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Pony Sweat is not just a retro-aerobics class. It's a community

Emilia Richeson, a.k.a. Pony Sweat, holds a "fiercely noncompetitive" aerobics dance class at Live Arts L.A. in Los Angeles.

Some describe the retro-inspired dance class Pony Sweat as Richard Simmons aerobics but more punk. Or they say it’s like dancing in your bedroom with all your friends. Others explain it as just plain fun. But nearly all the swelling band of Pony Sweat devotees — or Ponies, as they call themselves — agree that the music-thumping aerobics sessions are more than simply a class, they’re a community.

The community’s philosophy? Come as you are. “It’s a fiercely noncompetitive dance space,” said creator and founder Emilia Richeson, who teaches her signature class at a handful of fitness hot spots across Los Angeles. “One of the best ways to practice being fiercely noncompetitive is to go at your own level. I always say, ‘You don’t have to go at your neighbors’ level, you don’t have to go at my level, go at your level.’ ”

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Richeson has been teaching her boundaryless dance classes since 2014. Pony Sweat classes have become so popular that in 2017 she decided to bring on another teacher. Last year, her copilot CJ Miller joined her. Miller is a musician and artist who got introduced to Pony Sweat not long after coming out as a trans woman.

“It was a life-saving space for me,” Miller said. She added that she knows what it is like to have a lot of embarrassment in your body. The Pony Sweat community helped her shed that shame. “There’s so many ways we hate ourselves, and hate other people in this country, that gets internalized into us from external forces. This is a true place to come and move in your body the way you want to move — and there’s a ton of power in that.”

The most raucous classes are on Saturdays at Live Arts Los Angeles in Highland Park, where I tried it:

Aura

Emilia Richardson AKA Pony Sweat's, right, and C.J Miller hold a "radically noncompetitive" aerobics dance classes at Live Arts LA in Los Angeles.
Emilia Richardson AKA Pony Sweat's, right, and C.J Miller hold a "radically noncompetitive" aerobics dance classes at Live Arts LA in Los Angeles. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

At the beginning of a recent Pony Sweat class at Live Arts Los Angeles, Richeson told the class: “Get wild, take care of yourself, take care of your neighbors.” We yelped and clapped. The large industrial style dance space was filled with a ragtag mix of attendees in mostly spandex ensembles, which included accessories such as a smattering of pink glitter, a leather chest harness, and one woman wearing a baby carrier containing an infant sporting Crayola-bright ear protection.

Effort

We warmed up with light stretching and isolated movements singing in a kind of shout-and-repeat to the electro-band Glass Candy: We echoed the “Warm in the Winter” lyrics, “Shout, Yeah you! I love you. We love you!” Then came the choreographed cardio dance numbers to George Michael, the Coathangers and Michael Jackson with some lunges and leg stretches thrown in. “We’re gonna get funky,” Miller cried. Some people grooved without missing a beat, others improvised movements — like the mama with the baby — bouncing around at their own speed, and a few hair-tossers who looked like they could be in a “Flashdance” remake. We ran circles around the gym a couple of times shouting and leaping in the air, and finally wound down with what Richeson called “ab things” and “stretch-y things,” all while she and Miller encouraged anyone who wasn’t feeling it to slow down if they needed to.

Style

On the surface Pony Sweat may seem like a place to sweat it out to Richeson’s carefully curated playlist — which spans a Light Asylum song about the industrial prison complex to Sinéad O’Connor and Depeche Mode. But Pony Sweat can also be about so much more than that. “It’s an opportunity to break down ideas of competition and self-loathing,” Miller said. “And in doing so, allowing people around you to build themselves up — it’s amazing we are all tearing down those things together. One class at a time.”

Pony Sweat Aerobics

Where: Live Arts Los Angeles, 4210 Panamint St., Los Angeles, and other Los Angeles locations

Cost: $13 per class, $66 for a six-class “Pony Package”

Info, including hours: ponysweataerobics.com/calendar

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