This weekend will be my fifth Studio to Stage (S2S) performance with the Joy of Motion Dance Center in Northeast Washington. Studio to Stage is a 10- to 12-week workshop where anyone who loves to dance can learn choreography and perform it in an intimate setting equipped with lighting, costumes, the whole nine.

My first experience really forced me out of my shell. Back in October of last year, I decided I wanted to throw caution to the wind and try a little something called “Foxy Tease.” Yep, it’s exactly what it sounds like, except we remain fully clothed. Derek Brown, choreographer extraordinaire, created a 14-minute theatrical piece complete with props and five costume changes set to music from the ’60s and ’70s. In his classes and choreography, he really encourages every woman, or man, to let loose and be comfortable and confident with who you are. It was here that I learned that my size didn’t matter. What mattered was my presentation on stage and really enjoying myself with my fellow Foxy Tease dancers. And that was when my addiction to Studio to Stage began.

The following session I decided to take it a step further and try the “Spice Raqs” belly dance performance workshop. After being a “foxy lady,” why not? With all of three actual belly dance technique classes under my belt, I was slightly worried about how I was going to pull off shimmies and hip rotations. Fortunately, I was lucky to be reintroduced to the art of belly dance with Yillah Natalia. Yillah, too, believes that you should be comfortable in the skin you’re in, and reinforces that in her students. It took me awhile to fully embrace having my midriff out. I actually wore a full-body stocking during the show. How I got away with it I’ll never know, but the following session I took “Spice Raqs” with Yillah again and let it all hang out, literally.

The fourth Studio to Stage was just as challenging for me as the first three. Not only was I stepping outside of my comfort zone again, but I was embarking on a dance style that would force me to break free of my former ballet training (we’re taking well over a decade ago, but it still sticks). Contemporary African with Taurus Broadhurst.

I first encountered Taurus backstage at a previous S2S and he was full of life. That made me curious to try one of his technique classes, and once I did, I decided that my next workshop would be his. This was the hardest of all because it took more of a toll on my body. The fusion of African dance and modern called for a certain amount of stamina, strength and technical ability, which I hadn’t experienced in many years. He pushed me to go the extra mile and really pull out the dancer I once was. Although a challenge physically, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t grateful for the experience.

That brings us to this weekend’s performance. This time around, I doubled up and decided to try modern with Helanius Wilkins and do one last “Spice Raqs” with Yillah. This will be Yillah’s grand finale as instructor and choreographer, as she plans to retire. Naturally, she’ll be going out with a bang, all due to the choice of music we’ll be performing to: “Gangnam Style” by Psy. I can’t get into detail about the performance, but feel free to come see the show for yourself this weekend.

This go-round, my performance experiences are like night and day. Helanius’s piece calls for reflection and finding a connection with the work and the other dancers. We spent time during one of our rehearsal sessions doing some reflective writing, which really helped me tap into my innermost thoughts and caused a resurfacing of emotion that I had not addressed regarding a former dance mentor, but I digress. This allowed for me to fully understand the meaning of the choreographic work on a deeper, maybe even more spiritual level. Yeah, it’s like that. Yillah’s piece, as you can imagine, is full of a playful, more sassy energy that will surely get the crowd going.

As you can see, there’s an ongoing theme here. These showcases aren’t about who is the prima ballerina or diva. They’re about a group of individuals, with the guidance of inspiring and uplifting instructors, who dance for the enjoyment of it and are encouraged to do so no matter their shape, size or ability. The beauty of Joy of Motion is that their motto is “Dance is for EVERYONE!” With a faculty that holds strong to this belief, it makes it that much easier and less stressful for those who want to dance for the fun of it, with no judgement.

Leilah Reese is a news aide at The Washington Post. For more updates on her fitness goals, follow her on Twitter and check here each Tuesday for a new blog post.

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