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Opinion Can't calm down after Coachella? Try Beyoncercise

Beyoncé's “Party” was booming through the sound system, followed by “Irreplaceable,” setting the tone for what was to come: a high-energy session of Beyoncercise.

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Can't calm down after Coachella? Try beyoncercise play

Can't calm down after Coachella? Try beyoncercise

(NY Times)

NEW YORK — Briana Butler, a super-toned dance instructor wearing booty shorts that read “Toot Toot” across the back, munched on a snack in an empty midtown dance studio.

Beyoncé's “Party” was booming through the sound system, followed by “Irreplaceable,” setting the tone for what was to come: a high-energy session of Beyoncercise.

Beyoncé needs no introduction. This spring, she became the first African-American woman to headline the music festival Coachella. “Let’s just cut to the chase: There’s not likely to be a more meaningful, absorbing, forceful and radical performance by an American musician this year, or any year soon,” said a New York Times review of her performance there.

As the years go by, Beyoncé's cultural significance only seems to deepen, while her videos — in particular the dance routines in them — continue to be praised, mimicked, deconstructed and even incorporated into fitness classes.

Beyoncercise, the latest in the latter, is the brainchild of Akinah Rahmaan, who started her own fitness company, Banana Skirt Productions, in 2014 after losing her job with Def Jam Records, where she was vice president for marketing.

While trying to figure out her next move, Rahmaan watched a video of another Beyoncé dance class, featuring freestyling. Having spent a career on music video sets, she realized the class could be so much more.

“I’ve worked with Missy Elliott, Big Sean, Ne-Yo and all these different artists,” Rahmaan said. “I thought, if I was taking a class like that, I would love to learn the choreography.” Rahmaan got to work on her concept, not realizing, she said, that at least one other Manhattan studio was offering similar classes.

The more the merrier, said Alistair Williams, executive director of Broadway Bodies, which claims to have started the trend. “The popularity of Beyoncé-inspired programming in New York City highlights the impact her artistry has had on our culture,” he said.

Banana Skirt class also offers Rihannacise, a class inspired by Rihanna’s moves. Other options include Ratchet Fitness, which is like a night at the hip-hop club, and Starpop Dance Fitness, which takes on the choreography of performers like Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Jennifer Lopez.

The name Banana Skirt is derived from music legend Josephine Baker and the tree-fruited skirts she wore during her performances. “She was a pioneer,” Rahmaan said. “She was an amazing mother, freedom fighter and just a kick-ass woman.”

Back at the Beyoncercise class, a group of young women got into formation, lining up in rows of three. A lone guy arrived and took his place up front.

“Mi Gente” set things off. The salsa-inflicted banger instantly revved up the class and got everyone bouncing and twerking. The music was pumping, at nightclub-decibel level.

“Love on Top” ushered in some happy-go-lucky moves. A few people hopped the wrong way, simultaneously kicking left when they should have gone right, but they followed in the spirit of Beyoncé, who keeps moving even when she makes a mistake onstage.

“Diva” roared through the speakers next, and the ladies, along with the one man, were feeling their inner bad girls, mouthing that they were the “female version of a hustler.”

The group walked a cockeyed, start-stop sidestep, their heads bopping up, then down, before turning back and repeating. They then jumped forward, backward, to the left and to the right. But unlike Beyoncé, the students didn’t have to dance in 5-inch heels, an enormous lion’s mane hairdo and a corseted bodysuit.

“Beyoncé is an empowering female figure in music, and to be able to incorporate her style within a class, it’s a match made in heaven,” said Tavi Alexander Lenard, the lone male dancer.

Lenard stressed that the judgment-free zone makes him work hard, and he enjoys being around other people who want to have fun, do cool moves and sweat. There is also another added benefit: “You can go into a club and when you hear that song, you start doing the moves from class.”

Yvonne Mbewe, 36, signed up for Beyoncercise after running the New York City Marathon and realizing that she hated running. “The music is relevant, it’s current,” Mbewe said. “The atmosphere, the vibe, there’s a high momentum. When I come in there, I feel like I’m Beyoncé.”

When “Run the World (Girls)” started, the group marched left and right, saluting on beat. As Bey demanded, “Who run this mother?,” everyone jumped up, flinging their legs in the air, turning and clapping, “Hey!” on beat.

“Get Me Bodied” blasted through the speakers next. When the bridge arrived, the group followed Bey’s orders. They “dropped down low and swept the floor with it.”

Christine Hubli locked arms with Butler as they bounced in a circle. “I’m kind of the OG,” said Hubli, 26, who has taken the class for 3 1/2 years. “It never gets old because they’re constantly changing up the moves and the mixes,” she explained, describing the experience as “a true adrenaline rush.”

Toward the end of class, the song “End of Time” came on. As the dancers learned yet another combination, Beyoncé implored, “Say you’ll never let me go/Say-say you’ll never let me go.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

TIFFANY MARTINBROUGH © 2018 The New York Times

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