The Recent Resurgence of Dance-Based Fitness Is as Much About Catharsis as Cardio
“F ind a partner! We’re doing the mirror exercise. This is your chance to get somebody else to do something weird.” Dressed in a leopard-print crop top and a high-cut-briefs-and-tights combo hijacked from the ’80s, the actor and choreographer Angela Trimbur
is guiding us through her sold-out Sunday dance class
in midtown Manhattan. As the Crystal Waters track “100% Pure Love” starts up, I’m face-to-face with a pregnant woman named Brooke, cycling through chest thrusts and elastic facial grimaces. She pantomimes picking her nose—appropriately, gleefully weird
—and I join her, the two of us swaying in unison like doo-wop stars transplanted to the set of PEN15.
Called Thirteen, Trimbur’s underground-sensation class is an emotional odyssey delivered through dance, with a nostalgic nod to her mother’s ’90s-era studio in Pennsylvania. Trimbur became internet famous in 2018 for candidly chronicling her breast cancer treatments at 37, an experience that recentered the body—however messy and real—as a means of self-discovery and connection. Now, with her tween rewind, she’s shepherding a different kind of transformation. “I’m kind of going back to that time because that was my most free,” Trimbur explains after class, as participants’ cell phone videos of her eccentric choreography begin to circulate online. Two years into the pandemic, it feels oddly right to tug on kneepads and slide across the floor.
Alternative dance classes like these are in overdrive, popping up in converted warehouses and on virtual platforms engineered during the COVID lull. It’s a fitness phenomenon as old as Trimbur’s eBay-sourced leotards. By the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, Jazzercise had so transfixed the culture that its creator, Judi Sheppard Missett, ran in the torch relay, with 300 instructors performing at the opening events. But today’s cult classes aren’t fixated on the aspirational body-shaping of yore; instead they’re serving up communion, psychic release, and fun.