Have you always secretly dreamed of being a backup dancer? Get inspired to move by these friends who stay fit while getting down.

Jacksonville Dance Trance Divas
Credit: Art Meripol

Judging by the line of people outside the door and the thumping music coming from inside, you might think that you're at a big-city dance club. But look a little closer and you'll see that the women inside are wearing workout clothes. They are moms and professionals, but when they walk through these doors, they transform into dancers.

These friends trade their heels for dance shoes several times a week at Dance Trance, a high-energy workout that combines several forms of dance, including hip-hop and jazz. With Top 40 songs, an instructor teaches students choreography that works all major muscle groups. The result: an hour-long workout disguised as a dance party that can burn 400 calories in an hour.

"There's just something about dancing and sweating with great people that results in a real sense of friendship here," says Christee Bailey. This mother of two started attending class after becoming bored with her fitness routine and was immediately hooked. "Not only did I find a refreshing workout, but also it's become a central part of my overall well-being and social network."

Dance Trance started 16 years ago in Birmingham by Beth and Jay Handline, who offered it at a local gym. Now based in Jacksonville, it has 24 locations nationwide, including this group of devotees at the Jacksonville studio. Women of all ages, shapes, and sizes pack the studio for the one-hour classes. The routines, developed by the National Dance Trance Choreography team, are unique to the program.

Students follow cues from the instructor, who demonstrates individual steps while the music blasts. After a few songs, women are sweating and cheering as they move like they are backup dancers in the latest music video. Each week a new song and routine is introduced.

"I love this group because it doesn't feel like I'm exercising—I feel like I am at a party or club with friends," says Cynthia Green. She's lost more than 50 pounds just through dancing—and she's also a culinary student. "I'm able to eat what I want because I dance so hard in class."

One of Cynthia's favorite things is participating in the frequent theme parties that the studio hosts. These costumed affairs have included 80s nights and a party set to the music of Prince, complete with lots of purple outfits. They also go to dinners, fund-raising events, and celebrate holidays together.

"It's really more than exercise. It's a lifestyle," says Tiffany Meeks. She joined the group to stay fit during law school. Now an attorney, she says dancing with her friends is her way of relieving stress. "After a long day of negotiating contracts, I look forward to busting a move in here."

"I never get bored dancing with this group," adds Emilie Johnson. "We can be enraptured in a soothing ballad, get down to disco, and do hip-hop all in the same class. It provides me with such a sense of accomplishment." Emilie says she also likes getting to spend time with this group of women who are committed to their health—all while having fun.

Christee agrees: "If I don't go to Dance Trance, my family can tell. I'm more stressed. They say, ‘Mom, you have to go dance!'"

Dance Trance 101
The most important thing to know: No experience necessary! Even if you think you have two left feet, you can do this. Instructors walk students through all the dance steps (beginners may want to start with PACE, a three-month class where routines are taught slowly, step by step). Don't be nervous if you don't get the routines down pat right away—the most important thing is that you just keep moving to get your heart rate up. Be prepared to kick and jump, but if you have joint issues talk with your instructor, who will help you modify the routines.

Dress prepared to sweat—Dance Trance studios are kept at 78 degrees to keep muscles loose (which helps prevent injury) and to encourage detox through perspiration. You don't need special clothing, but shoes are important. Wear those that have cushioning on the heel and ball of the foot to support knees and back. Soles should be smooth so you can turn. We love the Puma Voltaic II Women's Shoe ($80, zappos.com).