Hi all! Have you noticed some fun changes around Hustle and Flow lately? Well, if you haven’t, let me give you an update. First, a big warm welcome to Dee Davis, who is teaching the new Floor Werk & Twerk class at 7pm on Thursday nights. Look out for a Teacher Spotlight on Dee coming soon, but in the meantime, check out her class – it’s an absolutely thrashing workout (I was sore for at least a few days afterward) but I’ve never felt so cute and graceful, nor had so much fun, while getting my ass absolutely kicked before. And the sweet bonus was feeling how much stronger my thighs felt after doing all the dropping and squatting in Dee’s choreography. Thank you Dee!
In other news, you might notice that some of the class names have changed. As many of you may know, Hustle and Flow’s studio space was formerly a primarily yoga studio called Bhakti in Motion by its previous owner, and a handful of H+F instructors either took classes there or taught there. When Steph first opened Hustle and Flow in the space, many of the classes offered were yoga, or yoga-inspired.
These days, if you come to the studio, you will see that more and more, the classes are dance-inspired, while incorporating fitness movements from all kinds of sources: modern and hip hop dance, belly dance, Latin dance, African dance, Broadway dance, plyometrics, HIIT, Jane Fonda style 80’s aerobics, ballet, burlesque, boxing, pilates, boot camp and even the occasional Martial arts move. Each instructor has their own style and class structure, from Beto’s boisterous, fast-paced Samba classes, to Carla’s sensual hip and core focused practice, to Steph’s crisp, beat-driven movements and brutal arm workouts (quick aside, I credit Steph and Jamie and all of their low pushups for the little muscle outlines that are starting to poke out of my arms… I never thought I’d see the day!).
But the yoga elements are still with us. We often use mats in class, some teachers offer a Savasana pose at the end of class, and from the singing bowls tucked into the corner to the occasional use of bolsters, incense or an offering of gratitude during practice, the deep influence that yoga has had on the studio and all of its instructors is always present.
“This is the time of the great undoing,” Nick Cave sings in his song “Straight To You.” Though the song was released in 1992, this little scrap of lyrics is very much what we are witnessing in 2018. Our eyes have been opened. We now know more about our world than we ever have before; more about science, economic patterns, humans’ influence on the balance of nature, our governments, and on and on. And one thing that has risen in our collective awareness is our country’s deep history of racial imbalance: we live in a country molded from imperialism, Native American genocide, black slavery and subsequent systematic oppression of black people, and the endemic racism and capitalist support of cultural appropriation that has allowed wealthy white people to profit from things created by people of color.
It is hard to talk about, but yoga is one of these things that has historically been used as a tool for profit in a lot of very negative ways. I’ve gotten on my little soapbox here and in my other forums and railed on about how women are manipulated for corporate profits by aspirational marketing images that sell us unattainable goals and keep us in a constant state of high-priced consumption. With yoga, we are so often sold a very cynical version of the practice: perfect, airbrushed, svelte women in $200 yoga pants; 35 year old mothers of three who still “find the time” to do sunrise yoga at their beach house in the Hamptons; chisel-faced, Bon Iver looking beardo boyfriends holding hands with and kissing their perfect, beachy-wave-haired girlfriends, walking down an idyllic sunlit street in a small town. And by the way, that last description is literally the first image you see when you go to Yoga Journal’s “life” page on their web site. It really pisses me off.
But yoga isn’t like that, that’s not real. Like anything, yoga intersects with our lives in unexpected or atypical ways. We come to it and go from it as we would any relationship, we get from it what is right for us if we are true in our intentions. The purpose of practicing isn’t to whitewash it and “make it ours” in some profane cultural way; well, at least it shouldn’t be. The purpose of practicing is, for many of us, to move, to discover, to learn, to open and to find a way to approach all aspects of life with grace, compassion, empathy and love. And any one person’s purpose may be different on any given day.
If we love utilizing the movements and tenets of yoga in our movement practice and our lives, if we wish to live a life that is balanced, respectful and inclusive to all people, a life that is loving and supportive, but we are also aware and sensitive to the cultural appropriation that yoga – and by extension, East Indian culture and spirituality – has endured at the hands of Westerners, how can we practice yoga? How do we incorporate this deep, life-changing practice in a way that is integrated and reconciled with the way we know we want to live?
I honestly don’t have an answer for you. You have to decide what’s right for you, but it starts with learning and endeavoring to understand without “taking.” When I was younger, I did or said racist things because I just didn’t really realize what I was doing. I remember a day in my early 20’s when my friend stood in front of me and told me how much I had hurt her by saying something ignorant and racist in front of her. She was brave to engage with me in that way, she was compassionate with me, and she took on a responsibility to teach me when she didn’t have to. It was a turning point in my life, a moment of shame and self-reflection at which I could choose to use this gift of information to make my impact on the world more supportive and gentle, or I could choose to ignore it.
My heart in that moment told me that I never wanted to hurt someone like that again, and the choice to live in the consciousness of that and follow my friend’s lead in challenging what does not serve the vision of the world in which I want to live has changed my life permanently and for the better.
So how does this relate to Hustle and Flow, you’re probably wondering. Steph and the Hustle and Flow team are taking an active role in creating a space that respects yoga and dance’s deep spiritual and cultural histories while leaving behind practices that are appropriative. New class names reflect this effort, as will certain in-class practices. You’ll find sweatpants and leotards emblazoned with the H+F logo for sale rather than yoga pants. The studio’s altar holds part of Steph’s rock collection, (did you know she collects rocks from all over the world?) Some people collect crystals, but she is drawn to the very gritty and grounded nature of rocks. The altar also holds offerings to Beyonce and Britney – and butts! One thing I know about the world is that no matter our gender, race, color or creed, we all have a butt. Butts will unite us all!!
I love this studio in part because the leadership has always been so responsive to both the student community and the wider community of Portland at large. As a student, we might not hear too much about what goes on behind the scenes or why a certain change happens, but it is always an opportunity for us to think and to challenge what we know about movement and how absolutely important and vital movement is to both our individual identities and the cultural identities of people whose struggles and experiences are unknown to us.
I’m spending a lot of time at Hustle and Flow right now as I recover from a tough summer of health and personal stuff. Join me, won’t you! Get the MindBody app and sign up for a class this week. As the fall draws near, classes start to get packed, so remember to reserve your spot in advance. I’ll see you in the orange room soon, and, as Steph said to close her class out on Saturday afternoon, “may the force be with you.”