The People of MOVES, an All-Levels Dance Class in NYC

There’s an old adage about all the things we did as kids that, for whatever reason, we stopped doing as we “grew up.” Making art, playing music, and dancing. Why do we stop? There’s a host of excuses, but the more you dig into them, the less valid they feel. And so, when we find places that take us back to that joy we felt as kids — being free to move and create and experience — well, we get nostalgic and we want to revisit them.

When we first learned about MOVES, we knew we had to check it out. The all-levels dance class, founded by Marisa Competello and Lauren Gerrie, casually meets twice a month at a dance studio in Chinatown, New York City. There is no registration, sign up fee, or waitlist. No FaceBook event, no EventBrite, no email reminder. At most there’s an Instagram post on one of the founder’s accounts, perhaps a text message. That’s it, which makes sense for a dance class based in simplicity — in togetherness, in movement, in vulnerability, and in self expression. So we went to MOVES and chatted with some people about why they keep returning to this informal, GAGA-style dance class.

Marisa Competello is the founder of MOVES, and a florist who runs MetaFlora. 

Tommy Lucas is a yoga teacher at Sky Ting and a regular at MOVES.

Rebecca Zhou is a dancer and the founder of inactive-wear company Off Hours

Debra Sutherland is a pilates enthusiast, and life long equestrian rider.

Cynthia Leung is a bedroom dancer and founder of NATIVE AGENTS.

Marisa: My friend Ryan Heffington is the inspiration behind MOVES. He started a class called Sweaty Sundays which is an all-level dance class. He has a studio in LA called the Sweat Spot. He has an incredible energy and is an insanely talented choreographer. My friend Lauren Gerrie and I decided to start a NY-version of his class. 

Tommy: Growing up I was a musical theatre fanatic and always wanted to perform but never had formal dance training.

Rebecca: I started dancing around the age of 10. My sister and I both. We did a mix of what everyone seems to do when you are younger — ballet, tap, jazz, et cetera. I danced through high school and then, to be honest, I stopped dancing because my sister was on her way to becoming a professional dancer.

Cynthia: Dance has always been a part of my life but never professionally. I grew up taking classic American suburban dance classes  — that mix of ballet, tap, and jazz. It was at the Lorraine Evans School of Dance, which was squeezed in between a skate shop and a frozen yogurt shop.

Debra: I don't have a history with dance. I was a professional equestrian all my life, then I got into Pilates and yoga. Although I'm pretty limber from being in Pilates and yoga, at MOVES, I find myself moving in totally different ways.

Tommy:  I'm not trying to be a professional dancer so it's amazing to have a space that's really casual and more about having fun through movement, whether you're a "dancer" or not.

Rebecca: A lot of people love to dance but the traditional dance world is not only geared toward being a professional but also toward a specific image of what perfection looks like. It pushes a lot of people away.

Marisa: We started MOVES years ago (before Instagram). The classes were quite small, mostly friends.  We then took a few years off as our schedules were difficult to align. In 2016, I found a small dance studio and decided it was time for the return of MOVES.

Cynthia: Two years ago, a dear friend texted me, “MOVES tonight?” I was like, “What is MOVES?! Do I need to practice first? Is it going to be a bunch of intimidating pro dancers or like A Chorus Line, where you audition and then they cut you out for reasons unknown?” She wrote back: “It’s just a bunch of people living their best life. Come.” Half of me was like, “Ugh, is this going to be some cheesy Oprah self-realization crap?? But the other half said, “Go.” So I did.

Rebecca: I learned about it through a friend. I was really intrigued, so I went to a class. A lot of the people had a history with dance — they either did tap in high school or danced like I did, but they didn't really have a group to do that with as they got older and MOVES was a place for all of us to make that happen.

Tommy: Even if you're not "good at dance", there's no judgment. It’s easy to loosen up and get into the fun of it. It’s easy to be sexy or goofy or however you want to express yourself.

Debra: My first time, I nervously wanted to stay in the back. While dancing I felt like Lucille Ball in some kind of dance routine. Uninhibited and fun.

Cynthia: At some point in my life, I stopped making it a point to dance. I was still a bedroom dancer and I’d go dance downtown but MOVES brought back a part of me that I’d forgotten — I call it “The Juice.”  MOVES was instrumental in getting “The Juice” back.

Debra: In class, there was this one young blonde haired guy and he was absolutely incredible. He had one of those very flowy tops on and he was floating around like Peter Pan all over the place. We were dancing and he was swirling around.

Tommy: The happiness we experience as we dance is really energizing, especially when you come to class with low energy, or are really tired from the work week. Simply put, fun is fun and fun wakes you up.

Rebecca: At first I knew one or two people at MOVES, but over time I realized it’s an entire community. I’ve made new friends that I didn't have before. As I get to know everyone, most of the people do something creative — fashion designers, an amazing stylist that I had followed for ages, or incredible makeup artists, you name it.

Cynthia: At my first class, I didn’t speak to anyone. My thought was, ‘I’m going in, I’m doing my thing, I’m getting out.’  To be honest I didn’t speak to any people at MOVES for months.  I hadn’t even looked at a full length mirror for months, even a year...and at the beginning it was startling to see my reflection in the studio mirror, I actually struggled with it. Like Who’s that? It took some time to get my old dance knowledge back, to turn the choreography brain back on.

Rebecca: For me, MOVES is really about freeing your mind, opening it up from a creative perspective and then, on the flipside, it creates a deeper understanding of our culture, movement, lines, form — things that if you go to a museum and look at a sculpture, you might also experience.

Debra: It’s all about moving. Not looking at the past, not looking into the future, just being in total now. Thinking ‘this is what I am, this is what I do, this is what I love.’

Cynthia: It took a while to remember how to dance with my hair down and how to hairwhip — which is not only a dance move, but a very important life concept. Hair whipping is a state of mind. Of course, it’s sassy, but it can also be aggressive — like get out of the way. There’s a joke at MOVES now where it’s like there’s the choreography — and then there’s the hair choreography.

Rebecca: I think the dance world is coming around to the idea of embracing more forms. Like, everyone dances when its 2 am at a bar so why not dance in another setting?!

Cynthia: At MOVES, it’s not about getting it right; it's about getting the juice. Yes, you still need to practice technique — but the emotional energy and intuition help activate the moves. It’s a dance class that is a reflection of how people approach life — Are you too uptight?  Can you throw level 12 attitude at someone? Can you let go of control and get out of yourself? Do you hairwhip?! Getting back to dance has changed my approach to life, really. Like taking steps and not getting everything right the first time. Not overthinking. Just getting the juice and not being afraid to let it rip. (Or hairwhip).  

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