Her Sweat Tactics: Shinin’ At a Beyonce-Inspired Dance Fitness Class


Scenes from the “Popstar Fitness” class / Credit: Banana Skirt Productions

Let’s face it, the gym can get boring sometimes. Those two-mile runs, jumping jacks and squats can get pretty mundane to the point where no fitspo playlist can help you push through. That’s when it’s time to spice it up. Insert Banana Skirt Productions, a New York-based, Black-owned dance fitness company. When you hear “dance fitness,” you may think Zumba but it’s more than that.

These hour-long classes take dance choreo from videos to our favorite songs and teach them for a heart-pumping workout. Your favorite song doesn’t have a visual? Don’t worry. Their skilled dance queens choreograph original routines, too. 

Before Akinah Raahman founded Banana Skirt Productions in 2014, she was working as the Vice President of Marketing at Island Def Jam Records. After getting laid off, she decided that her new career would be more mommy-friendly since she had recently given birth to her son. 

“I had just had my baby and was laid off plus I was trying to get back in shape,” she told her sweat. “I wanted to do something that was more flexible, so I went on Craigslist and put up some ads for instructors to teach classes for moms.”

She decided to turn her family’s favorite pastime of dancing to YouTube videos into a business venture, combining music and fitness to help mothers have fun getting back in shape. After fitness influencer Hannah Bronfman visited her class and posted about it, Banana Skirt Productions started to take off. They have now set up shop at Pearl Studios NYC and hold three to five classes a day.

When I saw classes based on Migos’ “Bad and Boujee,” Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic” and Beyoncé’s “Formation,” I knew this class would push me out of my comfort zone (a.k.a. the treadmill). I recently went to their “Shinin’” workout class and at first, I was intimidated. The class instructor, Nikki Cherry, was clearly a pro. Petite in stature and spunky in spirit, she was hitting eight counts effortlessly. Not only was she a vet, but the class attendees weren’t new to this either, or at least that’s was it seemed. It was because of Cherry’s smooth, easy-to-follow teaching style that made amateurs feel comfortable, even with their own awkwardness.

The dance routine was full of hip-swaying, jumps, spins and sex appeal. For someone as shy as me, hitting these moves in a studio full of folks was no easy task. I nearly fell when trying to do a spin and struggled with the footwork a bit but loved the chest-pumps and tootsie rolls. But when I surveyed the room, I was surrounded with women (and one man) who were letting loose and unchained by self-consciousness. They were all looking for some after-work fit fun in what was clearly a judgment-free zone. This atmosphere helped me shed my shyness with every hop, twist and snap.

Though there were times my heart rate slowed down a bit while learning the next part of the routine, the “Shinin’” dance workout was quite the calorie-burner. My FitBit counted 241 calories burned throughout what would be considered a full-body sweat session. Since the DJ Khaled-produced track is upbeat, the routine was a great cardio workout to end my week with. Beyoncé would’ve been proud.

Raahman says that if learning choreography isn’t quite your thing, there are different types of classes that Banana Skirt Productions offers. If you’re a downward dog kind of gal, try their pop-inspired Vinyasa Yoga classes and hit your best cobra pose to some Bruno Mars or Britney Spears.

If interval training is more your jam, try their Ratchet Fitness class, a heart-pumping workout that includes club bangers from the ’90s and the dirty South era. Not only does this calorie-blasting class hit you with moves like high knees, plyometrics and crunches, but I also got to “walk it out,” hit the “JuJu On That Beat” and twerk it to tracks like “Back That A– Up” and “Doo Doo Brown.”

I am definitely a newbie when it comes to dance fitness, but after channeling my inner Yoncé, I will definitely be trading the gym for the dance floor more often.

For more information and class schedules for Banana Skirt Productions, visit the official website here

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