Bieber and Beyonce-inspired dance classes a new generation of exercise trends
The music video changed the way we saw dance routines, then YouTube changed the way we watched the music video. Now classes across the city are making sure we have the timing right.
From the aerobics classes of Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda, to pole-dancing lessons and Zumba, dance and fitness have long been partners. Today, with the rising popularity of Beyography and Justin Bieber workshops across Toronto, classes emulating celebrity music videos are the next iteration.
Toronto performer and choreographer Nicky Nasrallah started his company Beyography in 2013 in response to friends asking him to teach them the moves to the pop icon’s routines. “It was a total accident,” says Nasrallah, who teaches six classes a week at various studios downtown, in four-inch heels. Business picked up last summer after a couple of media reviews. “I thought it was going to be a fad,” he says, “but my classes have been full for the past year.”
Part of the appeal is Nasrallah’s subject material: patrons know Beyonce’s videos as well as her songs, so they have an idea of what they’re in for. YouTube and Facebook play an important role in giving people access to official videos and to dancers breaking them down, before they commit to studio time.
“There’s a common theme of nondancers who’ve always wanted to dance,” says Tina Nico, co-founder and artistic director of City Dance Corps, a studio on Queen St. established in 2002 that teaches classes from ballet to belly dancing. “Watching other people do the dance moves, as opposed to the professional, makes it feel more accessible.”
But, she advises, it’s not the same as taking a class. “Learning from an instructor face-to-face, you get personal corrections and feed off the energy of your fellow students.” (Indeed, the energy levels in these classes is pep-rally high — there’s constant cheering and smiling at each other.)
YouTube tutorials are encouraging nondancers to give it a try, but the inspiration behind them is an increasing prevalence of group dance in music videos in the first place. The ’90s were a heyday of choreographed group routines by girl and boy bands — think ’NSync’s flashy opening routine in “I Want You Back;” Backstreet Boys’ “Backstreet’s Back” paying homage to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller;” to simpler hand-jive routines like Spice Girls’ “Stop” — and a growing appreciation of the era has likely contributed to the resurgence.
Of the new offerings, however, it’s Bieber’s “Sorry” — whose video has more than a billion views on YouTube — that has spawned the most recent slew of workshops. Its cool dance hall vibe, brightly coloured clothing and real-looking crew make the moves seem more attainable than those of a pristine celeb. Its popularity is also down to “polyswagg,” the attitude-filled dancehall-esque choreography of Parris Goebel, who is now dance-world royalty, having created routines for the likes of Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Janet Jackson.
Last fall, also at the request of a friend, Toronto choreographer and dance instructor Diana Reyes began teaching three-hour “Sorry” workshops that sell out to as many as 40 people each time. As a choreographer herself, Reyes, also known as Fly Lady Di, says teaching, and making money from, someone else’s work comes with some moral challenges (there is no law against teaching choreography that’s not yours), so she makes sure to credit the choreographer where possible and mix in her own moves, as she does in the Rihanna “Work” class. City Dance Corps’ Nico, whose Hollywood Dance Series covers dances from popular videos from Michael Jackson to ’NSync, has also struggled with the issue, and uses only elements from the official videos to “maintain artistic integrity.”
In terms of the future, dance videos will continue to explode. “With the increased visibility of YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, dance has played a key role in how people connect to music more now than ever,” says Reyes. “If artists are smart they will incorporate more dance into their videos to get people excited — particularly choreography that people can follow visually or physically.”
Naming and tagging choreographers will also help credit arrive where it’s due. “Lately I’ve seen more choreographers who haven’t worked with famous people start to get more popularity and credibility because of social media,” says Nico. “Even nondancers are starting to know the names of underground choreographers who haven’t gone commercial yet.”
As for summer workshops, if Iggy Azalea’s “Team” video choreographed by Tricia Miranda and previews of Missy Elliott’s new single Pep Rally are anything to go by, we best start limbering up now.
Class Act: Breaking down 3 celeb-specific dance classes
Experience required: Some dance experience, or great enthusiasm for dance, as Reyes doesn’t cut corners.
Signature moves: Hip rolls, the crawl, the T-Rex walk.
Intensity level: “I have never sweat so much in my life,” was a comment from one participant who promptly booked another workshop. Involves cardio and flexibility.
Gear: Vibrant ’80s-esque stuff is ideal (hi-tops!) but plaid shirts around waists abound as well.
Cost: $35 for 3 hours.
Available: Group and private classes are available now.
Class taken: “Lean and Dab” by Tennessee rapper iLoveMemphis, with KJ McKnight at City Dance Corps.
Experience required: None. McKnight teaches the old-school-meets-street moves and the song leads the choreography in its lyrics. But rhythm and a willingness to “get low” help.
Signature moves: The lean, the dab (dart with one arm and your head angled down, similar to Usain Bolt, then recover).
Intensity level: Up to you, but the more energy and knees you use, the less you will feel like Baby in Dirty Dancing. (I carried a watermelon?).
Gear: Keep it simple — loose sweats, a bandana, tank.
Cost: $20 for 1 hour.
Available: “Lean and Dab” is taught in the Party Moves class every Thursday from 6 to 7 p.m. throughout the summer.
Class taken: “Dance for You,” with Beyography founder Nicky Nasrallah and assistant Katherine Wilson.
Experience required: Zilch.
Signature moves: Hair flips, booty rolls and body ripples.
Intensity level: You will get warm and be out of breath occasionally, but the real burn is in the thighs, thanks to Queen Bey’s love of the slow gyrate.
Gear: Costumes optional, heels mandatory. (Not really: nothing’s mandatory in this class, but heels are recommended.)
Cost: $20 for 2 hours
Available: Now — Nasrallah rotates through Beyonce’s repertoire throughout the year.Forget Zumba, Justin Bieber workshops and Beyography are among the new generation of dance-fitness routines. ]]>