On a foggy Saturday morning earlier this month, I was among hundreds of people gathered at the Seattle Center lawn, dancing like no one was watching.
The event marked one of the first in-person sessions since the pandemic began for Dance Church, a Seattle-based fitness dance class that has garnered a cult following since launching more than a decade ago. The concept makes fitness fun with loud pop music and dancing.
But dancing, sweating and touching each other is kind of frowned up during the socially distanced days of COVID-19. When the pandemic hit, Dance Church began live streaming its workouts — and in the process discovered a brand new business.
Now, as Dance Church shifts into offering in-person classes, it is still offering and expanding its “dance together, from home,” platform created with the help of Pioneer Square Labs, a Seattle startup studio that invested in Dance Church while building out the Dance Church Go online streaming service earlier this year.
“In my mind’s eye, Dance Church is forever,” said Dance Church founder Kate Wallich. “Whether that’s on the internet, whether that’s in person, whether that’s on a boat, whether that’s in a park. It’s something that can transcend to different places, and I think that was really proved when we launched on the internet.”
Dance Church Go is part of a trend toward at-home workouts that grew in popularity during the pandemic. Apple also launched its own fitness subscription service called Apple Fitness Plus, while Peloton has seen membership grow.
Dance Church Go subscribers can choose a workout from a library of on-demand classes. A monthly subscription is $19, or a whole year is $199.
Unlike the in-person version, Dance Church Go classes show a set of instructors walking you through the routine. As someone who is not naturally a dancer, I got a little lost in the in-person workout and it was harder to hear the instructor’s directions. This isn’t a problem for the on-demand version.
But the in-person version creates excitement just by being around so many people. It’s more about that communal feeling, not about getting the steps right. With the in-person version, participants can also not only watch the instructor for cues but also an entire group of dancers around them.
Dance Church’s broad appeal comes from sharing dance and fitness with fellow participants. The community engagement is something that has contributed to Dance Church’s success.
“Dance Church has always been about feeling free in your body, and being in a space that you can just come as you are, whether you’re having a bad day, a good day,” said Wallich. “Everybody enters from a different place and we all come together, including the teacher, and we let it out in a sweaty catharsis released for 90 minutes together. That’s special and that’s very rare.”
Now the company is trying to replicate that engagement online with the help of Clara Siegel, who was recently hired as CEO as the on-demand platform developed. Siegel has a background in tech as a product manager for Facebook and as a senior product manager for Tableau and Amazon.
Both Wallich and Siegel know the appeal of Dance Church is in the community that forms around it. To simulate that feeling in a virtual world, Dance Church offers a pay-optional virtual class every Sunday at 10 a.m., so participants can dance at the same time as their loved ones.
Dance Church Go does not offer a collaborative feature, but Siegel said the team is working on ways to allow people to dance together online.
Wallich said Dance Church aims to create more opportunities for people to be involved, and the community pivoting online makes that easier.
“There aren’t that many barriers to entry in a lot of ways, and it’s not about improving your body. It’s not about getting a good workout,” Wallich said. “It could be for some people, but there’s so many other entry points. It’s about joy, it’s about having fun. It’s about being around other people. And I think that there’s something inside of that mixture that makes people love it.”