"You've got to let your body feel WHAM!'s Rhythm", the teacher explains, "once you've mastered that - it's just about timing your pulsations". WHAM - an interesting choice of background music I thought, but the minute Diana Ross hit the speakers, I knew this was not your usual Yoga class.
Voga (Yoga + vogue posing) is the latest fitness activity of choice for the cool kids of Hackney. Taught in one of three hipster locations by the creator Juliet Murrell, Voga requires nothing but a good ear, a flexible core and an extremely tight pair of leggings. Having said that, some of my fellow Voga-ers had opted for more of a disco-pant - fluorescent and patterned, obviously. I wonder if I am partaking in an exercise class, or have stumbled into 1980s New York City and straight into the heart of the Gay club scene.
Either way - I think I quite like it. As the boney, blonde instructor thrusts her bosom back and forth to the soothing sounds of Kool and the Gang, the class of East London's trendsetters follow in perfect unison. Either this isn't their first class, or they have seen Boogie Nights one too many times. Juliet isn't presumptuous - leg behind her head and enviably toned arm stretched out, she still makes sure to explain every detail of the movement. "And pose". Each position is ended this way and some are more flattering than others. "That's it, bottom in the air, facing forward and... strike a pose". I'm sure this isn't quite what Madonna had in mind.
The campness of the class is upped with the genius of Chaka Khan and increase of suggestive stretches. The movements are quicker and more complicated but with a soundtrack of Cheryl Lynn reminding us to "be real", it is surprisingly easy to pick up and I find my leg in places I never even knew existed. As the tempo gets tougher, layers of clothes are removed, revealing washboard midriffs and what were squats and arm extensions are now rhythmic dance moves in homage to Saturday Night Fever. Each class member sports a great, big smile. I catch a glimpse of my cheesy grin in the window. My top has risen up so far that my entire bra is visible and my fringe is glued to my forehead with sweat. My leggings are so unbearably tight that I have an unmistakable case of camel toe.
"You're looking absolutely great!" Juliet shouts at me.
Her creative energy is certainly infectious, which is hardly surprising given her glamorous film background. Murrell invented Voga in September last year after being inspired by both a recent trip to India and a re-kindled love for the movie Paris is Burning. Voga is designed to promote relaxation through focus on movements and music instead of on relaxation itself. I've got to say - she has a point. Some of the positions take a little dedication; time and staring creepily at other Voga-ers to get the hang of, but concentrating on shoulder rolls whilst singing "you spin me right round, baby right round" certainly sorts my stress levels out.
Giggling in the corner, are two 20-something men - their beards matted with sweat and their tortoise shell glasses steamy. "Come on you two, you can do it!" Juliet sniggers, and a trickle of laughter spreads through the clammy room. Voga is definitely practiced with a sense of humor - an essential really, for any fitness routine where pelvic rotations feature regularly.
As Michael Jackson asks "can you feel it?" I begin to find myself flailing. My smile has slumped; my hips are all out of shake and my hands are lacking a considerable amount of "Jazz". "And now come down to the your mat for some slow floor exercises." Thank God. Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" slows down the vibe and Juliet's enthusiastic cheer is now a calming whisper. As the movements change to traditional Yoga techniques, I am suddenly conscious of my raised bottom protruding into the face of the poor girl directly behind me. Maybe it's the boring movements or the lack of Jacko, but once the party-vibe is gone, it doesn't take long before I am fed up, exhausted and battling the perils of foot cramp.
As I return her yoga mat, Juliet beams at me with her delightful grin. "I hope you enjoyed it, it's a bit different isn't it?!"
Fighting the urge to respond with - "actually Juliet, gyrating to Bee Gee's songs whilst posing for imaginary photographs is an everyday occurrence for me", I smiled and nodded politely. As I ran to the bus stop and onto the first bus that came, the only thing about Voga that filled my thoughts was the soundtrack. My mind and body may not be reconnected, but I have seriously reconnected with my 80s playlist...
Voga sessions are run by House of VOGA (www.vogalondon.co.uk)
Cost: An hour Voga class will set you back £10 per class.
When and Where: The classes take place in one of three locations; Old Finsbury town hall in Angel on Monday evenings; Bethnal Green Working Men's Club on Tuesday evening and London Fields Yoga in Hackney on Saturday afternoons (our chosen location).
Visit the website for more information and for bookings.