dozen or so women in Margaret Dureke's studio are pounding
their feet, flailing their arms and shaking their shoulders.
"Do the jiggy dance here!" Dureke shouts, leading them
in a hip-twist maneuver. "Gimme love!"
calls the style "Odiche," a word that means "different"
in her native Nigerian language, Ibo.
But Dureke won't explain "JAHS," the name for her Hyattsville-based
"I don't want people to know. It's part of the mystique,"
she said, laughing.
And maybe it's the mystique--or Dureke's obvious delight
in creating it--that has been most instrumental in molding
her innovative weight-loss program.
Dureke's story is one of success that came from rebellion.
"I used to be morbidly obese," she says frankly, pointing
to the before-and-after pictures in her office. Unhappy
with her figure, she launched into an exercise program
while she was working toward her law degree at American
"I joined one of the conventional fitness centers," she
said. But she hated it, because after she paid her dues,
no one seemed to care whether she came or not. "I felt
Dissatisfied with the public weight rooms and boring aerobics
classes, she knew she could do better.
"When I quit going there, instead of getting mad at them
and calling them names," she started her own program,
The 20 dance routines she made up in her basement were
the foundation for the classes she now runs in Hyattsville
and at the Washington Hospital Center. Dureke turned her
routines into a business when she discovered law-firm
life wasn't for her. After eight years, she has served
hundreds of women.
"For three years I had no penny to my name. But it didn't
bother me. I had an objective. I knew where I was going,"
The moves, rhythm and spirit of her approach have African
roots. In addition to Odiche, Dureke and her instructors
teach dances to Caribbean and gospel music. Perhaps the
most remarkable aspect of the program, her patrons say,
is the attention she gives each student.
"She cares. If you don't show up, she's calling you,"
said Brandie Revell, a Hyattsville resident who said she's
lost 10 pounds during her three months in the program.
Veronica McKune agreed.
really good," she said of Dureke. "She really makes you
feel like you're accomplishing something and she really
keeps you motivated ... . At home I have the whole gym
in my basement, but this is so much better."
Monique Meadows, a Laurel resident who has been coming
to classes for a few weeks, said she had tried "about
a million" other exercise programs before settling on
"Everyone's really friendly. It's like a support group,"
the development director at a District nonprofit said.
"It really grounds me."
Dureke said she can't help but care about her students.
"The hospitality part of it is part of my spirit, as an
African," Dureke said. "You talk to people to figure out
what's going on with them ... . You go beyond just the
Odiche Fitness & You Inc. holds classes from 6 to 8 p.m.
Mondays and Wednesdays and 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays
at 4206 Gallatin St., Hyattsville. For information, call
301-864-2800 or go to www.jahsfitness.com.
E-mail Julia Oliver at