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Fitness Class on Campus, Core Flow, Strikes a Cord with Students

Jana Rogers

Like many fitness instructors, Janet Welsh has a long, lean
body; an energetic disposition; an underlying belief that
connecting with the physical self is beautiful.

But unlike most instructors, this Mills alumna also has her own
movement discipline. And a fractured spine.

Core Flow, being taught on and off campus, is Welsh’s creation.
She’s trademarked it, and her unique construction makes all the
difference for many students.

A lifelong dancer, Welsh suffered the common pains of the
physically active. While studying dance at Mills, she couldn’t get
up one day and her teacher insisted she get an MRI before returning
to class.

Doctors found a fractured vertebra in her lower lumbar region.
She’s not even sure how it happened. “Moving furniture? Ski
accident? Dancing? Could’ve been anything,” she said.

This drove her to create Core Flow. She didn’t want
specific forms like yoga, which often cause strain, but moves that
allow development for a broad range of individuals and limitations,
from non-exerciser to pro athlete.

Welsh defined Core Flow as “a unique blend of
Pilates-based exercises, yoga, body awareness, and classical dance
techniques for ultimate body conditioning and freedom from aches
and pains.”

Weaving simple dance movements into exercises often set to
music, Core Flow aims to “create efficient movement patterns while
eliminating overall tension [and] create length and a feeling of
space inside the joints… ultimately [giving] a sense of balance,
dynamic flexibility and core strength.”

Centered in the skeletal structure and nervous system, Core
works the connections between those two areas, but with a
definite dance focus.

Given her limitations, allowing for differences was important.
“If you’re doing ballet, or yoga, or Pilates, or step, or whatever
– you’re going for a certain aesthetic… that not everyone is
physically capable of achieving. What I’ve been focused on is using
the body as it’s designed architecturally.”

“Fitness regimes, and they are regimes, can cause a lot of
repetitive stress as people keep trying for a certain look. There
is a fetishization of ‘the look’ and I’ve taken that out so you
really move within the architectural sphere of your own body, an
incorporated feeling where everything is working together,” she

“I knew the principles of Pilates and yoga…I didn’t want to be
limited by all these regulations,” she said. “I wanted to pull it
altogether into one but with a dance focus more than a fitness one.
I think people need to dance.”

With her love of dance and gift to articulate what’s happening
in someone’s body, Welsh decided to concentrate her healing work
inside of the classroom. “It’s that ‘give a man a fish or teach him
how to’ thing,” she said.

Hired by Mills after receiving her MFA in choreography in 2000,
Welsh has taught other fitness classes ever since and soon started
bringing together various dance and bodywork she’d learned through
the years.

She loved working in fitness, but wanted dance to be more
prominent and knew she was tying different patterns together in her
own way. She talked to a client who worked in intellectual property
law about the trademark process and Core Flow got its

“I love watching people get into their bodies. That’s why I
really like what I’m doing now,” said Welsh, who also thought about
being a doctor.

The class is popular at Mills: the room is packed, largely from

Senior Leila Khatapoush, who was in six car accidents within two
years, loves the class. “I’ve never really exercised before and
this class is letting me explore that at my own pace and capacity
in a way that I really enjoy but without hurting me.”

Senior Victoria Parson, in Core Flow classes since she
was a freshwoman, was in a car accident between her sophomore and
junior years. Parson suffered chronic back pain and was confined to
bed for the most part. “Janet’s turned that inside out,” she said.
“Now it feels like I’m getting an essential thing that I need, like
food or water. If not, I’d be in bed literally.”

While many come with common back, neck or shoulder pains, there
are dancers and athletes who are also finding the techniques
helpful for body control and toning, which is exactly what Welsh
wanted – something that worked for everyone.

Welsh admitted she’s had students who “just didn’t like me” and
said “there was one woman who called to say she got hurt in Core
classes.” The woman had an old injury and may have pushed
herself beyond her limits, Welsh said, but after some intensive
physical therapy she’s now returned to the class.

But students at Mills clearly love her. There’s loud applause at
the end of class, and connecting with students is vital to what
she’s trying to teach. She learns names and keeps eye contact with
everyone throughout the class even if she has to ask them to move.
And she repeatedly checks in: “How’s that working for you?”

Watching Welsh teach Core Flow, it’s apparent that she
has a gift for watching and reading other’s body movements. She
takes pride in it as she walks around fine-tuning positions.

“I can just see where if someone moved that eighth of an inch,
they wouldn’t be pinching a nerve anymore,” she said. “So the
reason people feel freedom from these chronic problems is I’m
teaching range of motion for the individual specifically.”

So it’s crucial to Welsh that students understand how bodies are
built. During class, she explains the movement and medical
information common to every woman: the names of the bones; how the
muscles, tendons, and nerves connect; helping students understand
how it’s supposed to work.

“There is so much of the whole universe inside your
body,” she told the class.

“When people learn and begin to be aware of that, they stop
doing the things that strain their bodies,” she said. “New
movements can unravel the wear and tear on the body just by doing
it differently.”

Burlingame-born and raised, Welsh has an extensive history in
dance and healing bodywork. “I’ve been dancing since I was three
because I wouldn’t sit down!”

She earned her BFA in dance in 1982 from California Institute of
the Arts and has developed dance departments, worked as a fitness
expert for a modeling agency, and directed wellness programs for
major resorts.

In 1998, she settled in Oakland directing the wellness program
for Claremont Resort & Spa and “simultaneously applied to Mills
because dance is my real love,” Welsh said. She soon quit to
concentrate on her dance and choreography.

Welsh tries to stay healthy, but refuses to be too rigid. “I’ll
eat Burger King every now and again too. And I have to have my cup
of coffee everyday.”

“Your body is like a sports car if you take care of it.
Otherwise it’s this jalopy. You have to tinker with it and see what
works,” she said.

Core Flow is a promising new path in Welsh’s life.
Balancing it all with raising her 16-month-old son, she’s now
training other teachers with dance backgrounds. “Dancers understand
the perspective,” she said.

“One of these days I’ll get back to choreography, but right
now…I think there’s more of a need for this work, to build this
kind of community. Dancing is my dream but this is my gift.”

Welsh also teaches at the Montclair Women’s Cultural Arts Club
and The Works in Berkeley.