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Drums Alive has fitness buffs channeling inner rock stars

PEABODY — There were a couple of rock star-inspired, over-the-head stick clicks – and then the group plunged into rhythm. They thundered in time, tapping and thrumming: Fast beats followed by slow ones. Rolls punctuated by pauses.

But the nine women weren’t percussionists — and it wasn’t drums they were banging on.

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This was — ahem, drumroll please — Drums Alive, a fusion of pulsating rhythms and energetic group fitness that encourages participants to channel their inner John Bonham.

“It’s totally different than anything that’s ever been done in aerobics,” said Jill Martin, who teaches a class weekly at Everyday Fitness for Everyday Women in Peabody.

Ellen Fulchini (left) takes part in a Drums Alive class in Peabody.

LISA POOLE FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Ellen Fulchini (left) takes part in a Drums Alive class in Peabody.

The gym rat’s version of “Stomp,” Drums Alive involves tapping beats with drumsticks onto those enormous, cushy exercise balls — all while performing choreographed cardio moves, Tabata high-intensity drills, and core exercises.

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The program is based on the principle that we all have a primal need for music and rhythm, and it migrated to the states after being developed in Germany by Carrie Ekins. Its website, www.drums-alive.com, lists more than 150 classes across the US and in Canada (although it notes that it’s still collecting data), as well as another several hundred in Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, and New Zealand.

A smattering of local classes are held at Everyday Fitness for Everyday Women, the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead, the Franklin Senior Center, ZYP Fitness Plus in Hanover, and Z Club in Nashua.

Participants describe it as both rhythmic and calming, spirited and cathartic.

“At the end of the day, it gets all your stress out,” said 43-year-old Christine Cassidy of Peabody, an exercise devotee who has tried everything from step classes to TRX training to hula hooping, since she was a teenager. “You can beat that ball to death.”

Martin agreed with a laugh and a shrug. “You can picture someone’s face on the ball, if you want.”

Beyond purging your demons about your boss or your ex-boyfriend, the regimen has another big selling point: It’s remarkably easy.

“Anybody can pick up sticks and start drumming on a ball,” said Martin, a fitness instructor for 25 years.

Raisa Ryabina (right) drums during a class in Marblehead.

WENDY MAEDA/GLOBE STAFF

Raisa Ryabina (right) drums during a class in Marblehead.

Studio co-owner Diane Moore — who teaches a ’70s “time warp” version fittingly called “Disco Drums” — agreed that it has a “low learning curve.”

“Most people say they’re not coordinated,” she said, “but if you can move right to left, side to side, you can do this.”

Instructors also note that there’s a “comfort zone” in being behind a ball — as opposed to putting it all out there with the spirited likes of Zumba — and point to studies that indicate that drumming enhances memory and increases neurological connections between the brain’s hemispheres.

Plus, it’s a workout with variety, incorporating cardio, squats, core work, and interval training. “It’s the full spectrum,” said Martin.

That variety is what attracted 59-year-old Shirley Davis-Chase of Revere: She called it “therapeutic,” a “de-stresser,” “easy on your joints,” and an exercise that can be done fast or slow, depending on ability.

And, she added: “Fifteen minutes in, you are sweatin’.”

She wasn’t kidding. A short time later, the class at full speed, her neck and face were glistening, her hands working the drumsticks in black, fingerless gloves. Energized as the group took a short break, she pounded her ball with a whack, proclaiming, “Bring it on!”

Spread out across the Peabody studio, participants held their drumsticks, gray exercise balls positioned on pedestals in front of them. (Their purpose is to hold the “drum” still — but, when sticks don’t land where they’re supposed to, or drummers get too intense, they tend to bounce off and roll away.)

Techno music pounded from a stereo in the corner, rubbery thwacks kept time with the music. Following cues from Martin, the group moved through a 45-minute routine: They squatted, hit the ball with both sticks, bopped from leg to leg, clacked sticks overhead, sprinted in place, and hit the ball as quickly as possible, emitting a primal yell that swelled into a collective roar.

Watching from the doorway, Moore, the co-owner, ultimately described it as a “deceiving” workout. “People are so fixated on making the sticks go in the right place,” she said, “that they don’t realize how much their body’s really working.”

Well, eventually they do.

Maria D’Aveni, a 56-year-old from Peabody, said she has better posture and balance as a result of the classes. She feels “elongated,” and, overall, she’s stronger and has more energy.

“I plan my schedule around this,” she said.

As for Peabody retiree Deanne Dulong? She doesn’t miss a class, either. A petite blonde in a tight pink tank and black pants, she extended her left arm to show off a well-toned biceps.

“I’m 66,” she marveled, “and I’ve got definition.”

Taryn Plumb can be reached at taryn.plumb@gmail.com.
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