It’s dark except for some coloured lights. You’re standing with your back to the room, along with 20 other women you don’t know. The first few beats of your favourite track start playing. You count silently – 5, 6, 7, 8 – and as the first lyric sounds from the speaker, you’re simultaneously moving your body and using all your brainpower to remember that final sequence of moves you learned three minutes ago. The more extroverted women in the group let out a "Whoop!" and the teacher – who has become your number one style and body idol in the space of 40 minutes – shouts "Queeeeens". All that heavy job stress, familial responsibility and frustration at whatever has been bugging you that week evaporates.
There’s a special kind of energy that comes with dancing with a group of women you don’t know on a Monday night after work; you vibe off each other, help each other catch up if the pace is too fast, shower support when someone forgets the moves and again when the woman who always stands at the back steps forward. Though you’re all moving to the same beat, everyone brings their own style of dance and dress. At the end, even the introverts are whooping and hugging each other.
At least, that’s what exercise has become for me and a growing number of women finding a sense of belonging in alternative group workouts. It’s this sense of camaraderie that Women by Nike is celebrating in its campaign for the new Icon Clash collection, featuring six dancers from Seoul, Tokyo, New York, Berlin, LA and Campania. At a three-day shoot in New York, the dancers collaborated with choreographer Luam Keflezgy, who shaped the routine; Harlem Globetrotter Fatima Lister, who contributed the basketball moves; and yoga master trainer Kara Liotta, who added the yoga flow. The final choreography is an original fusion of moves from multiple disciplines performed by women from all over the world, each bringing their own culture, style and vibe.
In football, basketball, netball, running, there’s a uniform designed to facilitate the sport but in dance, the codes are blurred. You can wear football shorts with pulled up socks and a sports bra, basketball shorts and jerseys, a baseball cap, joggers with the poppers undone and an oversized T-shirt. Plenty of people keep their hoodies on to dance (they’re usually the best dancers and never seem to break a sweat). You’d rather be in Air Force 1s to stamp your weight down in a move than a flexible arch or technical shoe. Similarly, while in other sports you might want your hair off your face, in dance it becomes a defining characteristic of movement and personal style. There’s no taping up of jewellery like in netball, either; like hair, jewellery contributes to a dancer’s attitude, catching the light as you move. The dance studio becomes a space to express yourself creatively, both in the way you move and the way you dress; the two go hand in hand.
The Icon Clash collection fuses sport dress codes in this way, echoing the fusion of movements in the campaign. My personal favourite pieces – incidentally all worn by Japanese dancer Rie Hata in the campaign – include the wide-leg silk joggers with poppers and the red silk basketball shirt with the Nike logo embroidered in gold. The collection’s silk jumpsuit with basketball-inspired vest top adjoined to joggers with poppers in all black would be confidence-building enough for me to go from the back of the class (where I usually stand) to the front, and chic enough to wear straight from the office to the studio.
Since fitness became a culture, there are so many nontraditional ways to work out and move your body without it feeling like a drag. Once you find your 'thing', whether it’s a dance group, a basketball team, a netball team, five-a-side football or a fusion class involving several different elements, working out soon supersedes all other entries in your calendar. Instead of squeezing in a solo gym session before work or around social plans, you begin to plan your social life around this activity. For me, the style attached to dance culture adds a sense of occasion to the exercise. It feels more like going out than working out – without feeling sluggish and brain-dead the next day.
As the days get darker and wetter, and the Christmas social calendar fills up, I’ll be treating myself to the red Air Force 1s, silk basketball shirt and silk popper joggers, putting my hoops in, my necklace on, my hair in a high ponytail, drawing on my cat eye eyeliner, and joining the queue to get into the studio.
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