BU alumna helps people feel the beat, break a sweat

2010 Baylor grad Rachel Armstrong created the African-inspired dance workout program, Timbuk Fitness, as a new, creative way to introduce fitness to America. Photo by Benjamin Gandhi-Shepard
2010 Baylor grad Rachel Armstrong created the African-inspired dance workout program, Timbuk Fitness, as a new, creative way to introduce fitness to America.
Photo by Benjamin Gandhi-Shepard
By Paula Ann Solis
Staff Writer

When Rachel Armstrong was a Baylor student she was one of the first Zumba instructors on campus. Today she is fulfilling her dreams by co-founding her own workout sensation and creation – Timbuk Fitness.

Timbuk Fitness is the nation’s first African dance fitness program that teaches people how to move to the beat of African drums while also breaking a sweat. Armstrong and the Timbuk fitness team premiered their first workout DVD “Timbuk Fitness” at a conference in Chicago, but Armstrong said none of this would have been possible without the guidance and insight from her Baylor professors.

“I just feel like the values behind Baylor, being a Christian institution, taught me a lot about believing in myself,” Armstrong said. “They really empower people to believe that they can do what they want to do and more than anything, I was inspired by young people like myself at Baylor starting businesses.”

Armstrong was a student in Baylor’s entrepreneurship program and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2010. She was also a member of Baylor’s gymnastic team for four years. Armstrong said physical fitness has always played a great role in her life and passing that passion on to others is something she began doing long before her fitness venture Timbuk Fitness.

Through her Baylor connections, Armstrong interned at Curves International and worked directly under the vice president to help develop a personal training certification program called Curves University for 55 countries. She also assisted in the sales plan for Curves pedometer MyTrak, all while still sharpening her craft under the direction of Baylor professors.

“Hands down it was the entrepreneurship program that taught me how to raise a business from the ground up,” Armstrong said. “A huge part of just growing Timbuk and making people aware of the brand is because of the connections I have at Baylor. The entrepreneurship program taught me to create a plan, execute the strategy and move forward.”

And move forward is exactly what Armstrong did. After graduating in 2010 she made the move to Florida, where she met West African Diádié Bathily (pronounced Jah-JAY BAH-chee-LEE).

Bathily, cofounder of Timbuk Fitness, has taught African dance in his home country Ivory Coast, across Europe and was teaching classes at Florida State University when he met Armstrong. When she mentioned she was looking for a new, creative way to introduce fitness to Americans, Bathily said it occurred to him he was already doing just that. At elementary schools across America he taught African dance for events like Black Heritage Month but gave students a fun new way to work out too.

“I’ve been giving physical education for many years not even knowing it,” Bathily said. “Every February I’m completely booked because every P.E. teacher wants to bring African dance to children’s curriculum. There are specific needs never met during P.E. but somehow the music of African dance and the movement attracts more of them.”

Bathily said that the style of West African dance, which consists of specific head and body shaking, is already popular in America by way of popular artists such as Beyoncé and Tina Turner. The only thing missing is the beat of African drums. The Timbuk DVD workout combines those moves with the right music and Armstrong said she is confident this engaging workout style will swoop past Zumba as the “it” aerobics dance. It has already found favor with several professional dancers.

Some of the dancers and current instructors for Timbuk include Robert Harris, a former dancer for Destiny’s Child, and Rece Jones, a music video dancer for artists like Will Smith and Master “P.” Imani Amos, another professional trained dancer for the Timbuk Fitness team and seen on the Timbuk Fitness workout DVD, said this workout is a welcome difference from everyday dance workouts.

“African dance isn’t something people usually think of when they think of fitness,” Amos said. “It’s something new and at the convention a few times people told me, ‘Oh, good, I’m so tired of Zumba. I want to do something else,’ and we’re like OK, well, we’re something else.”

Armstrong said people wanting something different can be sure Timbuk Fitness is not stopping at just one DVD. Not only will Timbuk follow up with workout DVDs highlighting other areas in Africa, but through connections Armstrong made at Baylor and continues to make as a health care administration master’s degree student in Washington D.C., she said she hopes to move Timbuk Fitness into all the Curves fitness centers nationwide.

But she has not forgotten her Baylor Bear roots.

Armstrong said she would love to have a Timbuk Fitness launch party on campus in the future. She is currently discussing the possibility with Van Davis, the assistant director for fitness and nutrition education.

Timbuk Fitness is certified to train Timbuk Fitness instructors through the Cooper Institute in Dallas, a research and education organization dedicated to preventive medicine, and she said she hopes interested Baylor Bears join the movement that she said will progress pre-emptive health care and fight the growing obesity epidemic in America.

“Our slogan is ‘love to move,’ because at the end of the day it’s about loving to move,” Armstrong said. “If we can get people moving, we can make a really big difference.”

Further information about Timbuk Fitness and demonstrations of this West African dance workout can be found at TimbukFitness.com or their Facebook page, facebook.com/TimbukFitness.