Deep Undercover at the YMCA's Beyoncé Fitness Class
All hail the Queen.
Photo by Robin Harper/Courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment
Nykema Brown has just seamlessly executed a dance move that looks like a cross between something from a Qing Gong flick and a Crossfit burpee -- and she's managed to make it look sexy. She then whips her head back to the beat.
"...5, 6, 7, 8!" she shouts with a smile.
It's a Wednesday night and I'm dancing with the best of 'em at the Houston Texans YMCA (5404 Griggs Road), drenched in sweat in what could easily be touted as the fiercest dance class this side of the Mason-Dixon line.
Brown, the teacher, offers a modification to the next move in the routine, which looks physically impossible. I ask for a modification of the modification, and the class erupts in laughter.
The class consists of 25 women and myself, the lone wolf who might have gotten himself in a little too deep this time around.
Photo by Sean McManus
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My comfort zone lies somewhere between "drinks copious amounts of alcohol" and "sits on couch," but lately I've been thinking I need some balance. Enter: Beyond(CE) Fitness Class. As described in the group exercise's monthly schedule, it's "a very energetic way to exercise doing all the moves that Beyoncé does when she performs! Everyone can move, have fun and burn away calories at the same time!"
Like most crazy ideas, this one came by way of heavy drinking, this time at McElroy's on a Saturday night. A group of friends were discussing their current exercise regimens (or, in my case, the lack thereof), and one mentioned she had really enjoyed taking a Beyoncé-themed class at her neighborhood Y.
As second-place winner in a David Gahan dance contest at a Depeche Mode Convention at the Roxy (R.I.P.) in 1997, I mistakenly imagine I can handle it. This, though, far exceeds my expectations. David Gahan ain't Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, whose routine and stage show are, in the words of Vice's Jeff Rosenthal, "excruciatingly perfect."
Now we're dancing to "End of Time," which involves lots of writhing and gyrating. Some of us would make Mrs. Carter proud; I'm not one of those people. My problem is I can't writhe and gyrate with the beat. Brown, however, makes it look effortless. It's not.
That's not to say you have to do every move correctly, or even in time with the music, here. The point of the class is to move and have fun. Brown keeps reminding us all of that fact, and has made it abundantly clear. Her love for dance is contagious. And while I may be struggling with the routine, I'm most certainly having a ball.
Story continues on the next page.
Photo by Sean McManus
"You know how you get into it and you feel like you're 16 again...and then you realize you're not?" one girl asks the rest of the class. We all know what she's talking about, and agree in unison.
Brown is fierce. Strong, energetic and vibrant, she exudes greatness, and does it all without missing a beat. She's been dancing since she was three, and had her first choreography gig by age 11. She studied dance and theater at the University of Houston; however, she's been teaching and choreographing since she was a teenager. She got her start by doing choreography for H-Town boy bands and church praise teams back in the day.
She has choreographed this entire class, which now has routines for 13 songs, since it began here at Houston Texans Y back in December of last year. Although the days and class schedule have changed a few times since then, it continues to gain popularity.
The second dance is to the "Yoncé" half of "Partition," and is even more difficult than the first routine. No matter; we're all having fun. All sizes and skill levels are involved. Whether you can dance or not, this class truly is a hoot. I'm a sweaty mess, but the unsolicited high-fives from the ladies in the class go a long way.
Brown chose Beyoncé for two reasons. First, the stamina and energy the Houston-born pop star exhibits throughout her performances are amazing. But the class is also intended to make regular people (such as myself) feel like dancers in a concert or performance, so Brown's goal to is help us build our stamina and endurance through these routines.
"As a thick woman, I wanted my class to especially target those people who don't have the traditional dancer's body," says Brown. "I don't have a dancer's body; my hips and rear alone disqualify me from that category. However, as you saw in the class, I can move."
Class has ended, and I can now speak firsthand to its effectiveness. It truly felt like a community, something I haven't felt at my local gym in a long time.
Now, if you need me, I'll be perfecting my moves at McElroy's.
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