Hot Bod is a weekly exploration of fitness culture and its adjacent oddities.
Not to brag, but a couple months ago I was at a party, and not to brag but Janelle Monáe filmed a music video in a booth where I have kissed someone, really no need to keep asking so much about it. The party is a cute jostling monthly dance night, filled with citrus-forward drinks and glance-y queer energy. My trio found a genuinely good corner by the less ruined couch to dance to “Crush,” when this gorgeous dream was broken. My right arm flung upward like an eel only to SLOWLY LINGER back down to my side, like I was depositing a gutterball. The left arm repeated. Gutterball #2. My friend’s face collapsed in curious horror, like WHAT DID YOU JUST DO TWICE?
What I had just done was a Fitness Dance Move TM. A languid Broadway-inspired flourish that I’d learned in a class that promised it was aerobic hip-hop. It had pushed itself through my body, against all my will and want, like a fart. A person is powerless in a follow-along class, but even that morning I was like, Please dear limbs, let’s never do this accented inflatable tube-man swizzle. Muscle memory always betrays. I did an arm swizzle around people who are babes! “You looked like you’d learned it to a Bruno Mars song,” my friend guessed, unkindly.
For me, dance fitness classes are always an uneasy truce with cheesiness. They’re a preferred structured exercise, because they’re the most distracting way to exhaust yourself. If you squint, you can pretend you’re at a party! Depending on the season and my schedule, I’ve gone religiously. I’ve been loyal to a day-glo Fitness Rave on Tuesday evenings taught by an instructor I only know as Hyperbody. I’ve gone to Meuv8 on Mondays and reggaeton on Fridays at Heartbeat House, kicky punk Pony Sweat on Monday nights, high intensity hip-hop before anything is alive on Thursday mornings with JJ Dancer or 305. The two summers I lived in Chicago, dance classes at 360 MBS were my respite.
But I always stand at the middle-side (hidden by a pack yet on the outskirts, the place of purest shame) as an endlessly coordinated backup dancer for like, Jason DeRulo or someone, treats us like we’re her favorite campers. Strut, POSE, feel sexy, feel yourself, and master combinations that telegraph: Watch out, mister, I’ll break your heart! These convulsions are wrung into the body through repetitive motion.
Unfortunately these motions emerge as choreography for the casual event. It appears as if I’ve studied for the party. Look at these moves I’ve prepared for this dance floor. And just wait, I’ve got a tangy shoulder snap for you! Wow, look at this hand-on-the-hip wriggle. Didn’t see that dirty move coming did you? It’s all the neediness of a flash mob, but alone. It’s sassy.
In the wild, you can sniff out aerobic dance attendees if you know what to look for. The moves switch up seasonally-ish and regionally-ish. There was a brief monolith period, circa 2014, when Shakira’s “Waka Waka” was taught in every Zumba and faux-Zumba class. If it played on a dance floor, I’d reliably see the signature cactus-arms waggling from the music video. There were several months of structured knee spasms in late 2017, then a season of winding it down, winding it to the side. Repeating these motions in public is, socially, akin to inflicting your rehearsal for the fifth-grade talent show onto the world.
My problem with fitness dance classes is actually a problem with the unreliability of dancing in the world. Aerobic dance classes always feel like a substitute to the real, dirty-flirty thing. They’re a little imitation crab. I go to cheerful, empowering 7 a.m. hip-hop classes only because the dance floor is too fragile an ecosystem for my appetite. It’s prone to clogs, aggressive elbows, and obscure sadist Tbilisi-originated drone music. Went looking for a bliss shake to Normani; found a space to slouch by the doorframe so someone can yell gossip in my ear.
It hurts to admit, but “the dance floor” is a promise you can’t trust. Unfortunately, I want what I want all the time. And I’ve lived in America my whole adult life, where I learned I don’t have to wait for anything. If I’m willing to pay the price of money and casual embarrassment, there’s a wholesome alternative for sale. I can schedule a routine and regular dance floor experience with fitness classes, where I won’t be jostled. Like the more boring friend, they are completely reliable. And like the more boring friend, I should be less embarrassed when they’re a dweebo on the dance floor. We’re really the same, she and I.