Fitness: Shake Your Groove Thing

7 Portland Dance Classes to Take Right Now

From hoop dance to Afro-contemporary, our city serves up a seriously sweaty slate of options.

By Rebecca Jacobson December 28, 2017 Published in the January 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

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Franco Nieto teaching class at Northwest Dance Project

Rock Your Body

Franco Nieto is one of Portland’s most arresting dancers. An eight-year company member at Northwest Dance Project, Nieto (pictured above) won an ultraprestigious Princess Grace Award in 2012. He was also raised by coaches—football for his dad (Nieto himself played for seven years), and indoor soccer for his mom. Think of Rock Your Body, Nieto’s weekly class at NWDP, as the joyously explosive offspring of these two influences. It’s contemporary-meets-salsa-meets-kickboxing, open to all levels and easy to follow, even if you didn’t spend your childhood in a leotard. Beyoncé, Adele, and Kesha fuel the funk, punctuated by Nieto’s own indecipherable yowls and yips of encouragement. He’s a tireless, enthusiastic teacher—not unlike a coach, naturally—and often hoarse by the end of the hour. And how many other professional dancers will lead you in chassés—and then get in your face about your left hook?


Few figures in Portland dance are more reliable than Mariecella Devine. She started teaching hip-hop here in 1989, taking only two short breaks to give birth (fair). These days, the diminutive dynamo teaches twice a week at Northwest's Rose City Studio: 90 minutes of sweaty, accessible, gloriously fun choreo set to old-school rap, local hip-hop, slower R&B jams, and the occasional Afrobeat throwback. Expect everyone from retired ballerinas to soccer dads. (And find her shorter classes at 24 Hour Fitness and Northwest Dance Project.)


If you like your pliés set to “Killing Me Softly” and your choreography with an injection of Yoruba mythology, Dar Vejon Jones provides. His high-energy BodyVox class blends contemporary technique with styles of the African diaspora, a good option for those with some dance experience who don’t want to be bound to the barre.


Something missing from your workout? Disco balls? Air drumming? Rainbow lights? Hunger no more—Pound at PulsePDX has it all. Armed with a pair of neon green drumsticks, you’ll squat and lunge and crunch to aggressively peppy tunes, alternately pummeling your sticks on the floor and performing some high-speed variant of air traffic control.

Hoop Dance

Pro tip: if you’re hula hooping and the tube starts to slip, unleash your best Swayze-style pelvic thrusts to bring that baby home. Such are the tricks you’ll learn in Laura Aszman’s core-burning workouts, which may leave mild bruises around your hip bones. (This is normal.) After one class, I’d busted beyond waist swivels to overhead hand twirling. Come spring, Colonel Summers Park won’t know what hit it.

Booty Bumpin’ Ballet

Women’s workspace and social club the Perlene offers a variety of movement classes—Pilates to burlesque—open to nonmembers, including this hour of all-levels ballet. Forget staid piano music: instructor Julia Bray, classically trained but mellow as can be, switches on themed playlists (Prince vs. Michael Jackson, or Solange and Beyoncé). Check the Perlene’s Facebook page for the current lineup.

Vogue Femme

Daniel Girón—who performs with gleeful, gum-smacking insouciance—takes Vitalidad students through the basics of voguing, from duck walks to dips (previously known as death drops), while sprinkling in background on the historically complex dance form. Got mad moves? The end of class brings a lights-out freestyle sesh.

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