SRU alumna merges dance, fitness and ministry as leader of ‘Be A Light’ classes
Second from left, Slippery Rock University alumna Heather Gerlach, ’00, teaches a fitness ministry class. Gerlach is using her dance degree in a unique way, blending fitness, dance and Christian ministry as a Revelation Wellness instructor to conduct weekly “Be A Light” fitness ministry classes in Mars and Wexford.
July 25, 2019
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — After graduating from Slippery Rock University in 2000 with a degree in dance, Heather Gerlach had every intention of being a dance instructor. But along the way, while teaching several types of dance at various studios, Gerlach found her calling. She began blending spirituality and fitness with dance, eventually becoming a Revelation Wellness Instructor and hosting "Be A Light" fitness ministry classes in Mars and Wexford.
"This brought it all together," Gerlach said. "I didn't have ministry in mind (when I graduated) and fitness was never in my long-term plans, but there was more that I was being called to do other than dance."
When Gerlach was a dance instructor at the PineTree Performing Arts Center in Valencia, former SRU dance instructor Teena Custer recommended she try Zumba, a fitness program that combines fast-paced Latin and international music with dance moves.
"I took a class and I was hooked right away with the energy and the different rhythms," Gerlach said. "I knew I wanted to be (a Zumba) instructor after my first class. I could integrate the posture and choreography of dance moves into the technique to make sure everyone is doing it properly and safely, along with the diverse movements I had learned through my dance education."
Gerlach became a certified Zumba instructor, teaching for nine years, and developing a loyal following of clients in the community. However, as she dug deeper into the lyrical content and translated songs from Spanish, she felt the sexually-suggestive messages were not appropriate for her clients; a group that included children who participated with their mothers, as well as Gerlach's own mother, Rosemarie Konopka.
"I didn't want those to be the words stuck in their heads when they left a class," Gerlach said. "I started finding my own Christian and international Latin music which had what I felt was more appealing messages. I started buying the music and making up my own choreography."
Gerlach began calling her classes "Be A Light" and eventually found Revelation Wellness, a nonprofit ministry that inspires people to become physically and spiritual fit by certifying instructors to teach fitness classes that also incorporate Bible study.
"(Revelation Wellness) was like an answered prayer because there were other people like me who were teaching fitness classes, especially dance fitness," said Gerlach. She allowed her Zumba license to expire and instead took the Revelation Wellness instructor training, which included nine weeks of online classes and a five-day retreat intensive in Arizona. "I was looking for more than just, 'Let's dance and go home.' There's healing in the music and healing in the movements. It can be a time of prayer and celebration. We're all trying to find the thing that's weighing us down and together work together toward being free of that thing. When you move your body it adds a whole different element."
Gerlach's classes consist of an opening Scripture reading and a discussion about how the Bible verse relates to the personal lives of the participants. The exercise portion of the classes can include a mix of cardio, strength, core and flexibility, as well as dance techniques set to inspirational Christian music. Participants interact with one another with encouraging words and high-fives. The class ends with breathing exercises and a closing prayer.
"We're letting people know that you don't have to leave your faith aside when you are exercising; it can be incorporated into it," Gerlach said. "A lot of people look at exercise as punishment for whatever they ate last night or they make it an idol by obsessing about having to do it and if they don't, then they feel badly about themselves. I like to look at our exercise as a 'get-to' and a blessing. We can take a Scripture to set the intention of the class so that when we are moving together we aren't thinking about how many calories we are going to burn or (wondering), 'Do I look the same as the person who is next to me?' Instead, we are focusing on the idea for that day."
Gerlach hosts the "Be A Light" Revelation Fitness classes from 9:30-10:45 a.m., Monday and 6:30-7:45 p.m., Thursday at Woodland Valley Church in Mars, and 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Tuesday at North Way Christian Community Church in Wexford. Gerlach said each class session averages between 12-15 participants and as many as 50 regular attendees in total.
She also hosts an adaptive movement class for people with special needs at Woodland Valley from 3-4 p.m., Sunday, as well as private adaptive movement classes for people with special needs organized through the Butler County Family YMCA at the Mars Home for Youth and at the Butler YMCA.
Gerlach and her husband, Blair, a 2000 SRU graduate, have two children: a daughter, Eden, and a son, Owen, who is on the autism disorder spectrum. She credits her SRU education as a catalyst in her evolving career.
"I wouldn't be where I am without my experience at SRU," Gerlach said. "I'm so thankful I decided to go to SRU and study dance. The foundation my education provided through being exposed to all different types of dance, performing, teaching and choreographing was terrific. I use all of that every day (as a fitness instructor). I may not be teaching some of the dance techniques but I'm using that foundation that I learned from all those classes and my professors to make this ministry happen."
To learn more about the "Be A Light" ministry, contact Gerlach at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 | email@example.com