It’s easy to be mesmerized by Beyoncé’s rapid-fire dance moves. The dramatic “Crazy in Love” leg strut. The “Run the World” shoulder shrug. And, most famously, the “Single Ladies” hand-wave that inspired endless dance covers, parodies and flash mobs (and hopefully some marriage proposals).
It’s safe to say my jazz hands and box steps (thanks, high school choir) don’t hold a candle to Beyoncé’s body-rolling or booty-shaking.
In preparation for seeing the Queen Bey at the Baltimore stop on her world tour “Formation,” I decided to sharpen my dance skills and embrace my inner diva at a Beyoncé-inspired dance fitness class at District Groove in Chevy Chase.
The two-hour workout features a blend of jazz, African, hip-hop and dance-hall dance styles by incorporating choreography from Beyoncé’s music videos and live performances. The class I chose, “Formation,” combined moves from the singer’s show-stealing halftime performance at the 2016 Super Bowl and the music video that features New Orleans imagery and highlights social activism.
On a recent Saturday, a dozen dancers trickled into the large, mirrored studio space. For the first few minutes, we stretched, preparing physically and mentally to take on Beyoncé’s moves. We went around the room, introducing ourselves and briefly sharing our motivations for taking the course.
Half of the class members were devoted Beyoncé fans; two sisters, Adaisha Kemp and Ashley Garrison, have been fans of the pop star since her Destiny’s Child days. They managed to score tour tickets and are planning to enjoy her Baltimore concert with eight other girlfriends. Johanna Olivas, a soon-to-be Johns Hopkins graduate student, received a package of classes from her husband as an early graduation present. Michelle Jacobs, a high school math teacher, gifted herself five lessons in preparation for her 40th birthday party.
But there was also a small legion of non-Beyhive-members, including Trevor Richardson, 25, a junior at the University of Maryland. The only male in attendance, he had come to the class for a good workout. A self-proclaimed Goo Goo Dolls fan, he had never seen or even listened to the “Formation” track.
As we began to get into our starting formation, Amina Vohra, 33, a professional dancer and owner of District Groove, encouraged us to approach the class with an open mind and to not be too hard on ourselves if our dance skills did not stack up to stadium-level standards. No pressure.
Before we got moving, I set my own class intention: I would embrace my inner Sasha Fierce and if — or should I say when — I stumbled, I would try to recover as fiercely and quickly as Beyoncé at the Super Bowl. Because, unlike B, I was pretty sure my moves would not be flawless.
The class simplifies every few lines of the song into manageable bits of choreography. Moves range from basic gestures (head nodding) to full-body popping (chest out, butt out). Harder moves, in which feet, torso and arms are involved, are broken down even further into easily digestible parts. Vohra routinely surveyed the students to spot troublesome areas and reinforce learned moves by repeating choruses and bridge sequences.
“Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation . . . prove to me you got some coordination,” Beyoncé belted encouragingly over the sound system.
Vohra has offered dance classes, inspired by mega performers such as Britney Spears and Michael Jackson, since 2011. But when District Groove introduced a Beyoncé-inspired course in 2014 (at the request of her students) she realized she had discovered a gold mine.
Demand spiked, especially among Beyoncé fans, who commonly show up to classes in concert T-shirts and outfits inspired by the singer’s music-video apparel.
“It’s definitely a full-body workout. The simplified version, by itself, is exhausting,” Vohra says. “Just imagine being Beyoncé and having to do the full version, in high heels, while singing.”
I suddenly felt grateful for my old, tattered sneakers.
The first half-hour was shaky, as I tried to control and coordinate my hands and feet to move with the rest of my body. But an hour into it, I felt my confidence building. What I lacked in direction, I made up for in hair flips and attitude.
I caught myself letting go and mouthing along to the lyrics, hoping the words would encourage my two left feet to stay in rhythm: “I dream it, I work hard, I grind till I own it.”
Quick water breaks turned into an exchange of thoughts on Beyoncé’s visual album, “Lemonade,” and friendly chatter.
“What’s your favorite track?”
“Wait, can you do that move again? Tell me you practiced the video at home before class!”
By the end of the course, I had “Formation” fever and was feeling decidedly more divalike. (I’d also burned nearly 500 calories, according to Vohra’s teaching assistant.) Repetition helped my movements became less jerky and more fluid. My favorite move, deemed the “No Boys” (sorry, Trevor), involved waving our hands in front of our faces while confidently leaning back. I have to remember to bring that one to the bar with me.
At the end of class, we recorded two music videos to demonstrate our newly mastered steps. While Beyoncé videos probably have multiple sets, costume changes and takes, we had an iPhone camera on a tripod.
On the first try, I fumbled a bit and felt frustrated. But by the second, I didn’t care. I was laughing, bouncing and greatly amused by my progress.
So, Beyoncé, if you’re reading this, I’ll be in the nosebleed section June 10. If you, for any reason, forget your “Formation” moves mid-show, you know where to look.
Beyoncé Dance Course — Beginners
District Groove, 5454 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase
(On the 18th floor, inside Chevy Chase Athletic Club)
Schedule and sign-ups are online only at districtgroove.com
One-off classes, such as “Formation,” are $35. The next “Formation” class is May 29. A four-pack of classes, featuring a new Beyoncé music video weekly, is $85. The next four-pack is “Check Up on It,” “Feeling Myself,” “Diva” and “Freakum Dress,” starting May 31.