Growing up, my favorite part of any middle school sleepover was when my friends and I, hyped up on Kool-Aid Jammers and the thrilling absence of a bedtime, would inevitably choreograph a dance routine to whatever song we were obsessed with that month. It was almost always Britney Spears, and—having been enrolled in nearly every genre of dance class up through my adolescence coupled with my natural inclination toward bossiness—I almost always defaulted to lead choreographer.
I was a bit of a drill sergeant, relentlessly running through steps to the point of exhaustion. I acutely remember the frustration of nearly nailing a routine only to have someone miss a beat, requiring 12-year-old me to shout something like "RUN IT AGAIN!" after racing to the boombox to rewind the song. In the end, we would get it—I'd make damn sure we got it—and we'd rope somebody's little brother into recording it all on the Sony Mini camcorder one of us got for Christmas that year, though we'd never watch the tape.
Looking back, I often think in amazement about just how many calories we were burning, sweating through our Paul Frank monkey PJs, all of it wasted on our preternatural childhood metabolism. Sometimes—particularly when I see those grade school friends I'm still close with (hi, Cady)—I think, we should do that again. But just when I'm about to blast the new(!) Backstreet Boys over Bluetooth, I choke. I realize it would be weird to ask Cady, both of us now much closer to 30 than to 13, "do you want to make up a dance?"
Except now, thanks to DivaDance, I don't have to ask. The adult dance classes for women, launched in 2015 by native Texan Jami Stigliano, arrived in Houston last month after growing successful followings in NYC, Austin, Chicago, and DC. The premise is pretty similar to what my friends and I were doing in 2004: Learning sections of choreo to our favorite pop songs, then putting them all together for one final performance, or, in short, having so much fun we forgot we were burning off our Dunkaroos.
It turns out Stigliano was also doing that with her friends—the CEO and "Head Diva" of the operation got her start leading routines to Madonna, NKOTB, and Paula Abdul. Later in life, working as a music industry exec, she, too, found herself searching for the camaraderie and cardio of those adolescent choreo sessions—in New York City, no less, where the adult dance class options were mostly limited to Broadway-bound professionals.
The dearth of "sweaty, sexy, stress-free" dance experiences led to the birth of DivaDance. The classes are inclusive, full of positive affirmations (think "yas queen!" on steroids), and set to the music we all love (Beyonce, Britney, J. Lo, Cardi B) at volumes our parents never would have allowed.
Stigliano herself came to the 713 last month to officially christen DivaDance Houston with—what else?—a Yonce routine. It was 7 p.m. on a rainy Thursday at uptown's Soundbox Studios, and the squad turned out to learn moves to "Formation." I walked in the jam-packed, mirror-walled room feeling more like Michelle than Queen B, but I was bolstered by a hastily chugged glass of rosé and the friend I strong-armed into joining me.
DivaDance is big on building community, so I was immediately separated from my friend and instructed to pair up with a stranger for an ice-breaker. We were to ask each other: If you had hot sauce in your bag, what kind would it be? (Easy: Cholula.)
From there, Stigliano took her place at the front of the room, and I saw a more encouraging version of my 12-year-old self in her as she counted out beats and led us in head bobs, body rolls, and Illuminati hand signals (this was "Formation," remember?). It wasn't a Broadway line, but it was still no walk in the park—everything gets harder with age. I was sweating in no time.
An hour in, the class came as close as we would to mastering the first minute and a half of the song. We congratulated one another after our culminating performance and happily gulped down the ice cold bottled water that magically appeared in the studio. It was good, but I was really craving a Kool-Aid Jammer.
DivaDance Houston's March schedule is online now. Classes, $20 each, are offered four times a week at various studios around the greater Houston area.