For The Culture: Dance 2-Gather & SocaFit
Denver’s Dance 2-Gather studio is warm and inviting, with spacious hardwood dance floors and vibrant walls painted with a mural depicting the rich cultural history of the small island state, Trinidad and Tobago. Since 2010, the studio has offered dance fitness classes led by enthusiastic and passionate instructors with one goal in mind: the success of its participants.
During my first visit to Dance 2-Gather or D2G, I observed women of all shades, ages, and sizes gathered to stretch and chat quietly as they prepared for the SocaFit celebration to begin. Each Monday night, owner and operator of Dance 2-Gather, Erica DeGourville-Reyes, takes participants on a tour of Trinidad and Tobago as they learn some of the traditional dances from Carnival.
The Trinidad street parade known as Carnival originated during slavery when slaves, prohibited from attending the lavish party events of their masters, resorted to celebrating the days preceding Ash Wednesday with costumed celebrations in their own quarters. Throughout the years, Carnival has evolved into a massive event and economic boost for Trinidad and Tobago, with revenue from thousands of residents and tourists. Intricately designed costumes are worn by dancers who groove to Soul of Calypso, or Soca music, a Caribbean genre with African roots and elements of calypso, gospel, funk, and soul.
DeGourville-Reyes started Soca Fit classes to give people an introduction to the rich cultural heritage celebrated by the inhabitants of Trinidad and Tobago. Located near Venezuela, Trinidad andTobagois a twin sovereign state and the southernmost land mass in the tiny cluster of islands making up the West Indies nation.
The island was discovered by the Spanish in1498, and was colonized by Spain in 1930. With a population of Indian, African, Dougla, European, Chinese, Arab, Portuguese, and indigenous Amerindian residents, the island boasts distinctive Creole traditions that have been kept alive since the earliest recorded Amerindian settlement circa 5000 B.C. The state motto “Together We Aspire, Together We Achieve,” is reflective of the vast diversity and cultural expressions found in Trinidad’s art.
Before class began, DeGourville-Reyes reflected on her early desires to share her culture with others, “Soca music is the music I grew up on. With my father being from Trinidad, Soca music is literally in my blood; and so is the history and culture that comes along with it. People love music that makes then want to dance, makes them feel good.”
With the press of a button, DeGourville-Reyes signaled that class would soon begin. The blended calypso music boomed from the speakers, taking effect on the women who began to sway effortlessly to its intoxicating rhythm.
DeGourville-Reyes went on, “It’s important to me for people to understand the meaning, cultureand tradition behind the music. Yes, I want people to dance and have a great time, but having them understand where I come from, and the culture and history behind the good time, is also just as important.” Using the cultural music of Trinidad, DeGourville-Reyes is helping people become physically fit and maintain their health with the powerful effects of dance.
Every sanctified groove has to have a good rhythm. At Dance 2-Gather,family is the backbeat of the studio’s groove. DeGourville-Reyes’ three teenage children work in tandem to keep the studio neat and tidy, while Ms. Val, her mother, handles the studio’s business affairs. On any given day, DeGourville-Reyes’ husband, Manual, can be found instructing a dance class.
Dance students are like extended family, dancing together to stay fit and focused. “At D2G we really are a family. I’ve been coming to Dance 2-Gather for five or six years now, and being with Erica at D2G is like being in on a secret that you want to keep to yourself and share with the whole world at the same time,” said Lindita Torres-Winters, TV Chef and CEO of Lindita, Inc.. “I’ve been to [workout at] other places, and at some you can get a good workout, but it’s not the same as with Erica and D2G. Erica doesn’t want you to get in just good physical shape, she cares about getting the whole you in shape.”
Commitment to Caribbean culture, love of dance and fostering an inclusive environment is only part of what makes Dance 2-Gather unique. DeGourville-Reyes is equally dedicated to helping individuals achieve and maintain their health and wellness goals. She doesn’t just lead classes by example, but participates enthusiastically as a testament to her willingness to work alongside each attendee. Workouts are intense, matching the Soca music of artists like Machel Montano, Kes, and Timaya, with fervent choreography for an hour-long sweat session. For the duration of time you are in her command it is a guarantee that Trini bandanas will be flying, hips will be gyrating and waistlines will be winding.
Patricia Ayité, owner of La Petite Ecole a French/English Preschool and an avid member of the Dance 2-Gather family would agree. “Every time I enter the doors at D2G and take ‘my’ spot, I look around and enjoy the wonderful diversity that I see. We come to a place where race, culture, religion and what you look like on the outside don’t matter. Once the music starts, you forget about what might be troubling you and you dance it out!”
With the studio’s 8th anniversary approaching on Sept. 8, Dance 2-Gather continues to wind it up, expanding the SocaFit brand as community members discover the sheer fun involved in each class. Growing from 10 certified instructors in 2017 to 30 instructors in 2018, DeGourville-Reyes and her Dance 2-Gather Dance Crew have dominated stages all over the country.
Group SocaFit lessons were offered this year at Denver’s Cinco de Mayo celebration, during Juneteenth and the National Day of Dance, and the upcoming Broncos Fit Expo in September.
DeGourville-Reyes encourages anyone who is interested in SocaFit to try the exercises from the comfort of their own homes with the Dance 2-Gather’s On-Demand Dutty Wine video, or the newly released Dance 2-Gather SocaFit DVD.
With increased frustrations regarding cultural appropriation, the act of adopting styles and customs from marginalized groups with little respect or knowledge for the culture, it is refreshing to experience the substantial cultural appreciation that DeGourville-Reyes has devoted to Dance 2-Gather’s operation. SocaFit isn’t just for the culture, SocaFit is the culture. It is an exercise in personal empowerment that introduces the rest of the world to the beauty and value in cultural diversity. Painted on the wall of Dance 2-Gather’s studio is the mission statement: “Using Dance To Gather The Masses to be FIT!”
SocaFit is a great way to get physically fit, with added benefits in the development of mental and emotional fitness, proving that the enchanting Soca music and rhythmic movement that goes with it is both good for the body and nourishing to the soul.
Editor’s note: Follow Dance 2-Gather on Facebook and Twitter. For more information visit www.D2GSocaFit.com