Local Dance Studio Provides Affordable Fitness Classes to Promote Healthy Living

By Katie Carpenter, Enrique Luna and David West

Mural inside Healthy Hood

Tanya Lozano founded Healthy Hood in 2014. 

Growing up with a passion for social activism, she decided to take a look at what her own community was missing: the knowledge and resources in order to create a healthier lifestyle.

“Being a person in fitness and from a family of activists, I knew it was my responsibility to create some kind of solution,” she said.

Her vision was to provide quality fitness and dance classes, while adding two community gardens. The classes are offered at an inexpensive rate with the purpose of educating the underserved community on the benefits of health and fitness. The organization operates out of the recreational hall of Lincoln Park Church in the Pilsen neighborhood.

“There’s a 20 year life expectancy gap that exists in Chicago currently between communities of color and affluent communities,” Tanya said.

Mural from inside Healthy Hood

According to a June 2019 press release from the NYU School of Medicine, Chicago has the largest life expectancy gap in the country.

Out of the 500 cities taken into account, Chicago ranks number 1 with a gap of 30.1 years, with Washington DC and New York City trailing closely with gaps at around 27 years. 

Furthermore, the press release stated that, “cities with greater degrees of racial and ethnic segregation more often had alarming disparities in life expectancy.”

A 360 view of the outside of the Healthy Hood facilities.

As well as helping the Pilsen community become better informed on health and wellness, Healthy Hood also employs instructors from the community, supplying jobs to the Lower West Side neighborhood.

“I’ve only taken one class so far, but I’m hooked,” said Maria Garcia, a 20-year-old Pilsen resident. “I was recently told about the affordable classes from a neighbor and have always wanted to take part in fitness classes but couldn’t bring myself to pay the high monthly fees most gyms offer here in the city.” 

Garcia, along with many other residents of the city’s West Side communities, can’t keep up with the rising cost of living, which can directly impact an individual’s health and fitness needs. 

“Healthy Hood is different from other classes I’ve taken, besides the fact that they’re affordable, there is just a sense of acceptance and belonging when you walk inside” Garcia said.  “It makes you feel good to know you’re giving back to you community.”

Healthy Hood’s Next Step

While Healthy Hood is taking a step forward in closing the life expectancy gap, there is still more that could be done, specifically with older adults. 

Dr. David Marquez, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says that the non-profit can be doing more to include older Latino adults, who struggle to get involved in group physical activity.

The problem older Latinos face when in an environment like Healthy Hood, says Dr. Maruqez, is that they feel slow or they feel that the environment is more suited towards younger people. 

For Lozano and Healthy Hood, the next step for closing the gap in life expectancy would be to start classes tailored more to the needs of older adults. 

Healthy Hood does not require signing up, eliminating any problems older adults may have when trying to complete forms that are not written in their first language. 

According to Marquez, older Latino adults are trying to better their health, but access to information is the biggest hurdle for them because the information is not presented to them in a culturally appropriate way or it is all in English, which they speak little of.

“People are aware of their health and they want their health to get better and to be better,” he said.

Interview with David Marquez

Not requiring to sign up for the program, unlike most gyms, and making each class only 5 dollars makes the once tedious process of going to the gym much more accessible to older adults. 

“The instructors actually keep 80 percent of the profits and donate the other 20 percent to the organization to keep the lights on,” Tanya said. “We’ve been charging 5 dollars since the very beginning. We don’t plan on increasing that fee at all.”