Dancing to reggae music is a wild ride, and most teachers and studios refer to the moves as "dancehall" because that's where the downmarket street style got its start. Dancehall classes have a distinctly urban flavor, but they aren't limited to big cities, and you won't need a bricks-and-mortar studio or a closet full of pricy spandex to learn what they teach.
Finding Classes Nearby
You can find a reggae class -- occasional or regular -- in most cities with a Caribbean population or an active hip-hop culture. New York and L.A. are prime reggae studio real estate but check your local studios for weekly and workshop dancehall classes. Popular teachers drop into traditional dance schools for special master classes and intensives, and some fitness studios offer reggae for the killer cardio. You can get thigh-burn and twerking tips nationwide with a little online sleuthing under "dancehall" "reggae" or "Jamaican dance."
Broadway Dance Center - New York City
Broadway Dance Center (BDC) caters to beginners as well as pros. You might see someone off a recent tour in your 1.5-hour sweat session. Just go ready to pour it on in typical breathless NY pace. Monday's dancehall class -- beginners on up -- runs from 7:30 to 9:00 P.M.; Wednesday, same time, same place; Friday take a wake-up call from 10:30 to noon; and wind up your weekend Sunday night from 7:30 to 9:00 P.M. A single class costs $17 but most reggae lovers get hooked and opt for the packages that offer a discount kinder to a dancer's economy.
Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio - Hollywood
Debbie Reynolds Studio in North Hollywood, CA gets high marks for its broad offering of street dances. You can add waaking, popping, and locking to your basic hip hop. Dancehall Funk class happens for one hour on Sundays from 1 to 2 P.M. and on Mondays from 5 to 6 P.M. Single classes are $12, but regulars buy bulk and save money. That hour will kill you -- it's nonstop pelvic thrusting, booty shaking, and some serious arm moves. Bring your reggae face.
Dance Mission Theater - San Francisco
In San Francisco's Mission District, Dance Mission Theater is an artists' cooperative that offers multicultural instruction and performance. Their weekly Reggaeton Fusion class meets Wednesdays from 8 - 9:30 P.M. -- an intense-energy workout hybrid of dancehall, reggae, salsa, samba, and Latin hip hop. DMT's class isn't strictly a choreography-based approach but you will learn basic moves and how to integrate them with similar West African-inspired dances as you work up a serious sweat. Drop-in or single-class fee is $15.00.
Crank It Up and Click
Everything happens online now, and top-rated reggae dance instruction is available to you in the convenience and privacy of your own living room.
- How Fi Dance Reggae posts its Dancehall series of short videos on YouTube for free.
- Gangalee dumps it all online in 400 moves you can make your own.
- DanceTutorialsLIVE focuses on individual moves and brings it all together in dancehall choreography.
- Keaira LaShae shows some mad moves and folds the whole deal into a super-cardio fitness workout -- learn to reggae-dance and build your endurance at the same time!
- Safi Thomas, a well-known New York hip hop teacher, demonstrates the basics in short videos for Expert Village that are free online. Nail the moves one-by-one, and you'll be ready for a club in no time.
Buy, No Buy
Owning a DVD might be your way to go. Hunt for It's All About Dancing: Jamaican Dance-U-Mentary at second-hand bookstores and thrifts, or score a copy online at Amazon where a used DVD sells for .99. But give serious consideration to picking up the footwork and pelvic isolations from some friendly rastas at your neighborhood club. Or, if your neighborhood is a cultural desert, and that's not an option, push back the sofa and default to a half-hour selection of current reggae choreography assembled by V-Plus. The mix comes with links to every artist featured so you can indulge in dancehall until you fall down. Cost? $0. Can't beat that.
Not Your Mama's Marley
Kingston's inner city dancehalls kick started the style way back when Fred Astaire was hoofing it across the silver screen in the 1940s and American jazz and blues infiltrated the island's rhythms. Jamaica's stratified society isolated the poorer classes, who created their own distinct culture, transforming the lively imports from the U.S. Reggae music and dance were the expressions of that culture.
Throughout the twentieth century, the sounds, words and dancehall moves reflected the social and political changes in Jamaica. The music and the inventive choreography shifted from classic Rastafarian influence to a hybrid of reggae sound and more explicit, even violent, lyrics and dances. However, eventually the reggae artists walked that back. Dancehall hasn't come full circle but as its crossover popularity gained traction in the '90s and early 2000s, it evoked its classic reggae-Rasta roots more strongly and evolved by incorporating street dance style into dance routines.
Enjoy Reggae Dance
Reggae itself, with its counterpoint, off-beat rhythm, strong bass, and calypso-Afro roots, developed into the distinctive style recognized today during the latter half of the twentieth century. Then, it was concerned with spiritual connections and an artistic expression of the everyday lives of the Jamaican people. But reggae's appeal was always broader than its original audience and so is the style called dancehall. Reggae dance is now a fusion of western and Caribbean influences. So bring something of yourself to your study of the moves. What sets apart the dance floor superstar from the perfectionist is that indefinable heart-link to the music, captured in the choreography, but hard-to-miss on an upbeat reggae face.