Taking a dance class as an adult can be a daunting thing, especially if your mom didn't enroll you in toddler tap-and-nap classes at Miss Minnie's Salsa Spin-o-Rama (not a real dance studio. Really.). Here in the city, we have several drop-in dance programs geared towards adults, but starting dance classes post-teen years can be stressful.
How do you know what program is right for you? And what if you're a pure beginner? And even more so, what if you just want to go, exercise, have fun, and not stress too much about how many fouette turns (those spins where you kick your leg out to the side and keep turning on one leg until you a) fall over or b) but your leg down) you can do? Those are a lot of questions, which perhaps can be answered by two words separated by a symbol: Rhythm & Motion.
"Inspired by the idea that truly 'anyone can dance,'" Rhythm & Motion, a for-profit dance program housed out of the ODC Dance Commons, "fosters physical and emotional well-being for all ages and abilities." Sounds nice, doesn't it? Created in 1979, Rhythm & Motion has "evolved into a comprehensive center for global dance and dance workout, fusing dance styles and incorporating eclectic music to create an invigorating, physically challenging and fun experience."
Fusing dance styles and eclectic music? A dance workout? This is gibberish, sort of like if someone said that Mayor Newsom had turned in his hair gel for pomade. Make sense, dammit! Well, to find out, I did what any hardworking dance writer does. I went and took a class.
Now, I will preface this by saying I have a dance background. I mean, I have to have some sort of semi-decent credentials in order to write about dance. But the most I've taken in the last eight years has been a handful or two of ballet classes.
Arriving at the Commons, the first thing I did was check-in for the Fusion Rhythms (FR) dance workout class. Including choreographed warm-ups, cardio, arm, leg, and ab work, the Fusion Rhythms dance workout series incorporates hip hop, modern, African, Latin, and aerobic dance into a 60-minute running-with-the-bulls session.
There are also two other options for the dance workout: Essential Fusion Rhythms (EFR) is the beginning version of the Fusion Rhythms (FR) dance workout. Steps are broken down and routines slowed down a bit to help everyone "get it." The other version is the Modern Fusion Rhythms (MFR), which is a longer version of the class and demands a little more experience and choreographic memory.
Post-check-in included changing out of my work clothes and into workout clothes, but I know what you're thinking so I'll stop you there--no leotard and tights! Anything comfy will do like yoga pants, tank tops, shorts, etc. Oh, and sneakers! Preferably something you don't wear outside so as not to dirty up the floors.
I stuck myself in the middle of Eyla Moore's Wednesday evening class. For beginners, positioning yourself in the middle of the class (halfway between the front, back, and sides of the class) is ideal. You'll be able to follow everyone around you, even if you turn around to the back wall or the side windows.
After a quick welcome and update (R&M was prepping for the flash mob performance at the Powell cable car turnstile, as seen above, so the deets were shared along with holiday schedule notes), Moore tapped her iPod and the 25 class members and I were off and running.
OK, not running. More like breathing, bending our knees, stretching our arms, and isolating our ribs. Then we progressed to hip shaking, paddle turns, weight changes, and flying through the air, and holy crap, I sweating buckets! For the first few songs, I was lost.
Oh, alright, for most of the class, I was lost, but I kept following Moore and the students around me. Moore shimmied through the class as she led us through the class, and the music, a blend of drums, hip hop, and dance hits, pushed me along. Each routine repeated itself several times, so by the end of each song or section, I felt like I was getting the hang of things, keeping up with the class as we steamrolled towards the finish and cooldown. One, two, arm up, hip, step, step, step, jump, turnturnturn... By the end, as I crunched and stretched, all my cavorting seemed like a blur, but the sweat permeating through my clothes reeked of success. Sweet, salty success.
Of my semi-perplexed feelings of "I did it!" vs. "I did it?", Moore says that this is expected for all new students but "the more you come, the more familiar the movements become, and then it's easier to follow along...." For new students, she suggests "come knowing that [you're] not going to get everything perfectly, and that that's not even what the class is about. It's really about just enjoying yourself, enjoying the music, and just feeling the spirit of everyone in the room, and just going with the general flow of the class. But all people need to do is be prepared to get lost and that's OK! It's part of the process."
Moore says dance technique "is important so that no one hurts themselves," but an R&M class "is much more free, as much as you're not really focused on being technically perfect or anything; it's more of enjoying dancing, enjoying music, and really just moving around and keeping moving for that hour. The beautiful thing about it is that people that have never dance before will come here and have a great time. I think sometimes in some of the modern classes they feel more pressure, oh, like it's more advanced and they have to be more technical. So this is about enjoying yourself and letting it go and not worrying about anyone looking at you or doing it perfectly. It's about enjoying dancing."
Awesome. No one will care if you screw up! Turn the wrong way? So what! Leg can't go too high? Kick it the best you can. All that matters was that you keep moving, try your best, and have fun. Oh, and don't intentionally whack anyone with a flying limb.
Alena Bell-Farrell started taking R&M classes in 2001 and is a regular in Moore's Fusion Rhythms class. Working in a medical office, she uses the class as a mental breather as well as a time to get a total workout. "Every day is different. Some days I'm stressed out, I come here, and I want to decompress, forget about my day, not really focus, and just kind of breathe deep, get into it, and forget about it. Not even caring if I'm doing the movement right, if I'm backwards, or if I bump into someone and I'm like 'I'm sorry!' because sometimes you just need to let it go. And then other days I'm really focused, I really just want to work out, and then I'm like, hop in and jump in and really put a lot of my physical energy out. But yeah, every day it kind of goes on how I'm feeling and what I need, and I think you can really get anything you need out of that class."
Next week, Rhythm & Motion is hosting an All-Day Dance Bash to celebrate 30 years of hearty and healthy dance instruction. The day sports free classes in Fusion Rhythms, Mexican Folkloric, Afro-Brazilian, pilates, 80s dance, house dance, bollywood, belly dance, as well as a performance and party. Outside of the Bash, single classes are $12, which is cheaper than most yoga classes and comparable to a glass of bubbly. So if you're looking to try something new in 2010 or just want to add a little zing before 2009 rolls to a close, check out Rhythm & Motion's introductory day of enjoyable, no-pressure dance classes.