unique and teachers are trained to adapt their classes to meet the needs across their client base, including supporting those with special needs or the very frail in care homes.

Members of the Association have so many memories as individuals, in classes and at the national level, from appearing at Wembley demonstrating Keep Fit at the FA cup final in 1959 to filling the Royal Albert Hall twice over, every year at the National Festival.  Across the organization though, the best memories are the lifelong friendships that are made. Togetherness is the key as the Keep Fit Association is a close-knit community –  supporting and encouraging each other wherever they come from and through whatever challenges they face – and long may that continue.

The Keep Fit Association also has long links with fundraising – it’s a family with nine regions and over 50 branches who all arrange local events and engage in charity fund raising. Over the years thousands has been raised for national charities such as Alzheimer’s UK, The Eve Appeal, Macular Degeneration society and this year supporting Parkinson’s UK.  The branches, teachers and classes choose to support their own local charities including air ambulances, hospices, blood bikes, a very wide range of health charities and many more.

The Association even raised enough money to help fund a whole RNLI lifeboat which is still operational out of Filey!  As the main contributor they even got the pleasure of naming the boat The Keep Fit Association.

Looking to the future, the Keep Fit Association is a tenacious group with a real desire to survive in this ever increasing competitive dance and movement sector and to share Laban’s ultimate aim and belief that movement is for all and that dance should give joy to people through moving together.

As an organisation, the future lies in the teachers and their professionalism, and continuing to evolve and develop training that will enhance their skills, bringing in new teachers and delivering brands of creative Laban Dance fitness that meet the needs of the people coming to classes.  Classes are effective, original and enjoyable, improving overall well-being by the creative use of movement principles and delivering the joy of movement with friends.

Our thanks go to Lynne Dowdican, Chair Keep Fit Association, for this interesting insight into the Keep Fit Association’s history.  Lynne tells us ‘Much of what Nora said in 1934, when she got the Keep Fit Association going, still resonates today. Our keep fit adventure is something very splendid. We are both glad and proud that we all listened to Nora and built this concept into the incredible Association we are today.’