First, I’d like to apologise to my neighbours. Last year was difficult enough, and I doubt the sight of me attempting to twerk in my overlooked garden did much for anyone’s mental health; but it worked wonders for my own.
Dancing has always made me happy. My family would peer around the doorframe to spy on my daily worship at the altar of MTV in the living room; I appeared in every school dance show, which, in my opinion, still bests any of my academic achievements. And I love nothing more than going for it on a dancefloor, always bringing flip-flops to weddings and parties (remember those?) lest stupid shoes get in the way of a good groove. I have attended various dance classes at gyms, but as the stresses and time constraints of working motherhood got in the way, my only regular “workouts” came from sorting the washing while listening to Destiny’s Child.
And then 2020 happened. Everything ground to a halt, my daughter’s nursery closed, and we were all forced to find a way to cope. And so, while yes, I, too, drank a lot of gin, I also decided to explore the world of online dance workouts. I took advantage of the golden hours that are the toddler lunchtime nap, and either pushed the couch back and loaded up YouTube on the TV, or propped my laptop on a garden chair and just let go for a precious 45 minutes.
I discovered US-based 305 Fitness, which has studios in New York, Boston and Washington DC. It had a good back catalogue of dance workouts with live DJs on its YouTube channel and added to them multiple times a day throughout lockdown (they can now be accessed through a subscription service). There are several instructors, but I got attached to Sadie, an upbeat teacher who would transport me to her party-for-one on the patio of her parents’ pink bungalow in Miami. (I almost felt proud when I discovered two months in that she was the founder of 305.) I would shake and chasse and stomp to Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé, and during “Miami heat”-themed classes I’d even try a few salsa steps to a Gloria Estefan remix, and feel so much better about the world. I got a bit addicted to the high, doing a class most days, and enjoying the endorphins and smugness that came with copious amounts of exercise.
I’ve always found dance workouts particularly absorbing – I am so focused on nailing the moves that I can’t let other thoughts in. But the joy of at-home classes is that you’re on your own. While there are more communal live options that allow the instructor and other participants to see you, I took great pleasure in the privacy. All inhibitions are truly lost when nobody is watching.
Even Isaac Houston, professional dancer and instructor at London-based fitness studio Frame, says he needs to be alone to let go. “When I am choreographing new content for classes in my living room, I have to make sure my partner is working at his desk and the door is closed. I then put on 12 tracks and dance as hard as I can,” he says. And while Isaac laments the loss of the camaraderie you get at an in-person classes, I found the fact that you can wear very little on your own a plus (although I did learn the value of Lycra when, one muggy afternoon, I decided to do a class in only my knickers and a sports bra, only to be distracted by a significant amount of jiggle).
Last year, Frame launched Frame Online, which now has more than 110 classes (everything from yoga to dance), with new classes added weekly. I tried Isaac’s popular 80s aerobics class (you can find it, free, here), which has a muscle-toning section sandwiched between two dance sessions, and takes classic aerobics moves and adds 80s flair. The soundtrack is pure gold (from Janet Jackson’s Control to Laura Branigan’s Gloria) and has the ability to make even the grumpiest cow (hi!) smile. I dare you to feel stressed after Isaac’s routine to the Flashdance theme song, complete with head flicks.
He strikes the right balance of high energy without going over the top (not always a given with dance instructors, who can sometimes appear as disingenuously enthusiastic as children’s TV presenters). But to really get into it, you have to let go of all inhibitions. As Isaac says: “Don’t be afraid to look silly.”
A few weeks into my new regime, I started to “feel myself” (as instructors would often encourage me to do: they mean confidence rather than anything physical), enough to try dipping my millennial toe into the Gen Z world of TikTok, largely provoked by my husband telling me I was “past it”. I spent a very sweaty two hours diligently learning a 15-second viral dance called the J Lo Super Bowl challenge, sent him the video and made him eat his words; I couldn’t move for the next two days, but it was worth it.
I did have to get a “young person” to talk me through TikTok dances. Some simply pause and copy their favourite stars (I became mesmerised by TikTok queen Charli d’Amelio, who has 103 million followers), but found it easier if an instructor, of which there are many on YouTube, broke it down. Brian Esperon was the one I found to turn the J Lo challenge into digestible chunks, but Vincent Vianen’s YouTube channel soon became my go-to.
I wasn’t ready to share these videos publicly (I made my account private) but the mental boost I got from dancing my way through two lockdowns was immeasurable. If I couldn’t find 45 minutes, I’d try shorter videos from Frame and 305 to squeeze in a little endorphin dose (I once pushed my chair away from my desk mid-working day and did a 15-minute hip-hop workout before a meeting – not something you can do in most offices). When I hit some particularly bumpy patches in life, “a session” with Isaac or Sadie always left me that little bit stronger, mentally and physically. I’m also ready to bust out some new moves on the dancefloor, whenever I next see one.
Top of the bops: 10 online dance workouts to try
There is a veritable feast of styles to try from the London-based studio, from “Strictly” classes to 80s and 90s themed workouts and “Cher-obics”. You also get access to its class catalogue, including yoga, pilates and barre workouts, which is great when you want to switch things up. Try a free 45-minute aerobics workout here. From £11.99/month.
I enjoyed the more home-spun videos on its YouTube throughout lockdown 1, but its polished in-studio offering via a subscription service is still guaranteed to make you sweat. Plus, it has now included shorter stretch and toning videos in its lineup. Seven-day free trial then £26.82/month;.
Les Mills Sh’Bam
While these videos have a slight Black Mirror cult vibe to them (spotlighted melodramatic instructors espousing their wisdom to a small crowd of enthusiastic silhouettes), it’s a good mix of styles, broken down in an accessible way. 30-day free trial, then £11.95/month.
If you have always dreamed of dancing at the infamous Pineapple studios, now is your chance. Via its new app, 85% of classes (everything from contemporary ballet to hip-hop to commercial to tap) are available at home, streamed live from the studio. Plus a lot more at beginner level than it traditionally offered, so no need to feel intimidated. From £6 per class.
A slick app on which noted choreographers teach cool, technical dances to K-pop, krumping, hip-hop and more (luckily, it has beginner, intermediate and advanced levels). On its whizzy platform you can change views mid-class, rewatch sections and even go into split screen to see yourself dance alongside the pros. Quite high-level (it caters to budding choreographers as well as newbies) but gives a good taste of how real dancers do it. Free for seven days, then $20/month.
School of SOS
Want to channel your inner Lizzo, Destiny’s Child or Little Mix? This is the class for you. Founded by backing dancer Bonnie Parsons, there are daily live classes, yoga sessions, confidence workshops and an archive of more than 200 tutorials to routines inspired by your favourite artists. £11.99/month.
Ryan Heffington’s Sweatfest
The choreographer behind Sia’s Chandelier music video and the Netflix show The OA, Heffington’s Instagram live dance parties brought a slice of California hipster joy to the masses over lockdown. There is zero pressure to nail any moves in this, with much more emphasis on loosening up and letting go. Join a class in real time on his Instagram live or find past classes on his IGTV, with donations accepted via PayPal. Free/voluntary donations
Set up by dancers in 2008, DancePlug is pretty hardcore, with lots on offer for the pros (including audition listings) or those who want to up their dance game, but a brilliant resource. There’s everything from intermediate theatre dance combinations (ever wanted to learn the routine to West Side Story’s America? Here’s your chance – and good luck) to short videos breaking down moves such as outside parallel pirouette (jazz), a toe-heel wiggle (tap) or the fresno (me neither, but I have since learned it is a hip-hop body popping move). From $8.25/month with annual subscription, or monthly $20.
With infectious positivity beamed straight into your front room, a class with Cuban salsa legends Osbanis and Anneta is sure to leave you feeling better. Their in-depth knowledge of musicality, percussion and the roots of Cuban salsa mean they share expertise way beyond the moves. There are one-to-one and group classes, and occasional bootcamps. From £6 per group class.
Online dance classes
The YouTube channel run by TikTok guru and choreographer Vincent Vianen. His followers request routines in the comments and he delivers, with an easy pace and a chilled-out vibe. I will for ever be grateful to him for teaching me The Drip challenge, which made me look so good I had to briefly post the result on my Instagram to much acclaim (thanks, Mum). Free; search YouTube.com for classes.