Is it just me or has anyone else had enough of yoga retreats? You can't scroll through Facebook without seeing a post about the next mindful, vegan, detoxifying weekend in the country. Don't get me wrong – there's a time and a place for stretching and quiet meditation. But it feels a bit like that is all that's available right now. That's why when I heard about Jane Shortall's Hip-Hop Yoga retreat, I wanted in. The Reboot and Rejuvenate weekend combines all the bits we've come to expect – like healthy vegetarian fare, long walks in the country and restorative yoga – but with hip-hop dance classes too.
The retreat takes place in Monalea, a gorgeous converted barn space in Wexford, only an hour's drive from Dublin. When I first arrive on Saturday morning, it feels a bit like an all-girls school disco, with pop music blaring and women standing around looking nervous, drinking coffee. But this doesn't last long. Jane Shortall is a tiny, powerful ball of positive energy. Despite her tiny stature (she couldn't be more than 5ft 1in), she dominates the room and channels all our nervous energy into a quick warm-up. She chats briefly about having fun and not thinking to hard before we start the serious business of learning our George Michael remix dance routine. Within 10 minutes I step on the foot of the woman next to me, and then before I know it I'm perfecting my "heel-toe-duh-duh-duh" and belly laughing with "ma guurls" in the back row.
I’ve always found exercise a challenge. This is mostly because I don’t like feeling uncomfortable, and get bored quickly. I find gyms incredibly dull. Ten squats in and I’m wondering when I can finish and thinking about what I’ll have for lunch. But dancing is different. The only times in my life I can remember unknowingly working up a sweat are when I was dancing. As a child I loved dancing in school plays; as a pre-teen my friends and I used to make up Spice Girls routines; and all the way up into my late 20s I danced the night away in sweaty bars. The fact that it was exercise never even occurred to me. I was too busy having fun. And I find the same thing happening to me here in Monalea.
After a tasty vegetarian lunch that includes piles of cheesy bread, we set off on our hike. Monalea is set in the Wexford hills and the two and a half hour hike is strenuous but the views are beautiful. I get chatting to my fellow retreatees, some of whom have come together, some alone; some are part-time dancers and some haven’t danced for years. They are women from all parts of the country, with ranging ages and fitness levels. But each of them has come on the weekend to challenge themselves “to do something a little different”, and hopefully have some fun.
Next is a cooking demo from Cook for Life owned by Orla Owens & Raw Synergy Foods owned by Siana O'Connor. We learn to make protein balls and particularly delicious carrot and pistachio cake. And then it's time to dance again. This time the remix is Beyoncé and we learn a "diva" dance routine. I'm a little better at this one; I think Queen Bey may be my dancing spirit animal. We learn moves that would make my mother blush, with booty-shaking and hip-thrusting being the main order of the day. Confidence is key and Shortall turns the overhead lights down, the disco lights up and encourages us to "shake it like you mean it guuurl".
After a cool down and a quick shower comes a vegetarian feast of tabbouleh, chickpea stew, daal, rice, pitta breads, salads and the cake “we made earlier”. This is the type of food I could eat all day long. After tea and chats, we finish the day with yoga nidra. This is my favourite part of yoga, as it is entirely about relaxation. We all lie down on mats, wrap ourselves in blankets and listen to a recording of an Indian woman talking us through the deep relaxation of every part of our bodies. This is not hard as it’s been a pretty physical and intensive day. It is straight to bed afterwards and I sleep like a baby. Day two is more of the same with scones for breakfast, a dance routine and another walk, before getting home around lunch on Sunday.
I don’t really have any #SquatGoals. And I’m not sure I want to be part of a #FitFam. But what I want is exercise that I’m not going to dread, and therefore keep up. If I’m having fun, then I’m definitely one step closer to that dream. Dancing not only burns fat, tones muscle, and gives you a strong, flexible, fit body; it also helps us to de-stress, increase confidence and feel more empowered. When you dance as a child, it is with zero inhibition, and with a confidence that we could all do with a little more of as adults. And as Shortall explains, with dance as with life you’ve sometimes got to “fake it ‘til you make it”. Learn to strut like Beyoncé, and suddenly you feel just a little more like a queen.
The next JSD event will take place in the Dean Hotel on Harcourt Street in Dublin on Wednesday, February 22nd, from 6.30-9.30pm.The event is called ConfiDANCE, a workshop on how to get our mojo back by moving. Mojo bites, mocktails & men invited too. Cost €35.
Dominique McMullan was a guest of Jane Shortall Dance. For more information and booking for Jane Shortall dance retreats see janeshortall.com