I can’t dance. As I grew up, lanky and uncoordinated, I convinced myself that I didn’t know how to stay on rhythm, which gave me the perfect excuse to be a wallflower at middle school dances. Fortunately, I had a little sister and mother, both of whom loved to dance, and they coerced me onto the dance floor with what I thought at the time was their natural gift of communication.
What I gathered as I matured was that my mother and sister weren’t innately given the gift of gab (although, let my mother tell it, she was speaking before she could walk), but that through movement, dancing in particular, they learned to respect the discipline of communication, an art that encompasses not only speech but the body and what many call the soul. This allowed them to comfortably speak truth through trust, passionately melding their words with their actions.
Our indigenous ancestors knew the importance of mastering communication well before the first words were spoke. Tribal dances told stories that bonded families and communities, creating the magical foundation on which all human culture rests today.
As we fast-forward to modern times, although we may romanticize African and Native-American dances as companions to contemporary specialities like jazz, tap, and Hip-Hop, it is the inherent fusion of past and present that decodes and demystifies the intricate communication between elders and youngsters, drums and boom-boxes, dance and speech.
Always one to explore new ways of getting my cardio done (I loathe running) — and knowing how many options Los Angeles offered to divert from the norm — that aforementioned fusion was what peaked my interest in an Afro Hip-Hop dance workout, taught by Tatiana Zamir.
So on a calm, temperate Thursday evening on the westside of Los Angeles, here I was, in the lobby of the bustling, oft-used Dance Arts Academy, off Wilshire and LaBrea, waiting to get a glimpse of what Tatiana’s brand of dance looked and felt like.
As novice ballerinas tip-toed throughout the building, you could feel the communicative energy in the lobby, as Tatiana’s enthusiastic class rolled in one-by-one, greeting one another with a familial bond.
Earlier in that same day, I had the privilege to sit down with Tatiana to discuss her class and how she felt about its growth. She mentioned that the folks attending her class felt “empowered and liberated” through movement.
Reflecting on the community aspect of her class, Tatiana expressed her joy in witnessing bonds being made through fitness and dance:
“There’s a beautiful energy about the folks that do come to my class … I’ve been to a lot of different classes, and, you know, some can be cold — no one really talks to each other — and some very warm and friendly … But I found that in my class, people don’t just connect inside of my class, but they connect outside of it.”
Tatiana’s sentiments were confirmed when the class started. Tatiana led the class with her toothy smile and clear directions, keeping everyone in her sights through the wall-to-wall mirrors.
It was the perfect blend of fun and hard work and everyone in the class seemed to want to help Tatiana mitigate the difficulty some of the newcomers had with the more complex dance steps by encouraging one another through positive affirmations and non-judgmental smiles.
“You can expect to walk into a class where there aren’t a bunch of divas, looking at anybody crazy,” says Tatiana, who is also a certified masseuse. “It’s really all about family.”
Tatiana was also vehement in her belief that high quality classes like hers should be affordable for everyone. She offers her Afro Hip-Hop Dance Workout at a relatively cheap price, considering the level of preparation and skill involved.
At the end of the class, everyone was soaked but surprisingly left energized and full of life. Folks engaged in long conversations with Tatiana after class — reminiscent of eager students in an academic setting, hoping to take a little something extra from their professor, so that they could share the knowledge — and, in this particular case, the love — with someone else.
Expressing the gratitude and humbleness that she gets from teaching her class, Tatiana summed up the overall experience with these words:
“It’s an exchange. My students give so much energy and love and support that it helps me give even more back to them … it inspires me to be creative and give my all.”
Check out some of highlights from this class below (sorry about the wind):