Push back the coffee table and drag the floor-length mirror out of the bedroom. Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1999 … or maybe even 1989.
In the absence of IRL carrying on, some community-spirited party sprites have moved their usual dance classes – from retro aerobics to primal gyrating – to the online sphere, and at a fraction of the price. The pay-off is that by livestreaming from their backyards they’re reaching bigger, further-flung audiences.
There have been some early hiccups – such as figuring out how to avoid having your livestream cut off due to not having permission to use the backing track, or not being able to crank out enough juice of the NBN to upload a video. But initial responses from cabin-fevered fans at home have been nothing but enthusiastic, as Guardian Australia found out when your correspondent donned her leotard.
‘Love this hot mess!’
Fierce Brosnan is a spokesperson for Melbourne’s Real Hot Bitches, a performance troupe that thrives on tiger stripes, big hair and wild makeup. He tells me: “As well as the dance livestream, we’re working on other projects like 80s bitchin’ makeup routines and how to look after your wig.”
Every second Tuesday at 7pm, two of the 40-odd members will take turns hosting a Facebook Live video. When I tune into the debut, it’s Feminem and Skittle-Bitch, social-distance dancing to Prince’s Cream. The set’s a little basic at this stage, but the choreography’s fun, taught line by line. It has to be, since it’s so literal (reminding me of the difficulty I had trying to choreograph Elton John’s line in Nikita, “Eyes like ice on fire”, when I was in primary school).
“You’ve got the horn / So why don’t you blow it?” Prince croons.
“Now, this is open to interpretation,” explains Feminem. “You could be playing the flute, or saxophone, or it’s bubble tea.” She also offers an alternative, more explicit, suggestion.
It’s chaotic, but I flail along as best I can.
“Love this hot mess!” types Crispy McFly, watching from home. Indeed.
‘Imagine you’re a terrible burglar’
Anna’s Go Go Academy is something of a Melbourne rock’n’roll institution. Since 2006, the bouffanted Anna Achia has incorporated deeply kitsch and fun 60s dance routines into fitness workouts.
I’ve been to a few IRL classes at the Bendigo Hotel, so I was curious to see how they’d work online. I’m soon jump-and-punching to ’N Sync’s boyband classic Bye Bye Bye, impeccably instructed by Achia in a chintzy front room, in front of paintings of Michael Jackson and Prince.
“Pick up the bucket, stop for the hand, shoulder, shoulder, shoulder, out that door … bye bye,” she directs. And: “Imagine you’re a terrible burglar and you want to go headfirst through a window.”
Through Patreon’s subscription platform, Achia has managed to monetise her work. $20 a month buys you 10-minute dance breaks to cheer yourself up, while $52 grants access to four prerecorded one-hour classes.
“They’ll have exclusive access to those videos and the archive as the classes accumulate over time,” Achia says. “It’s like a digital exercise DVD, I guess!”
In the future she’ll add livestream classes but that’s a few weeks off yet. “I’ll also be adding a kids’ option – mini classes for people to do with small children,” Achia says.
‘I wanted to create something quite cinematic and beautiful’
Over in Sydney, Shannon Dooley has worked with a small team to bring her thrice-weekly Retrosweat aerobic-dance classes to the internet.
“Right now, people need escapism,” she tells Guardian Australia. And given her love of Jane Fonda and penchant for high-cut leotards and legwarmers, she’s the ideal peddler.
I’ve long perved at Retrosweat on Instagram, but I’m based in a different state. Finally, I get my chance to do a power-lunge to Deborah Harry and Roxette. Dooley teaches us the choreography in real time, with the kind of forthright direction of Jamie Lee Curtis in Perfect. She’s professionally shot, on a set-built lounge room, steeped in purple light. Given that Retrosweat has had a segment on Channel 7’s The Morning Show for the past five years, Dooley is “used to assuming that people are choosing to get off the couch”.
The first class went well. People used wine or champagne bottles as weights and tagged Dooley in their videos. There’s an optional donation via PayPal, and the most generous donor wins some kind of 80s-style merch chucked in by a small business that in turn gets a plug.
In a way, being forced online – using Instagram Live – was fortuitous. “People have been begging for Retrosweat to be online and I’d already been writing the pilot and trying to get funding,” Dooley says. “I wanted to create something quite cinematic and beautiful, like a variety show. Two phrases keep popping into my mind right now,” she says. “‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ and ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’.”
‘My daughter was happy about not being seen with me’
Back in Melbourne, the Born to Boogie Dance Connection crew work with more contemporary music. Founder Tennille Chambers runs the class every Friday night at 8pm on Facebook Live. Beforehand you’re given a link to a track to acquaint yourself. This week it’s Dua Lipa’s Don’t Start Now.
“Our regular courses cover all genres,” says Chambers, listing disco, burlesque, jazz, hip-hop, contemporary, funk, go-go and 80s, which her students incorporate into eventual live shows. “We love hair flicks, body rolls, pivots, struts, freestyle, and definitely lots of sass. Anything that gets people to unleash their inner showoff.”
Tonight the gang is in formation and dressed in colourful activewear, shooting in a studio against a white backdrop. It’s joyously daggy and PG-rated. “OK gang!” Chambers chirps. She executes a double hand move: “Stop corona!”
They clock up 2,000 sets of eyeballs before they’re done. Since they’re invisible throughout, participants at home are encouraged to take a 30-second video of themselves and message it to the Facebook page so that Chambers can create a video of everyone dancing together at once.
One happy punter posts: “Virtual dancing was so much fun. I learned the dance with my 15-year-old daughter and NO one could see me! I was happy about not being seen and my daughter was happy about not being seen with me. WIN, WIN!”
‘Dancing has always been a democratic way of being with each other’
Betty Grumble’s mother was three months pregnant with her when she won an aerobics championship, so you might say it’s in Grumble’s blood. The performance artist’s creator, Emma Maye Gibson, says she uses movement as a way of moving through grief and anger. But in the hands of Grumble – who also employs elements of drag and subversive cabaret – it brings unbridled joy.
I experience that for myself by tuning into Grumble Boogie, which Gibson is streaming every day at 10am on Instagram Live and Facebook Live.
Filming outside while the sun still shines, Gibson works the brightness further with filters, headbands and high-cut leopard-print leotards, for 30 minutes of heart-pumping cardio, dance and stretch, to disco, house, tribal beats and all sorts of eclectic takes.
“Dancing has always been a democratic way of being with each other,” Gibson tells me afterwards. “I think the dancefloor is a religious experience. Aerobic fitness turns me on because it’s so goofy and about breath and the heart.”
I must admit I didn’t feel like dancing this morning, but Gibson still snared my full attention and made me grin. In her Instagram Stories she shares videos from participants as far away as Edinburgh, all intent on doing the Angry Frog.
“I believe the classes to be ephemeral beasts and are essentially a free way for people to engage their bodies in a daily ritual,” says Gibson. “It’s great when they can stay online but I have let go of the idea of cataloguing them. I post the playlist I curate for each class on Spotify and have set up a PayPal for people to make donations if they have the means.”
Those donations have assisted her in keeping her creative projects going, but she also filters some into the organisations and venues that have supported her.
Dress for success – in lycra
As a solo journeyer on this mission, it quickly becomes apparent that having a quarantine pal grapevining in the kitchen with you would be preferable, but getting in the zone isn’t impossible if you’re alone – it just requires more dedication. Make sure you’re dressed for success in appropriate regalia, and devote the workout your full attention. At least you really can dance like no one’s watching.