Movin’ to the Music

Group fitness instructor helps students get their groove on

By Seth Sandronsky
March 2020

Dolly Rizzo, Los Angeles-born and a Sacramento resident for 20 years, danced on TV’s “Soul Train” in 1983–84. “It was a party, a long one, since we filmed all weekend long,” she says.

In ways big and small, that experience of rehearsal and live filming prepared her to create Soul Strength Dance, a dynamic class she teaches at the Sacramento Central branch of the YMCA.

Rizzo has taught up to three classes a week, while working as an administrative coordinator at the YMCA’s Midtown site.

SSD blends exercise and dance to upbeat music genres, such as funk, hip-hop, soul, and rhythm and blues. As most music enthusiasts know, such tunes are hard to listen to without moving from head to toe.

Rizzo’s classes follow a basic structure. “There is a warmup, fitness element and then I teach a dance routine, a new one for each class,” she says. In that respect, SSD differs from the structure of dance-fitness classes, such as Zumba.

She invests maximum effort and time into balancing the class components into a seamless whole. There is no half-stepping to that teaching approach, a good thing for her students’ cardiovascular endurance, flexibility and strength.

Further, Rizzo keeps things fresh for her students. She switches the SSD music and tempo to challenge them. To participate, brain engagement is no elective. Rather, it is a requirement for this group fitness instructor who is certified by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.

Eleanor Tyler of Sacramento is a satisfied SSD student who appreciates what Rizzo delivers.

“When I signed up with the YMCA and read up on the different classes offered,” Tyler says, “the ‘soul’ part of the name is what drew me to Rizzo. To my surprise, when I went to the first class it was like going back in time to a great fun place that I had in my life. Wonderful memories just came up and poured through me.”

Rizzo also created a dance group called Seniors With Swag, which includes some of her SSD students. SWS performed in front of the state Capitol for Sacramento National Dance Day last year. Rizzo organized the performance with help from the Midtown branch of the YMCA. Tyler had the time of her life.

“There were all ages, shapes and sizes out there dancing,” Tyler says. “It was just so much fun to be a part of something positive. I felt a lot of camaraderie, and I felt a bond through dance and movement.”

“Soul Train” is the bedrock of SSD for Rizzo. She has fond memories of that experience. “I was accepted on ‘Soul Train’ from the get-go,” she says. That acceptance meant much to her, then and now. Rizzo is a member of the Soul Train Dancers & Fans Facebook page. They gather in LA frequently for picnics, birthdays and Christmas.

Back at the Sacramento YMCA, Rizzo creates new SSD content by including her students’ listening and dancing preferences. It is about them, not her, according to Rizzo. “I focus on the concept of the zeitgeist,” she says. “To be in touch with the world around you, to connect with whom and what you are a part of instead of delivering your vision.”

SSD students, such as Tyler, thrive on Rizzo’s approach of seeing the big picture. Rizzo ends each session with music of inspiration, secular and uplifting.

“At the end of every class,” Tyler says, “Rizzo always does a ‘Soul Train’ line or some type of freestyle dance. It is just so much fun, inviting and encouraging everyone to just dance.”

What is next for Rizzo and SSD? “I want to grow SSD within the YMCA organization,” she says. Do not bet against that outcome.

For more information, visit

Seth Sandronsky can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.


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