Waiting outside my daughter’s dance class at ODC Commons one morning, I heard music from the next studio. First a pop song by Prince, then salsa, hip hop and swing. Intrigued, I walked over to investigate. The class I saw was different than anything I’d seen: people from teen to 60-something dancing in a circle, hips shaking, arms circling and legs kicking as they propelled their sweat-soaked bodies toward and away from a teacher in the center of the room. It was as much a communal event as an aerobic workout, as much a celebration of moving freely, playfully and without self-consciousness as a dance class.
What I had discovered was Rhythm & Motion, a program of dance workout classes that for 30 years have given the Bay Area a lighthearted outlet for creative expression and a way to get fit. In 1978, Consuelo Faust and Catherine Hebert, two dancers and choreographers between gigs, began teaching “Dancergetics,” a licensed dance aerobics workout. Realizing they could create a hipper, “dancier” class, they soon struck out on their own. The premise was simple—hire professional dancers to lead classes, choreograph routines that got dancers and non-dancers alike moving and make classes fun and welcoming. “People can be intimidated by a dance class,” says Faust. “There’s this idea of the ‘house of dance.’ By calling it the dance workout class, you get people to climb through the window.”
Word spread quickly and classes were soon packed. After holding classes in 16 locations around San Francisco, Faust, the program’s artistic director, opened a studio on Mission Street, where over a span of 26 years, rent increased from $800 per month to $12,000. Since R&M partnered with ODC in 2006, classes are now held in beautiful new studios to an expanded student base. “Some ODC company members come to our dance workout class,” says Faust, “and some dance workout regulars decide to take ballet. There’s no hierarchy; it’s a wonderful blend.”
Faust started by doing all the choreography herself, but as the program grew, other teachers began contributing routines. Over the years there have been more than 1,500 routines created, and there are currently 25 teachers. Classes include a warm-up, a session of high-energy choreography and floor work to strengthen and stretch abdominals, arms and legs. In addition to the classic R&M dance workout “Fusion Rhythms,” there is “Modern Rhythms,” which incorporates contemporary dance moves, as well as “Essential Fusion Rhythms” and “Essential Modern Rhythms,” which are geared toward beginners and those wanting to focus on intricacies of choreography.
R&M teacher training is an 8- to 12-week process of three-hour sessions three times a week with Dudley Flores, R&M’s master trainer. Student teachers learn an entire class—“It shocks dancers how difficult it is to learn an hour of choreography,” says Faust—as well as how to convey a sense of fun and inclusiveness, how to draw students in and lift their spirits. Teacher-training sessions are held four times a year to learn new material.
In addition to the Bay Area, classes are currently held in Ohio at Cincinnati Ballet and in Brooklyn at the Mark Morris Dance Studios. “We are building and nurturing this wonderful community, emphasizing our belief that anyone can dance,” Faust says.
Photo by Drew Kelly.