This originally appeared on InStyle.com.
I was never enrolled in ballet classes as a little girl, nor did I have the desire to put on a tutu. At prom, unless the “Cha Cha Slide” was on, being on the dance floor made me feel anxious. In college, I never jumped on the Zumba bandwagon. As you can sense, there’s a theme here. I’ve never, ever been comfortable dancing, unless I was by myself singing into a hairbrush in my room, or in the car with my mom.
And like I insinuated with the Zumba thing, I’ve always avoided any workout class with a dance element like the plague. Give me a treadmill, not a 5,6,7,8, and I’m a happy camper. This all changed, though, when I found myself in class. The first time I took the class I assumed it was a bootcamp-style workout that coordinated bodyweight exercises to music. That I could deal with. What I didn’t know was that a portion of class was dedicated to a choreographed dance routine you do together. I froze. My heart beat started to accelerate, and it wasn’t because of a difficult set of squats.
Winhoffer, who trains celebrities like Kate Hudson and Ellen Pompeo and offers classes in New York City, Los Angeles, as well as online streamable sessions, cheerfully and energetically taught us group choreography and added in steps in increments. (A little side note, about Kate Hudson? Girl can DANCE.)
Walking us through each movement, Winhoffer shouted words of encouragement and urged all of us to let go of our insecurities and frustrations and to focus fully on self expression, and even more important, self love. And actually, dance is and always has been a form of self expression and a form of art for thousands and thousands of years. The exercise that comes along with it is a bonus.
“Our inner critic and ego often stop us from experiencing joy,” said Winhoffer when I asked her about her philosophy. “We often identify with our minds thinking that we can rationalize answers and solutions. What this in turn does is stop our impulses… and we were made to follow our impulses!”
The impulses in this situation are dance moves. “I practice letting go in the studio and teach my students to follow their impulses so that they can develop better relationships and practices in their lives. I promote a safe environment for people to explore who they really are—so that they can continue the practice in their life—being who you really are and embracing it.”
But it’s easier said than done. And when you have no background in dancing whatsoever, following your impulses feels like standing in front of a crowd and giving a speech in your underwear. Learning how to put arm and leg choreography together, and then doing so gracefully, is mind-boggling. But Winhoffer doesn’t deny that either. “…I tell them, of course it’s nerve-wrecking to move your body to music—and that’s what I’m there for. Women are afraid of being sensual and being free. it’s not supported in our society, so the fear is normal. Once women practice the NW method—feeling free and moving becomes addicting!”
I’m not going to pretend taking classes has made me the best dancer in the world, or even a better dancer, but it’s made me a dancer who doesn’t care about what others think. It’s also taught me a new way to move my body, and therefore exercise my body, tone my muscles, and burn calories. It’s taught me to feel more comfortable with my body in general and what it can do, and it’s even helped me appreciate my playlist in a new way.
So how do you make getting to that point a little easier? “I love dancing at home to my favorite song in lingerie, said Winhoffer. “Connecting to your body is key to feeling. We are feeling-centered creatures, and we are made to be in touch with our feelings. Practicing on your own and developing your rhythm to a familiar song is fun.”
You can do this on your own, or if you want to try out exactly what’s done in a NW Method Studio, you can test the classes at-home videos, which include moves that are perfectly timed to whatever song that’s playing.
For me? I still stick to my runs, boxing sessions, and spin classes, but when a dance class does pop up on my radar, I never say no.