It’s not that I thought I was a bad dancer exactly – I had taken lessons in tap, jazz and ballet as a kid, after all – but more that I felt shy doing it in public. I wanted to be the kind of person who led her friends into the centre of the room and moved without self-consciousness. I wanted to invite onlookers instead of shrinking from the edge of the dance floor. So, I decided to take lessons. Just five to start with, gifted to me by a family member as a birthday present. Five lessons that would increase my confidence in the club, in a dance studio recommended to me by a friend with enviably effortless moves. The first one was terrifying. I walked into a studio of slim-figured girls with shiny hair and jazzy leggings and Nike trainers and dared myself not to be intimidated, but I needn’t have worried. Within five minutes I was laughing and panting, encouraged by the enthusiasm of the girls around me. I left feeling de-stressed and blissed out, grateful for the ache in my limbs that confirmed I had spent the past hour in my body instead of in my head. When I found out that my editor Sarah also went to and was obsessed with music video dance classes, I felt a flash of camaraderie. She told me what it is about them that she loves: “I love learning a routine over the course of an hour. It’s like learning a language because you have to memorise the individual steps (like vocab) then figure out how to put them together (like sentence structure). I have a very stressful job and it’s a great stress-reliever to concentrate so absolutely on something that consumes your body and your mind for an hour. If you start thinking about that meeting you’ve got tomorrow, you’ll miss a step.” She’s not wrong. My best friend did a class with me once – the song was “Toxic” – and she panicked, frozen in a lime-green T-shirt as the girls around her dropped to their knees then onto all fours. Like all good sports, she laughed it off. Over the past year, I’ve been taught routines to Bieber and Beyoncé by dancers who have toured with pop bands and choreographed drag balls – one had earned her first class after working as the dance studio’s receptionist. One woman slipped on a pair of towering, cobalt-blue stilettos to show us how to shimmy in time to J.Lo’s "Ain’t Your Mama" while hungover on a Sunday morning; another man introduced me to the ‘reverse slut-drop’ and loved making his students ‘melt’ against the studio’s brick wall, and perform whiplash-inducing head rolls and ‘floor work’.
One studio that has pioneered accessible music video dance classes here in London is Frame. Started by Pip Black and Joan Murphy in 2007, it now has individual studios in Shoreditch, King's Cross and Victoria. Black tells me that when she and Murphy created Frame, it was all about proving to our audience “who definitely weren't working out regularly” that getting fit shouldn't be a chore. “Back in 2008/9, fitness levels were much lower and it was a pretty hard ask to get the party people of Shoreditch to start squat sets, so we launched with a really strong dance and aerobics offering. Music has always been a huge part of our philosophy and dance not only makes you sweat and uses muscles you never knew you had (without even realising that you're working out), but it's also fantastic for building confidence and getting rid of stress.” Accessibility is king for Joelle D’Fontaine, creator of AT YOUR BEAT. He felt that London needed a “new, fresh, welcoming and empowering dance company” for those who wanted to learn or get back into dance and fitness, while also having fun and – importantly – being okay making mistakes. “We are totally about teaching people to be themselves rather than be someone else,” D’Fontaine told me, explaining that while “inspiration is one thing”, what AYB really promotes is “individuality”. Being able to summon the courage to dance to your own beat is important – but it helps to do it as part of a community. D’Fontaine explains that AYB is “a social, confidence-building studio”. He continues: “Our members support each other to the max and our instructors are ONLY here for them. We really see each person as different and want to see those individual traits shine in dance. We are more like a dance friend.” Sarah is inclined to agree with D’Fontaine’s insistence on the importance of sisterhood in the studio. “I love dancing alongside a load of girls or women I don’t know in classes, because at the end you split into groups and watch each other perform,” she says. “And there’s this lovely, encouraging atmosphere even though we’re all strangers.” The other appealing aspect of dance class is, of course, the escapism. Black reckons the thing that keeps her students coming back is the variety on offer. “Every week they get to be different characters, which I believe helps the ladies to enhance their performance skills and build confidence during the music video class. One class they get to be a hip-hop honey; on another day they get to release their inner Sasha Fierceness, or they get to strut it out to Madonna's “Vogue"." I ask Sarah, who did a lot of dance when she was younger and grew up obsessed with Save the Last Dance, what keeps her coming back to dance classes. She insists that it’s because she’s at her happiest when she’s dancing. “I seriously think I look like Beyoncé, but mostly it just fills me with glee. I basically ‘work out’ on nights out because I dance for hours and hours on end and I get extremely sweaty – my whole body is covered in sweat because I really go for it, I have to go to the smoking area just to cool down. In fact, I’m not really that interested in talking to my friends or even drinking on a night out – I just want to dance. But most of my friends don’t feel the same and would rather chat and drink, which is why I love dance classes. I get to express this part of myself and it doesn’t feel like exercise at all. It feels like a night out.” Without the hangover.