No, I'm not on some extended clubbing bender in New York City's Meatpacking District that spilled over from Saturday night into the wee hours—though it certainly could be mistaken for that. I'm at FORWARD__Space, a new dance-based workout "sanctuary" in New York City, and I loved the first class that I took so much that I stuck around for a second sweat sesh.
FORWARD__Space isn't the only studio to capitalize on the #justdance way of life of late. Daybreaker started throwing its early a.m. parties in New York City in 2012, and has since expanded to 22 cities (including college campuses) around the world. And 305 Fitness, a Miami-style dance studio, now has six locations across New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Washington DC. The difference is that these new studios more closely resemble 1OAK than, say, the Zumba class you used to take at your college gym. “To me the dance floor is a sacred space," says FORWARD__Space founder, Kristin Sudeikis. "Be it in a club or in a dance studio rehearsal or at someone’s wedding reception, the dance floor is just this very transformative, sacred space. But it’s also a ton of fun."
If ever you've shaken your booty to Beyoncé during a daytime dance party (and if you haven't, allow me to highly recommend doing so) or even tapped it back to some EDM remix in a spin class, it's hard not to notice that working out has started to feel a lot more like going out than ever before. But, why? To find out, I spoke to three of the architects behind the movement to get their the theories as to why this is happening.
The social scene is sobering up
We called the rise of the sober social scene way back in 2016, when sans-alcohol social clubs began popping up and JOMO took hold as the new wellness way of life. Dance classes inherently have found an easy way to combine this into their classes. "I do think that nightlife in general is seeing a shift. People are starting to understand how important sleep is and we’re understanding how important sobriety is for our moods, and we're becoming more and more aware of what we eat, what we drink, how late we stay up, how loud our music is, all of those things that really impact our health," says Kurzban. "Yes, women would rather go to bed at 10 and set their alarm for 6 to take a 7 a.m. class," she adds.
In line with that, these spaces are becoming places where community is cultivated every. single. week. "We definitely love the fact that we were sort of supporting this new way to look at this intersection of community, finding a place to belong in a social setting that didn’t involve getting constantly f*cked up," says Radha Argawal, co-founder of Daybreaker. "There’s a lot of crossover people from nightlife who are coming to Daybreaker now and that are looking for that same sort of social experience but without all of the stress involved."
These daytime dance parties also serve to fill a need that we may not be getting at clubs anymore, either: straight-up human connection. "At late-at-night clubs people aren’t really vibing with each other anymore—they’re on their phones," says Sudeikis. So, she decided to create that sort of space for them.
The vibe of a workout makes a major difference
Working out in the dark has a myriad of benefits—from creating a judgment-free zone (because, uh, no one can see you) to allowing you to lose yourself in the moment. Add some blasting music and strobe lights? You'll literally be able to dance like no one's watching, which actually does matter.
"When the lights go low in any space it puts people at ease and makes them less self conscious," says Sudeikis. Kurzban agrees, noting that a shift in lighting can help people transition from their regular lives into workout mode. "It’s an environment of no shame, so we have these dim lights that are, again, all about setting the mood and generating an intense attitude and just chucking our 9 to 5 at the door, so that we can really celebrate this other, more inner child, playful portion of ourselves," she says.
And as anyone who has ever been in a fitness class with terrible music knows (like the time I once accidentally went to a Sam Smith-themed spin class the week after a breakup), the soundtrack to your workout can make or break the experience. Both 305 and Daybreaker use live DJs to set the mood, which is another major factor in developing the overall vibe. "They really know their stuff, they know how to hype up a crowd, and their whole job is to focus in on the energy in class and then pivot, the same way the instructor is watching the class and looking for ebbs and flows in energy, the DJ is picking up on that," says Kurzban.
Workouts should be all about sparking joy
Over the past few months (thanks to the truly life-changing magic of Marie Kondo), I have become obsessed with the idea of finding an exercise routine that "sparks joy." And when it comes down to it, that's what these club workouts are really all about. "We all want to feel amazing—obviously people want to look amazing—but to me it's more about the feeling," says Sudeikis. "It’s like this feeling of euphoria that comes after you’ve pushed yourself beyond your perceived limit." At FORWARD__Space, they don't refer to their 50-minute classes as workouts—they call them "sweat sessions" instead, which in itself is telling.
For Kurzban, this concept of "joy" was the impetus behind 305's inception, too. "I wanted to create a workout that was about fun, about no-shame, no guilt, that was really just joy in and of itself, that the workout was complete because they were spending an hour enjoying themselves, liking how you look, liking how you felt, as opposed to working out in order to get some kind of result—just emphasizing happiness," she says.
When you're shaking it to Ciara for the better part of an hour, it's easy to forget that you're burning calories. "Dancing is incredibly effective, it is full-body. But that’s not what people talk about when they’re leaving," says Sudeikis. "They’ll say, 'Wow that was so hard, but I didn’t even realize how hard it was until I stopped,' or 'Oh my God, that was so challenging and I’m drenched in sweat and I was huffing and puffing, but I didn’t want to stop because it was so much fun in there.'"
Working out is supposed to be fun, and studios are starting to seriously catch on. In addition to dance parties, we're also big into trampoline classes right now. Plus, why you should consider cortisol-hacking your workout to make it more effective.
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