Bykota senior center in Towson has a Gotta Dance class

Georgia Heckler, left, and Jeannette Marx have fun in the "Gotta Dance" class at the Bykota Senior Center. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun photo / October 16, 2012)

A dancer since age 3, María McMacken knows how to move. Combine that experience with a master's degree in biochemistry, and you have an instructor who knows how to flex all the necessary parts of the body while getting a great workout.

A native of Puerto Rico, McMacken has led dance-based exercises for more than 30 years, teaching both children and adults. Now she leads a group of women at the Bykota Senior Center in Towson on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 10 am. The class incorporates a mixture of styles, including ballet, folk and tap. "Life is about movement and laughter," McMacken says "Every person gets both of those in this class."

How it got started: Some of the Bykota Senior Center members used to take a class offered at the nearby YMCA. After that class closed, McMaken began leading her "Gotta Dance" session, and the seniors couldn't get enough of it.

Who's in the group: About 15 women from ages 65 to 91.

A typical class: McMacken gets the women moving at a quick tempo with waltzes, line dances, "Cielito Lindo" and other Latin music, marches, "Twist and Shout," and even a dance where the class forms a circle and plays "Horse" by copying each other's moves. Immediately the women wave their arms, shrug their shoulders, kick their legs and move every part of their bodies.

"What I like most is the music," said Jeanette Marx. "The Charleston is my favorite."

The first 40 minutes of the workout are focused on aerobics. Afterward, the group does a set of cool-down exercises based on tai chi. The class concludes with conditioning exercises to help the strength and flexibility of the skeletal muscles. Hamstring and quad exercises set to "September" by Earth, Wind & Fire round out the cool-down.

Why people like it: "The camaraderie of the group is wonderful," said Georgia Heckler. "It's a good workout, and María is excellent."

The "Gotta Dance" women say they enjoy the class because it keeps them loose, helps them make new friends and maintain those friendships.

"It's a good exercise physically but also mentally," said Shirley Lambert. "We care about each other, too. When I was in the hospital, all the ladies sent me cards."

"We get the aerobics, and with the tai chi, we do exercises for strength," said Marguerite Doxzen. "María does change the routine some but not too much because she knows what we like."

If you have a group that meets regularly to exercise, tell us about it so we can feature you in our Health & Style pages. We'll want basic information about your group (how often you meet, number of people in the group, what you do and why you do it), as well as a photo if you have one. Send to cmallette@baltsun.com or Catherine Mallette, Features, The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21201.