Aerobics may be as popular in Switzerland as in other western countries, but the alpine nation has only just staged its first national team aerobics and fitness championship.
The competition, held at Geneva's Queue d'art sports complex, was divided into three categories - aerobics, step and hip-hop.
"Everyone's familiar with aerobics and step aerobics, they've been around for a good 10 to 15 years," says Frédéric Gall, head of FISAF - the International Aerobics and Fitness Federation - in French-speaking Switzerland.
"Step has become very popular - it's a great piece of equipment. The aim is to do a two-minute synchronised routine based around this little step," Gall told swissinfo.
"Aerobics is a more simple discipline - a choreographed routine based around steps and jumps. It isn't too complicated technically. We judge it mainly on the music and how well the moves are executed."
"The last discipline is hip-hop or breakdancing. This is more like dancing and it requires more feeling and expression. It's becoming very popular because people really like dancing to rap music," Gall says.
Aerobics has been a competititive sport in Australia, the United States and much of Europe for at least 10 years. But just because this was Switzerland's first national championship, it doesn't mean the sport is unpopular here. As many as 200,000 people do aerobics in French-speaking Switzerland alone, and that huge reservoir of enthusiasm could really help the sport take off.
There are some who would question whether aerobics and its associated disciplines can really be considered a sport. But Frédéric Gall believes it is no different to ice-skating, gymnastics or synchronised swimming:
"Basically, aerobics is all about getting fit. But it's now become competitive because the human spirit always wants something more," Gall says.
"Even if you're doing a very simple exercise, you can make it more and more athletic. If you're using music, that gives it an extra artistic dimension. The judges give marks for technical and artistic criteria. We can see that standards are getting higher, because people spend longer training and preparing their routines," he says.
One of the most important aspects of the competition is the music that a team chooses to accompany its routine. At the highest levels, it can be the difference between winning or losing.
"The music is extremely important because it creates an impact. They are professional mixes using different kinds of music and effects, which are meant to emphasise the movements. The music should work with and enhance the movements. It's absolutely essential to get it right," Gall says.
The number of teams competing in Geneva was not huge. But Gall says that very few teams took part in the first French championship some 10 years ago. He believes that as the profile of the sport increases, it will rise in popularity.
The winners and runners-up in each category will be representing Switzerland at next weekend's World Championships in the Belgian city of Ghent.
by Roy Probert
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