Thursday, December 14, 2017
Health

Hip hop, yoga converge in Tampa class

As the class breathed deeply, eyes closed meditatively, and rolled forward into downward-facing dog, DJ Menscha mixed seamlessly into Candyman's Knockin' Boots, changing the air in the room.

The mellow rap hit from 1990 doesn't seem like it would lend itself well to a yoga class, but Michele Smith thinks differently.

"I love hip-hop and I used to teach it, so I wanted to match the two," said Smith, 36, a yoga instructor. "Hip-hop is aggressive … but I think it pairs well with yoga and helps bring it into modern terms."

The idea came to Smith after the death of her brother, also a hip-hop lover, to help her heal.

On a Saturday night, the Tampa Bay Young Professionals, a 2,000-strong meetup.com group, invited its membership to take part in something different from the usual mixers and outings. They'd selected a yoga workshop at Citrus Park's Lotus Pond Yoga Studio, a beautiful log cabin set back off Lynn Road and surrounded by calming natural elements.

Walking into the room, the group of about 20 young women, most under 40, laid out their mats.

Menscha — 39-year-old real estate agent Darius DeBurh — loosened the nerves by opening with a mellow, downbeat remix of Pharrell Williams' Happy, which increased the energy in the room immediately.

"Do you guys like my music?" he asked and got a round of applause.

Smith took her place in front of the group and began running through basic stretches and breathing while Menscha continued to match the mood. Smith frequently bobbed her head and smiled as she talked the class through each position.

This was her second Hip Hop Yoga Workshop, and the first hour of yoga was just a warmup for a second hour of free and expressive dance less akin to Zumba and more like the moves friends execute at a middle school dance. Smith taught the class once last year before an injury sidelined her push to merge her two loves.

Following the semi-structured yoga portion, Smith taught the group some basic African dance moves, which she called the predecessor to hip-hop, and had them perform in waves so they could travel across the floor during the movement. She never corrected anyone or had them check their form. "Just do what your body tells you, it's all okay," she laughed.

Smith also taught the group a small piece of choreography for Jason Derulo's Talk Dirty, then encouraged them to go all out, feeling the movement and enjoying the moment.

"When you dance from a place of love, it's different. We've all danced from a place of ego where we were trying to look cute. But dancing in this environment, I think, is a healing thing," Smith said.

As one of only two men in the class, Matt Williams, 31, a massage therapist from Tampa, really got into the dance, letting loose in the freestyle moments and going full-out on every repetition of the choreography. "Usually yoga is very laid back," he said. "I like this a lot. It has its own pace and everything that I like was here."

Even fellow yoga teacher Danialle Dupree, 33, admitted feeling free during the dance portions.

"I can see how people would think that hip-hop and yoga are opposites, but yoga is just about pairing breath with movement," Dupree said. "This is just pairing breath with movement with rhythm. So actually it works together beautifully."

Following the choreo section, DJ Menscha got the group to gather around for a dance circle to DJ Kool's Let Me Clear My Throat. Clapping and laughter filled the cabin.

Cool-down stretches to Luniz's I Got 5 On It wrapped the two-hour workshop, and an impromptu cell-phone photo session broke out. Smith promised the class would not be the last.

"If people had some fun and some funk then that's great, but it's also a chance for some healing," Smith said. "There was also some deeper-level sh-t going on."

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