There are times when a hardcore workout is great. When you need to be pushed to your limits with weights, cardio and the amount of time you can stand an instructor yelling at you to “Reach your full potential!” by doing just one more set of squats.
Other times you need to just dance things out in a dark room, where the yelling is done by Kelly Clarkson hitting a high note in a “Love So Soft” remix.
For those moments, there is Dance Church, a “movement-focused workout” that takes place Sunday mornings in Silver Lake.
But fair warning. Starting your morning with Dance Church means at some point you will be hugging a bunch of sweaty strangers in a dark studio. You will stand in a tight circle of heavy breathing and moist performance tops while Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” thumps in your ears. But you will inevitably be smiling, having survived 90 minutes straight of pure, tension-releasing, “OMG hold my drink, this song is my jam” dancing combined with light aerobic movements. You will feel the urge to sing along as the chorus, “I’m right over here, why can’t you see me,” comes on, and it will be encouraged.
Described as “the dance party you wish you had last night,” Dance Church is neither religious nor specifically a dance class, but more a chance to move and swing and twirl like no one is watching with a group of like-minded people.
Started in Seattle by dancer and choreographer Kate Wallich while she was trying to figure out how to make a living as a professional dancer, Dance Church began as a weekly gathering of Wallich’s colleagues who met up to just explore movement and experience a release from the rigors of training. That release meant jumping around a room to music by Cher, Katy Perry, Rihanna and Beyoncé.
As a way to expand her community in Seattle and help promote her friends’ dance work, Wallich opened up this casual “Sunday morning movement class” to nondancer friends. Not surprisingly, a free-form dance class set to a Top 40 backdrop soon caught on. And as Wallich’s dance company, Studio Kate Wallich and the YC, began to grow and she began to travel around the country for commissions and shows, so did Dance Church.
Today, there are classes in typical outposts like Portland, San Francisco and New York City, but also Indianapolis and soon Salt Lake City. We tried it, and here’s what you can expect:
Dance Church L.A. takes place in the back room of the Sweat Spot, a studio space in Silver Lake that prides itself on being a hub for the Eastside arts community, hosting dance classes of all genres and skill levels. Enter through the back parking lot and you find yourself in a large, darkened room with hard rubber flooring and thick curtains pulled over a floor-to-ceiling mirror at the front of the room. Clusters of eager “dancers” mill around waiting for the class to start, stretching and welcoming each other under a small disco ball that hangs from the ceiling.
The crowd is your typical motley crew of Silver Lake regulars, ranging from girls in their Lululemon finest to guys in basketball shorts and messy man buns. Based on stretching and warm-up alone, the skill levels range from “just stepped off the stage at the Pantages” to “no clue what I’m doing.”
There’s a simple instruction for a Dance Church session: “Say yes to your choices.” As soon as the instructor hits play, the workout begins, and for 90 minutes you are left to your own whims, to move and groove and find your rhythm, just as long as you keep moving. An aerobic move is thrown in here and there to work out specific parts of your body, a Richard Simmons-style command of “Arm up! Arm up! Now squat! Squat! Squat!” timed to the beat of Kendrick Lamar.
Toward the end of the session, everyone forms a giant dance circle around the edges of the studio and anyone who feels the impulse is encouraged to step forward and show off their moves. Finally, the instructor gathers everyone around her in the center of the floor for a final, joyful release of singing, jumping and throwing hands up into the air before lying flat on the floor for a daydreaming session that officially ends the class.
“It’s a sweaty, dance fitness party. That’s what makes it approachable,” Wallich says when asked if the idea of a dance class ever turns people away or intimidates nondancers. “It’s not about learning how to dance; it’s just about ... dancing. It’s a release for so many. I think that’s why people love it.”
Where: The Sweat Spot, 3327 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles
When: 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. most Sundays. Check the calendar for any schedule changes before you go.
Cost: $15 for drop-in.