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Health & Fitness

How a DivaDance Showcase Awakened My Inner Queen

The choreography-infused dance and fitness class franchise boosts confidence and community through movement.
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Writer Desiree Gutierrez's DivaDance showcase group. Natalia Maravi

There I stood. Arms sharp against my sides. Head bowed. To my right, five women stood in line with me; we each had three more women behind us. There were 18 of us total, all different shapes, sizes, ages, lifestyles, and backgrounds. We each wore a purple, blue, or pink sweatsuit. We were backlit by horizontal purple lights. Soon, a beat would drop. 

Head banga, Missy Elliott sang at the start of her 2001 song “Get Ur Freak On.” Hit me. 

Our cue to sashay our hips to the right and left, it was go time. The hip-hop routine of DivaDance’s inaugural spring showcase commenced and I was part of it. 

Founded in 2015 by Austinite Jami Stigliano, DivaDance is a fitness dance and choreography class hybrid. The concept has dozens of franchise locations across the country. There are two North Texas franchises, which spread classes across five different locations. Both are owned by Natalia Maravi, a “high on life” dance enthusiast. “I’ve always, always had a special place in my heart to express myself and movement,” she says.

For years, I had watched DivaDance’s north Dallas location’s Instagram in awe. Post after post, small groups of dancers performed for their classmates and the camera with a fierce confidence that I could never muster. Their allure, poise, and infectious happiness was enamoring. 

As much as I longed to be, I could never envision myself in their shoes. Body and age insecurities kept me confined to my comfort zone.

But on January 15, in all my “new year, new me” glory, I impulsively signed up for the showcase’s hip-hop routine. For a split second, the little girl with dancer dreams inside of me won. I pressed “place order.” 

I was to dance to a hip-hop mix of Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On” and Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” — in front of an audience — on April 15 at Addison’s Kumbala Dance Studio. The hip-hop group was one of 11 performances on the program, which included a spicy heels group routine to The Pussycat Dolls’ “Buttons,” a rowdy staff routine, and seven solos. I had no idea what to expect or what level of dance mastery was required of me. Nonetheless, I was in. 

The First Class

On March 6, I walked into Addison’s Dallas Dance Studio, where DivaDance’s weekday classes are held. A typical one-hour DivaDance class consists of introductions, warmups, and about 30 minutes of learning choreography. Afterwards, the class runs through the routine with optional small group performances. For the hip-hop showcase, I’d be taking five 1.5-hour-long practices. 

My stomach was in knots. The room was filled with 17 other women. They all seemed long-time friends and DivaDance regulars. They were beautiful, slender, and flexible. They replicated the swagger and style of the TikTok dancers I often spent hours admiring. 

Self-doubt pounded in my chest. All these women must have a strong dance background, I thought. I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

The first practice was simple enough. Within minutes of me walking into the studio, DivaDance instructor Arnela Jusupovic had introduced herself, asked about my dance background, and welcomed me into the group. 

We ran through formations and the first 30 seconds of the routine. Easy peasy. Everyone mostly did the same moves. Slip ups could quickly be corrected by peering at your neighbor. Jusupovic never criticized. 

Instead, she leapt with enthusiasm, reiterating how good everyone looked. By the end of the second practice, I was body rolling, crisscrossing, and hip popping without worry. If anything, I was shocked. 

Made for Everyone

Once I let myself fall into the rhythm of DivaDance, the moves felt effortless. By the third practice, we had broken up into three smaller groups. Each group took turns practicing and dancing. The other hollered and hooted when we took center stage. The encouragement was liberating. 

DivaDance felt like it was crafted for me: someone with a natural born thirst for dance who just needed the tools to live out that passion. It was.

At first glance, many would assume Maravi, the local franchise owner, had been dancing her entire life. Her contagious positivity and tenacious passion for dance couldn’t convince you otherwise, but her dance roots didn’t sprout as a toddler or even a teen. Maravi first stepped foot into a dance class at 26 years old. 

“I’ll just always remember this 12-year-old girl standing in the front of the room killing it, doing so good,” Maravi says of her first dance class. “I’m the oldest one in the room. I’m super self-conscious. But I walked away with something burning inside to keep doing it [dancing].”

That burning desire for movement soon led her to a DivaDance class in Austin and eventually a franchise owner.

“I was all in from that point on,” Maravi says. “That’s where my confidence journey began and that’s where my community journey began.” 

Showcase Day

Dress rehearsals began promptly two hours before the April 15 performances. Everyone involved gathered at the studio. Performers huddled in on the floor, sitting crisscross applesauce. They were doe eyed as they looked at the soloists taking the stage. 

“Yasssss!” “Okay! Dress!!!!” “That looks soooo good,” Maravi, known on Instagram as @the_yasss_queens, exclaimed as the dancers ran through their routines. Her positivity transformed the room into a force field that empowered women to step out of their comfort zones and take up space. Soloists moved with purpose, power, and ownership of their femininity. Their peers rallied with encouragement.

“It’s just a beautiful testament to what we’re out here doing, which is building confidence,” she says. “People take that confidence to experiences like this, where they’re literally out there on their own, in front of a bunch of people and performing a dance, which is such a vulnerable thing to do.”

Showtime came in a flash. Dozens of friends, family, and DivaDance members filed into the room. Then it was my turn. 

My stomach clenched. The routine was beginner friendly. Jusopovic had worked with us for weeks to ensure everyone was comfortable, knew the routine, and had their time in the spotlight. I had all the tools to execute this routine. All I needed to do was own it. 

The hip-hop group ran to the floor. My husband and daughters jumped to their feet with their phones and cameras out. Nerves shackled me. I could barely make eye contact. Then the music began. 

Head banga, Missy Elliott sang. Hit me.

My hips swung from right to left. When I turned to face the crowd, all caution flew to the wind. Electricity vibrated through me. I didn’t care how many gray hairs I had. I didn’t care that my stomach was soft. I didn’t care about the parts of me that jiggled more than I’d like. I was alive and thriving. I was living what was once a dream. 

For two minutes and 38 seconds, we clapped, twisted, turned, and jumped to Elliott and Lizzo. On the last beat, we struck a pose. When I looked out to my daughters, their smiles radiated pride. Their momma was a dancer, but more than that — she was confident and secure in who she was. 

It’s about damn time.

Author

Desiree Gutierrez

Desiree Gutierrez

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