Nothing makes me feel more like me than spending weekends dancing all night long to Lady Gaga and Beyoncé in gay bars all across my hometown of St. Louis. I’ll be with my favorite gay folks at two in the morning on a Saturday, moving my sweaty body around other sweaty bodies in the mist of a strobe light. I find that in LGBTQIA bars, I can be myself and feel secure, accepted, and a part of something greater than myself.
This queer charm was being duplicated in a gym setting when I started going to YES HONEY Studio late this summer. The instructors are seasoned queer or queer-allied dancers, the classes are focused on queer dance (such as voguing, heels, or ballroom), and the music is exactly what my heart is pounding to when I go out on the weekends. (Recently, Beyoncé’s Renaissance.) The first time I tried a class, I thought, “Damn. I’m at home.
YES, HONEY, EXPERIENCE OF MINE I had learned about the studio via the STL business neighborhood. People would say, “You’ve got to go. They dance to Carly Rae Jepson, and it actually seems secure. It’s so fucking wonderful! I was curious.
I enrolled in my first session with Lawrence Haliburton, a choreographer, because I adore musical theater and wanted to take on the challenge of learning a choreographed piece. I knew right away that the “YES CHOREO” lesson would be unlike any dance class I had ever taken. I’ve dabbled in Zumba, and during a pandemic-induced period of depression, I tried out some local professional dance classes in search of a “true dancing” experience, but I wasn’t able to find the right atmosphere. My experience with YES CHOREO was quite different.
Since he was a little child, Haliburton has been active in theater and dance, and it comes through in his instruction. I learned a dance routine in the class to the song “Livin’ It Up on Top” from the Broadway production of Hadestown, and while it was difficult, man, was it fun—exactly what I was looking for. Everyone was divided into two groups during my favorite portion of class so that half the class could support the other group as they performed the dance. That feature perfectly captures the sense of belonging and support that distinguishes the YES HONEY experience.
Naturally, I went back to the studio later to check out more of what it has to offer. If learning choreography makes you nervous, YES HONEY also offers follow-the-leader sessions that are just as enjoyable (called YES MOVE). If you’re interested in some strength training, YES STRENGTH courses are challenging, entertaining, and naturally incorporate dancing.
HOW IT BEGAN Jenny Hill, a mother, fitness expert, and company entrepreneur from St. Louis, is the creator of the YES HONEY brand. Hill has a history of relating to gay folks despite not being queer herself. She worked as a personal trainer at a Gold’s Gym that she referred to as the “unofficial gay gym of Hollywood” from 2009 to 2011 while she was a resident in California. She claims that many of her clients were older HIV-positive gay males. In the face of health issues, eating disorders, and self-esteem losses, she became invested in assisting those clients and other LGBTQ people establish ownership over their bodies, she says.
After spending several years in the fitness industry, relocating to St. Louis, Missouri, and having kids, she recognized the need for a welcoming gym that valued queerness. According to Hill, she wanted to establish a welcoming environment where everyone could exercise and have fun. “There have undoubtedly been days when I work out at the gym, attend a performance that night, and then discover that I worked out more vigorously at the event than I did that day. That is what I want to record at YES HONEY.”
2020 saw the launch of the facility, which was intended to put fitness first and dance second. The members like the YES STRENGTH courses, but the dance stuff really took off. The teachers of YES HONEY, the majority of whom identify as queer, began showing an increased interest in instructing dance, particularly queer dance.
How Yes Honey celebrates physical positivity and curiosity The sessions at YES HONEY are designed so that participants have fun and don’t take themselves too seriously. Hill and the other instructors just want to dance with you, work out with you, and have fun; it doesn’t matter how you look or what your background is. They make you feel important, don’t micromanage your actions, and seem to truly want you to be there. Instead than using negative words to describe burning off calories, teachers promote being tough, being vulnerable, and shaking what your mother gave you.
I like the strategy because I’ve previously struggled with body image. Since I was 15, I’ve been interested in fitness. I’ve gone to the gym, jogged, and ridden my bike, but I used exercise as a way to attain the body I thought I wanted—a physique that boys admired. I didn’t change my perspective on fitness until I came out as LGBT and began living a queer life. I began moving my body and focusing more on how I felt than on how I appeared. My new viewpoint is undoubtedly the result of years of trauma counseling and treatment, but it’s also a result of the freedom I experience in a body that makes sense to me now that I’m living my truest self.
I noticed as a student that YES HONEY makes use of the connection between queerness and bodily movement. I couldn’t help but smile the entire while we runway walked across the classroom and crawled on all fours in a YES MOVE class to the tune of “Cover Girl” by RuPaul. It was the first dancing class I had taken when I felt like every other student was my hype girl and that every motion I made was identical to mine.
I was curious to see if the professors and other students had a similar experience, and it turns out that I wasn’t the only one. Jackie Price, a 28-year-old queer lesbian woman who loves YES HONEY, works as a cook during the day. Like me, she and her therapist found that being positive about her body and coming out as queer were intimately related. Like me, YES HONEY provided her with a judgment-free environment where she could be queer and exercise her body with freedom.
Oh my God, that was the best thing I’ve ever done, I was thinking about “my first class” for the rest of the week, recalls Price. “It’s quite empowering and accepting in that setting, and I adore dancing, loud music, and having fun there. All I wanted to do was keep going back and repeating the process.”
Casey Uhrich-Lambert, a drag performer by the name of Jewel Charger and a gay dance instructor at YES HONEY, relates. He began dancing when he was young, but as he got older, he felt pressured to stop due to the heteronormative and gender-binary expectations of how a male-presenting dancer should appear and behave, he reveals. On the dance floors of gay bars in New York and while working as a dance instructor at YES HONEY, his love for movement was rekindled.
Uhrich-Lambert claims, “I don’t have an objective other from feeling happy. “I’ve never been allowed to enter into dance before, so this job is like a dream opportunity to do so.”
I’ve been considering the relationship between my queerness and my body a lot more ever since I began taking lessons at YES HONEY. I practice the moves I learnt in class while squatting, voguing, and doing dishes while listening to music in my kitchen. When I leave the studio, I take the encouragement I received from the instructors and students with me. This encouragement isn’t just for me to do the routines; it’s also for my body and for who I am.
I’m aware that not everyone can reside in St. Louis in order to experience its magic. I urge those who reside in different places to attempt lessons that fear them and experience the joy that comes with movement. Move your body as though it were special and uniquely yours, even if you’re not gay, because at the end of the day, that’s what fitness should be about (S iri, play “UNIQUE” by Beyonce ). Everyone deserves to be able to move their bodies shamelessly and without apology.