When you throw your hand into the air, Kathy Sketts shouts “Opa!”. She takes her place in front of a large hall southwest of Melbourne.
As Greek music begins to play, dozens of women in active wear and T-shirts with the words “Dance Your Happy” await.
Kathy raises her arms, walks sideways, crosses her legs many times to the rhythm of Bouzouki (a popular Greek lute), applauds every few beats, cheers, and follows the class. I urged you.
She is loud, energetic, dances with enthusiasm and lets the viewer take control of her.
This is OPA size. It’s partly aerobic, partly disco, and according to Kathy, it’s 100% Greek.
“Some of these songs are what we brought back and added Greek movement and Duggy Aerobics Fitness and it works-it’s a great combination,” she says.
Kathy was born in Australia to Greek and Greek-Egyptian parents. She describes her upbringing as “very Greek.”
“My parents embraced the Australian lifestyle, but they were still very Greek,” she says.
“Especially my sister loved everything in Greek. Greek music, Greek lifestyle, and we were clashing about this. I used to say,” You’re a little more English Can you be? We live in Australia. “
Her sister Mary was the inspiration behind OPA-cize. She died suddenly of heart failure in 2015.
At that time, Kathy was a Latin fitness instructor.
To honor Mary, Kathy designed a Greek dance class and reached a woman who didn’t feel comfortable in the gym, thought she wasn’t too tuned for an exercise class, or suffered from depression or isolation. Did.
OPA-cize started as a one-off event, but quickly found a niche market in the highly competitive fitness industry.
“Before it was too long, I sold 300 tickets this evening and told my husband,” I think there’s business potential here. I’m crazy about the reaction I’m getting. ” .. “
OPA-cize is taught in almost every state and territory of Australia after starting with one class in the Hall of Sydney.
Dancing to contemporary and traditional Greek music, participants come from people of all disciplines.
Valerie Mustafay, a specialist in the OPA-cize program, teaches in Brisbane. She says the class helps her reconnect with her Greek roots and she takes her non-Greek friends for a ride.
“Initially, people are a little hesitant because they are wondering,” What is this? ” Until they go through the door, I find 99.9% of people coming back because they love it so much, “she says.
It also created opportunities for second and third generation Greek immigrants to learn more about their language and culture.
Dora Stankovic, an instructor in southwestern Melbourne, says her father taught her to dance. She is now passing on that tradition to her daughter through OPA-cize.
“I wanted my dad to see Dahlia’s dance, but only to show my love and gratitude for the language and to understand the beauty behind it.”
Dalia, who teaches with her mother, says that Greek music and the Greek language spoken in class helped her learn the language of her grandparents.
“Before I started this, I had little or no knowledge of Greek, but now I have learned a lot.”
In addition to being a hit in Australia, OPA-cize has recently been featured in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany and Japan, according to Kathy.
It’s a success she attributed to her sister.
“I was surprised. I look over my shoulder to see who created the OPA-cize. I don’t think it’s me. I love this program, it’s great, And I attribute it all to Mary. “
The class went online during the blockade of COVID-19, but is now back. OPA-cize also runs senior classes aged 65-85, and this year the underwater OPA-cize called Aquasize was launched.
Sold as an aerobics “fun and fit” style, instructor Sophie Crow says it’s more than an exercise class.
“Everyone is very happy at that time, even if they don’t know the steps or can’t follow the instructor. It’s a great escape, a great exit for everyone, they just love it.”
According to instructor Tina Marmageros, the environment is accessible to everyone.
“I feel accepted regardless of shape, size, age or nationality. We are on the dance floor where we dance together.”
And Kathy says that new friendships are formed in the turmoil and lots of laughter.
“Greek people are so inclined and our classrooms are no exception. OPA-cize welcomes everyone-it’s not exclusive, it’s inclusive-and that’s my biggest message. “