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Footloose with ChiChi Fit founder Danella Mercati

When Sir Paul McCartney gives you life advice you take it. That's exactly what happened to Danella Mercati. The result? A dance fitness class to blow your legwarmers off. We talk wellbeing, workouts and Strictly with the creator of ChiChi Fit.

The thought of returning to the gym filling you with dread? Rather gouge your eyes out than go for a run in sub zero winter temps? The struggle to get fit in January is real. But we might just have come up with the perfect, no-slog solution – a Strictly-style workout to your fave show tunes.

With 20 years experience in the dance biz, Danella Mercati along with her buddy Craig Revel-Horwood, (calm yourself Strictly fans!) are the brains behind ChiChi Fit. We dusted off our trainers and pulled out the spangly shorts to catch up with her for a (cha-cha) chat.

Tell us how ChiChi Fit began?

As a kid I was mad about musicals and dreamed of being a Westend star. I grew up in Cheltenham and won a place at the Guildford School of Acting to study Musical Theatre. After graduating, without all the hours of dance I’d been used to I began to gain weight and felt my confidence slipping. This is when I was bitten by the fitness bug. Keeping fit became a priority, not just to look ‘right’ for the musical stage, but because it made me feel so much better.

To support me between performing jobs I trained in massage and a job opportunity took me to the exclusive Parrot Cay Resort in the Turk & Caicos Islands, whilst I was there I met and massaged Sir Paul McCartney. During the 3 weeks I was assigned as his therapist, he gave me life-changing advice that led to me creating Chi Chi Fit.

Erm, wow! So Paul McCartney created Chi Chi essentially! Pray tell, what was the advice?

He suggested stepping away from the stage and instead taking the role of director and choreographer, creating my own programmes and taking full control of my life instead of waiting for that elusive call from a director saying I’d got the role.

How amazing to have got advice from such a legend. What was he like?

I’m not a very starry person so I didn’t feel overwhelmed meeting or massaging him! We got on well and he was incredibly kind to me. We talked about his days as a Beatle, his fame, the good and the bad that comes with it. He was very interested in my performing career and my dreams and aspirations which was so lovely. Thanks to Sir Paul in 2016 I started devising ChiChi Fit – a highly addictive fitness class, and it launched in 2018.

You co-founded ChiChi with BBC Strictly judge, Craig Revel-Horwood. How did that come about?

I met Craig in 2016 after deciding that he was the person I would like to partner with to create ChiChi Fit. I made it my mission to get in front of him to present my business idea and was lucky that he came to Cheltenham by luck to do a show on dance fitness. I managed to track down Craig’s PA at this event and convince her I was worth meeting. He came on board and the rest is history as they say.

Craig is so lovely and so funny. He’s very different from the Mr Mean he plays on Strictly. He’s been so kind and supportive, and he has even popped along to one of my online classes during lockdown and said hi to my class. It made their day!

Take us through a typical ChiChi Fit class? What can we expect?

ChiChi Fit is a dance fitness class with a musical theatre twist. It fuses the magic of Broadway with cardio and strength training to give you a full-body workout.

There are fast and slow songs, mixing it up keeps your body guessing and gives you the best work-out. We also do strength and toning training using resistance bands. You’ll dance to hit songs from Hairspray, Wicked, Grease, Mary Poppins, Phantom of the Opera, The Greatest Showman, Disney and many more. Whether you are 7 or 97 you can come along, we have programmes to suit all ages, from the fast-paced signature class for a full cardio hit to ChiChi Kids, ChiChi Encore for the 50+ and ChiChi Chair for anyone with limited limited mobility.

We’re in! Where can we do a class?

Myself and two of my fabulous ChiChi instructors teach several weekly classes in Cheltenham and we have instructors offering classes in Malvern and Bredon too. We have a fabulous training program too, so you’ll now find ChiChi Fit instructors popping up all around the UK and even in USA & Australia. It’s travelled far and wide from its roots in Cheltenham!

Best tune for getting a sweat on?

‘Grease Lightning’ and ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’ are two routines that really make you sweat and ‘Does Your Mother Know’ from Mamma Mia, is a challenging resistance band routine that works magic on defining your arms and upper body.

Can we dress up?!

Ha! Well, we do use glittery gold hats for some of the big show numbers – ‘One’ from A Chorus Line, is a high-kicking favourite.

Give us 5 ways musical dance can whip us into shape?

1. Dance is inclusive and a great social activity. Don’t let two left feet keep you from having fun. As long as you’re moving you’ll be burning calories.

2. It’s fun in the way a monotonous treadmill run probably never will be and you certainly don’t need to be a trained dancer to enjoy it.

3. Dancing is a whole-body cardio workout that’s good for your heart, that makes you stronger and can help with balance and coordination.

4. Music is a good form of distraction and dancing to showtunes is just the best. If you fancy singing along too, that’ll challenge your lungs just that bit more!

5. Dancing keeps your brain sharp too – learning and remembering and copying new moves.

What are your favourite West End musicals?

‘Miss Saigon’ and ‘The King & I’ are my two absolute favourites.

How do you conduct classes safely at the moment? Are they online too?

We’re very mindful of safety and keep everyone well-spaced with doors and windows open for plenty of fresh air. Everyone has their own resistance band to save sharing. I offer a weekly online class on a Saturday morning for those who prefer to make their living room their Broadway stage.

Your top 3 tunes?

‘Footloose’ – fun, fast-paced and a song we all know and love. ‘Singin’ In the Rain’ – all-time classic and makes you feel like Fred Astaire and ‘We Know the Way’ from Moana – a powerful routine and who doesn’t love a bit of Disney.

Who would your dream dance partner be?

Patrick Swayze and we’d do the iconic lift from Dirty Dancing.

To find out more about ChiChi Fit and to book a class head over to www.chichi-fit.co.uk or email info@chichi-fit.co.uk.

Classes with Danella in Cheltenham:

MONDAY @ Christchurch: 5.15pm ChiChi KIDS – 6.15pm ChiChi FIT

TUESDAY @ St Marks Junior School, Benhall: 6.15pm ChiChi FIT

FRIDAY @ Hillview Community Centre, Hatherley: 9.15am ChiChi FIT

SATURDAY – 10am ONLINE.

***** Fab opp klaxon! *****

Want to be a ChiChi Fit Instructor? ChiChi Fit is looking for new instructors to meet high demands for classes. Take up a training class, you can train live or online from just £99 – perhaps some great extra income doing a part-time job that keeps you fit, happy and healthy. For more details email info@chichi-fit.co.uk.

Danella and Craig RH (right)

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