Ant Collesso wants to bring people out of their shells with 'statement' return of Fitness With Pride dance fitness class to raise money for Highland Pride
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An Inverness-born performer is returning home to bring people out of their shells – and raise some money for Highland Pride.
After growing up in Inverness, Ant Collesso has travelled the world as a dancer and singer, but he has also dipped into the fitness world.
Becoming a qualified aerial fitness instructor after doing work on hoops and poles on cruise ships, the 30-year-old began to teach classes. Then, when people he was working with wanted to get stronger, he worked towards a personal trainer certification.
That led to him doing running dance classes with a twist, and the concept of Fitness With Pride was born. He creates his own choreography to various music styles influenced by his own background and tastes, and has previously run the classes in his local gyms.
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In those times and places, Mr Collesso's classes did not always fit the mould, but he has also seen the benefits they can have on attendees and is determined to have a similar impact now that he has moved back to the Highlands permanently.
"I received quite a bit of resistance from the stereotypical gym goer," he recalled.
"I had some homophobic remarks where people would joke about my dance classes and bang on the windows, so it just wasn't the right thing for that specific environment. That ignited a little flame in me, because nobody was representing this group of people that I'm a part of in the fitness industry.
"Growing up as someone who was not into sports, I know how hard it was to walk into a gym for the first time, and I also didn't know how beneficial physical exercise is for mental health. It doesn't just change your body, it changes you as a person and helps you grow.
"Obviously it releases endorphins, but this is a different kind of feeling good – I bring people out of their shells. It sounds cliche, but you need to love yourself, and if you're not naturally doing it you need someone to help you learn it.
"It's like a muscle, you have to train it. You get more confident and empowered, and your life will start to change because you will make different choices that are more beneficial for you.
"I've seen the growth in different students I've had, and it's incredible.
"Personally, I felt this calling to do this back home in Inverness. It will mean so much more to me doing all of that for people that are going through what I went through when I lived here before, which made me leave because I wasn't getting what I wanted and needed out of it.
"The mental health benefits really hit home, because I was going through that without even realising it. I was living a great life, but there was always just something inside that wasn't right. I'm still going through it, and I had a friend who unfortunately ended her own life so it's close to home.
"If I wasn't a performer and I wasn't dancing, I wouldn't have been able to cope with it as much as I did. That's why this dance class exists – I'm trying to give what I have received as a performer to other people in a safe space, where you're not being watched by other people on a stage. You can just go for yourself."
Inverness has already seen elements of Fitness With Pride, as Mr Collesso had come back to stay with his family during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.
When outdoor group exercise was permitted, he did run sessions at Bught Park, but this is something of a re-launch in the Highland capital.
Taking place on the afternoon of Saturday, December 16 at the Spectrum Centre, half of the money raised will go towards Highland Pride – and it will also serve as a foundation for regular classes in the new year.
"This fundraiser is a one-off, but I will be launching my weekly classes again come January," Mr Collesso added.
"The purpose of this workshop was to work with Highland Pride to tell them what I'm all about, and do a fundraiser.
"Highland Pride is still growing and new. I was so lucky that they asked me to perform when they first had performances back in 2019, and that just hit my heart. It was what I was missing growing up.
"I didn't want to go to a gym in Inverness and go through the same thing I had before. I know what my branding is, I know what I want from these classes. I want to motivate and empower underrepresented groups that I'm a part of as well, because I didn't have that growing up.
"This fundraiser will be good fun and it's a good way for me to say I'm here now. I turned 30 this year, I have been all over the world doing some crazy stuff, and the older I got the more I wanted to be back in Inverness, in the Highlands, around my family.
"This is my statement. I've been home a few times and people have seen me come and go, but this is me back now. Everything I have done elsewhere and online, I'm bringing it home for people, and there's going to be so much more going on."