“Why do you dance?” It’s a question repeatedly raised in “Leap” - a favorite film of my three year old twin girls. In the movie, an orphan girl escapes a village orphanage, runs away to Paris and sneaks her way into the top Ballet Academy to make her dancer dreams come true. I can totally relate.
Crunch Gym is my Ballet Academy. In 1995, I’d sneak in to the location on Lafayette Street pretending to be a fitness instructor once my student membership ran out. I’d give a tough looking “Was-Sup” chin raise salutation to the half asleep Front Desk worker and enter through the side exit like I’d observed my favorite teachers do. And then I rush to secure my spot in the super packed dance classes. Amidst the throngs of gym-goers, I’d immerse myself in the surround sound beats of hip-hop, pop and R&B and eat up the new dance routine. It was such a high to feel that synchronicity of movement with an entire room.
Even once I became a lawyer (and could finally afford the membership), I was still a sneaker. I’d have to ask my legal secretary to cover for me, so I go make it to a Crunch dance class. Sneaking in the gym room (inevitably late from the office) and carving out a space for myself was part of my regular ritual. I’d cast off my perma press suit and Century 21 tie for oversized pajama pants I'd find from a Calvin Klein outlet store. I desperately wanted to look cool without trying to look like I was trying to look cool - so a disheveled vibe was what I went for. Plus, the XL sized clothing also hid the fact that I was pretty self-conscious about my body. Inside this popular NYC gym, everyone seemed to have some kind of flair or bulging muscle group. I had what I still called my “baby fat.” The other amazing thing about the oversized clothes I wore was they FLOWED when I danced. And I'd loved seeing the continuation of the movement I created in the fabric. Or that really, Malin created.
Ah . . . Malin. She’s once of the first dance/fitness teachers I ever studied with and every time I took her dance classes, I thought I was in the presence of a goddess. She was my Tersichore – the Muse of Dance. And here I was, my nerdy mythology loving self, in the back room of a crowded gym studio, dancing – with her and dancing her insanely complicated and yet accessible choreography! This elfin-like woman commanded us to flow, groove and shake to music in ways that empowered me. And she’s the reason I ended becoming an instructor at Crunch and just celebrated my 20 year anniversary with the Company a few years ago.
Hitting 20 years, I started to ask “Why am I still here?” “What do I still want to accomplish?” and “What do I want my legacy to be?” It’s prompted a great deal of introspective dialogue and a coming back to basics and the purpose of why I do anything. I still teach one dance class a week. And it is work! The playlist, the choreography, the figuring out how to break it all down, the keeping it fresh and relevant and a great work out - all these factors make it the kind of class I can’t just waltz in and bang out. It takes time. And time that I seem to have less of since without design, I’ve come in to the position of directing the Crunch Group Fitness Department. Couple that with the actual design of becoming a parent of those twin girls I mentioned and there are definitely moments when I question why am I still teaching a dance class? Why do I dance?
My answer is still the same - it’s in my heart and I love it. And I now watch my daughters dance and they are so free, uninhibited and joyful. And I get it! That’s how we all start out - just loving it - the freedom of movement and the simple pleasure of feeling the beat or rhythm or lyrics of a song. It is joy personified. And as an instructor - I have the privilege of sharing that joy with others and challenging them to let go of all inhibitions and shake what their mama gave them.
To my fellow dance teachers out there - I encourage you to take from other teachers and collaborate with those that inspire you. I have a new muse in the form of one Jamie Drye. This beautiful soul is so passionate about dance and yet is so chill about it - which makes you enjoy the dance all the more. I am do frickin’ blessed to co-choreograph with him regularly and not just because he shares in the burden of creativity but because he pushes and inspires me to evolve, innovate and yet not overthink it. He keeps it FUN.
To my nervous about dance friends out there - I encourage you to remember how you danced as a toddler or kid and tap into what that felt like. And if it put a smile on your face and a shake in your bootie - don’t think - just dance. Go to a class. And workout tip - if the room is crowded - don’t stand in the back. Go to the second row and be on the side where you can feel the energy of the teacher, see them at all times and yet avoid the Front Row Mafia or veteran members who often can be territorial on their spot or position in class.