It's Tuesday afternoon when I set my Slack status to the purposefully vague "Research." If that's what I can call standing alone in the corner of my spare bedroom/home office while wearing workout clothes I haven't put on in more than a year. I blow out a breath as I scroll through row upon row of videos, finally selecting an 18-minute-long one titled "Total Eclipse." (For the record, Bonnie Tyler's pleading vocals do not make an appearance.) A lime-green button invites me to "Go Dance!" and I dutifully click it.
Immediately, a trio of silhouettes appear, illuminated from behind by a massive trifold screen gleaming an electric blue. A synthwave bop, the kind of tune you'd hear while getting an expensive haircut or shopping for yoga pants, seeps from my computer speakers and the figures start to move. Arms undulate. Body rolls commence. The house lights come on and there's artful hair flicking and booty shaking as the camera slowly walks closer so each person can serve it some face. It's like a performance at the Grammys—I half expect Ariana Grande to appear on the screen next—but this isn't some televised awards show. This is Dance Church.
The dance-based fitness brand sprung from the imagination of Seattle choreographer Kate Wallich in 2010. Back then, Wallich says, dance classes were mostly held in traditional "intro to" formats, where the emphasis was on education and technique and choreographed moves. She wanted a version of dance that felt more accessible to the ordinary and uncoordinated (it me), envisioning "a space to let yourself be free and liberated and scream and cry and shout and dance to Lady Gaga or Madonna or Justin Bieber."
Weekly Sunday classes, laden with pop-heavy soundtracks, garnered maybe five attendees to start. Then word spread. Friends brought friends, who brought more friends. Eventually, there were "hundreds of people lined out the doors to get into our classes." Soon Wallich was enlisting others to become Dance Church teachers and offering classes in other cities like Portland, New York, and Los Angeles.
Then 2020 happened and, well, you know the rest. "I remember when Inslee said all events 250 and over can’t exist anymore," Wallich recalls. "I said, that’s us." But like other businesses that managed to survive the pandemic, Dance Church pivoted—a more massive feat than it may seem considering the company didn't even have a website back then.
In-person classes became Sunday livestreams, and the Dance Church faithful logged in from their living rooms. "We had viral success overnight, going from zero people to 40,000 on our mailing list and Instagram," Wallich says. This June, Dance Church doubled down on its newfound virtual presence by partnering with Seattle startup studio and venture fund Pioneer Square Labs to create an on-demand video platform. Dance Church Go, as it's dubbed, features a library of recorded dance classes—ones you can play solo or in sync with friends—as well as those weekly livestreams.
Some in-person events have started back up again, albeit only in Seattle and two other cities and with limited capacity, but Wallich sees Dance Church continuing in both realms. "The body is the antidote to technology," she says. "We are going to continue living in a hybrid world, so I do think the future of fitness and wellness is the hybrid space."
My body doesn't feel like an antidote to much of anything as I awkwardly shift my weight on my bedroom's carpeted floor, watching Wallich (the teacher of this "Total Eclipse" class) give an intro directly into the camera. She tells me that we're not going to stop moving for the next "15ish minutes" and I grimace. A carnivalesque tune starts up (it is, in fact, titled "Disco Circus") as Wallich and her fellow teachers dance into frame.
The beat kicks in, and Wallich's braid swings wildly as she flops her arms and hips like a marionette. Her assistants do their own thing—shimmying and arm-rolling downstage. I find myself hop-skipping in place and instantly feel like an idiot. But then Wallich offers the first semblance of instructions. "All right, we're finding our hands, hands, hands, hands, hands, hands," she commands, waving her arms like a conductor. I obediently swipe the air. Elbows are next, followed by shoulders. Moments later I'm pulling an imaginary rope into my stomach and then tossing it into the air, flinging my arms open. A freeform dance sesh follows, with Wallich and her fellow teachers undulating their bodies, independently grooving. I hop in a circle, shake my shoulders, roll my neck. It's only about five minutes into "Total Eclipse," and I'm grinning.
Songs morph to deep house, hardcore rave, lilting electropop, as Wallich occasionally chimes in with instructions—punch the air, stir a pot, "get your little tushy lower." Each set of choreographed moves is shockingly simple and is followed by a move-as-you-want dance break. Over the remaining 10 minutes, I unabashedly spin and wave my limbs. At one point, my arm brushes the back of my chair, and I flinch, remembering that, like the Swedish pop star Robyn, I'm dancing on my own.
By the time the video ends, the camera spinning around a disco ball, I'm more than slightly out of breath. My body feels loose, buzzy. I've momentarily forgotten the to-dos and the what's-for-dinners. Dance Church, as Wallich puts it, is meant to be "cathartic and joyful." While there were definitely times the cheese factor pulled me from true transcendence, for most of those brief 18 minutes, when I was in the music and moving my body, I felt free. And for a nonbeliever like me, well, that sure is a revelation.