Louis van Amstel: Hard Body, Kind Heart

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Louis van Amstel might look tough from the outside, but inside he’s just a big softie.

The three-time World Dance Champion and Emmy-nominated choreographer from the Netherlands, best known in America for his nine seasons as an exacting pro on “Dancing with the Stars,” is unapologetic about his no nonsense, hard-driving ways when it comes to teaching celebrities such as Kelly Osbourne, Niecy Nash and Margaret Cho, how to dance. In the end, Mr. van Amstel’s firm teaching methods worked.

Ms. Osborne, his most successful partner in the televised dance competition, made it to the finale, finishing in third place during season nine. Better than winning the coveted Mirror Ball Trophy, along the way each of those three women not only learned to dance, they also dramatically increased their levels of physical fitness, thanks to training with Mr. van Amstel. Achieving those goals was the most important win, he said.

Looking beyond his rock-hard abs, strong legs and tight dancer’s tush, it’s apparent, though, that there’s another side to Mr. van Amstel; a kinder, gentler one. His most valued muscle is his heart. That’s the one that East End seniors, dance enthusiasts and fitness fanatics will meet in a few weeks when he comes out here to teach a series of LaBlast classes to benefit the Hamptons Dancers AARP Community Group at Arthur Murray Dance Center in Southampton on Wednesday, November 13, and Thursday, November 14.

A passionate advocate for physical fitness and healthy living, Mr. van Amstel has made it his mission in life to help others achieve their well body goals. The result was LaBlast, an innovative partner-free dance fitness program and his answer to keeping people motivated and engaged while they are working toward achieving better health. And his aim is to help as many people as possible, whether it’s one at a time or in groups.

“I love the one on one, I’m addicted to the LaBlast class and what it can do,” Mr. van Amstel said during a break between teaching classes in Lexington, Kentucky, last week. “Wait, I also like it when there’s 30, 40, 50, 100 people in the class. I’m so excited about it.”

He developed the high-energy program after the second season of “Dancing with the Stars” when his dancing partner, Lisa Rinna, told him that she loved the fitness levels she achieved from dancing with him. With her help, Mr. van Amstel launched his first class in a small dance studio in Los Angeles, California. Then, after partnering with Ms. Osbourne on season nine, he decided to make LaBlast a worldwide program.

Getting such a big name in the dance world to come out to the East End was, surprisingly, not hard at all, according to Lori Newell, the program director for the Hamptons Dancers AARP Community Group. All she had to do was send him a message on the LaBlast website.

“I sent him an email and he responded almost immediately,” she said during a telephone interview last week. “I told him it was for area seniors and he said, ‘What can I do to help? I’d love to help.’ He seems really great.”

The dancer would’ve come out to teach a few classes here regardless, he said, but he found it particularly appealing that many of his students would be seniors.

“What I love about this group is that they are going to focus on the AARP,” he said. “Not too long ago I did a couple of Silver Sneakers classes in Pittsburgh, I loved it. These guys were all saying, ‘Hey we’re seniors but we’re not dead yet!’”

The LaBlast classes, which will benefit the AARP group but will be open to all, will hopefully draw more attention to the fledgling program here on the East End, said the Hamptons Dancers AARP Community Group director and Arthur Murray co-franchisee, James West. He and Ms. Newell began the program quietly in March, he said, but now they believe it’s time to start making some noise.

“We’ve had a quiet run trying to get AARP off the ground here in the Hamptons but now we have a fantastic opportunity to highlight it,” he said of working with Mr. van Amstel. “His name, his caliber, will really put focus on it. I would really love to see it come out big.”

The professional dancer and choreographer said that he is so happy to help that he’s added a few more classes to his Hamptons teaching schedule. While visiting the East End (“I love the Hamptons, it’s such a great getaway,” he said.), he’ll lead a LaBlast Instructor Certification class, a LaBlast Master Class, a Latin Dance Workshop, and a Private Lesson with Louis. Additionally, he’ll also be on hand for a meet-and-greet VIP reception at the Southampton Inn on Tuesday, November 12, the evening before the classes are set to begin.

For those who are afraid that he’ll be relentlessly tough, or that they are hopeless dancers, there’s no need to worry, Mr. van Amstel said. The LaBlast class was actually created for the dance novice.

“LaBlast is for anyone. Any age, any person that thinks that they can’t do it. People who think they have two left feet,” he laughed. “It’s for them.”

The LaBlast class choreography will include steps from a variety of Latin and ballroom dances—from the salsa, cha cha and meringue to disco, jive, the Lindy hop and even the Hustle—Mr. van Amstel reported. Being perfect isn’t the point, he added. LaBlast is about getting into shape and having fun, he said.

Ms. Newell, an exercise physiologist, said that most people find that dancing is more fun that traditional exercise. LaBlast is a great way to learn dance while trimming the waistline, toning the core, increasing flexibility and getting into shape, she said.

The Arthur Murray Dance Center, soon to be renamed the Hamptons Dance Center, will begin offering LaBlast classes in January, according to Mr. West and Ms. Newell. The ballroom dance instructors both said that they can’t wait to see a whole new crop of people learn how to dance.

“The best is when you have people walking through the door and they’re afraid. But then 10 minutes into it, they’re foxtrotting, with smiles on their faces,” Ms. Newell said.

As for Mr. van Amstel, he just can’t wait to get out to the East End and teach people about how LaBlast can positively impact their lives.

“It’s definitely a workout—for your health, for your balance—but it’s also about having fun and giving up control and getting out of your head. That’s my motto, my philosophy,” he said.

Louis van Amstel will teach LaBlast Instructor Certification at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Southampton on Thursday, November 14, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. He will teach a LaBlast Master Class on Wednesday, November 13, at 6:15 p.m. and a Latin Dance Workshop that night at 7:15 p.m. He will also teach a limited number of 45-minute private lessons on Wednesday and will be in attendance at a special VIP reception on Tuesday, November 12, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Southampton Inn. For details, fees and reservations, visit hamptonsaarp.org. To learn more about LaBlast, visit lablastfitness.com.

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