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Banish Unwanted Thoughts With This Baffling Dance

Photo-Illustration: by TheCut; Photos: Getty Images

Hot Bod is a weekly exploration of fitness culture and its adjacent oddities.

Given any opportunity now, my mind is liable to spin off into six unforeseen, very concerned directions at once. My body might be riding a bike, having a third lunch, walking the dog, but my mind is off to the races. As I see it, something like running or yoga — activities praised by devotees for clearing the mind — are far too unsupervised. Anything that comes with a steady lull of repetition (like biking), time-expanding feelings of duration (like biking far), or a radical departure from distraction (like biking far alone) is way too meditative. My mind is unfashionable and doesn’t know how to meditate. I never know where that girl is going to go! To cope, I’ve found a way to move that’s even more confusing, uncertain, and multi-directional than my tumultuous thoughts.

I am describing the Tracy Anderson Method. It’s an approach to moving that’s so unexpected at every moment, so unnatural, it feels like a complete counterpoint to the meditative. There’s no space for my mind to intervene and I couldn’t find a flow if I tried. And I definitely don’t know when I’m supposed to be breathing!

About a decade ago, Anderson swooped into the fitness world on a wind of controversy, the beaming adoration of celebrities, and a reputation for lightly arrhythmic motions meant to disorient the mind and tone the bod. Her dancing style is marked by such frequent micro-convulsions that I sometimes wonder if she regrets every torso twitch she guides us into. And then sometimes I wonder if she’s just trying to baffle us in a game of imitation she’ll always win. In my attempts to ape her gyrations, I am confused into submitting. To imitate the spirit of unpredictability itself, in a time of brutal and apocalyptic unpredictability, feels like a wily type of power, like fighting fire with fire.

I’m sure in the totality of my little life, I have put in over 2,000 hours of dancing. And yet Tracy Anderson’s style of dance is absolutely alien to me. I never know what she is about to do. This is a conscious principle of hers, I think, something nonsensical about activating “accessory muscles.” It never fails to baffle on a macro level (oh, we will just waggle in place, despite ample room?) or a micro level (why such abbreviated hips?). The movement is somehow fluid and jerky, random and constant. We’re squirming like stiff jelly! It’s choreography that pushes the laws of physics.

So maybe I’m just recommending doing an exercise that’s new, perplexing and physically unexpected. To move in some way that’s just on the edge of what you can keep up with. I’ve only spent about six hours miming along to Tracy Anderson’s capricious hips. This short exposure, I think, is crucial to this experience of radical confusion. I predict if you’ve been a loyal Tracy hip-flicker since her heyday, you speak her body language fluently, and you will not receive the benefits of Engrossed, Confused Submission. I also predict you probably have a heavenly meditation practice going by now. 

Or maybe I’m just recommending visiting exercise videos of the recent past, from our current position in a fraught pivotal Moment in History. There’s a blankness to Tracy’s approach that seems to float outside of time, while also feeling dated. There’s a big, 2011-ish haze over the atmosphere. The setting is often, seemingly, a hotel lobby of the afterlife. Tracy talks about “burning calories” and “losing weight,” which I think might get you arrested in the chic boutiques of 2020. She only gets flirty with super-light body weights, heaven forbid we bulk up.

New classes that I love have an earnest tendency to emotionally acknowledge the chaos of this moment. They’ll often make a distant attempt to care for me. They’ll try to redirect my fiery political heart towards a spinning sprint. These things require me to recognize the current political situation, which I’m doing for a better portion of my day anyway. What if, instead, I moved in a way that was so unnatural that I had no spare moment to worry, and I felt trained in the wiggly art of unpredictability? Maybe visiting vintage Tracy vids is a response to a last week effort to go all-in on a Democratic candidate that I was less than thrilled about, who was really not for me, who seems both outdated and maybe, I hope, is right.

Also Tracy Anderson is terrified by bulk, which I’m not afraid of — bulk can come, bulk can go, I am indifferent to bulk — and this makes me feel brave.

Banish Unwanted Thoughts With These Baffling Dance Moves