When disco fell victim to the guillotine, house music (an electronic dance style with Chicago origins) rose from its grave. Through the '80s and into the mid-'90s, local radio stations spilled countless tracks, discount malls pumped out numerous mixtapes and basement parties cradled big-haired house heads lost in strobe lights.
At the height of the era, house saw great success garnering international acclaim; but like every great empire, house music fell. Some tie the decline in interest to the commercialization of the genre by acts like Real McCoy, Snap! and Technotronic. Others blame ego, as once hinted by the legendary Chip E. in a 5 Magazine interview: "Many of the people involved in house music were too smart for their own good. We were more interested in making sure no one was taking advantage of us instead of realizing the value of being exploited," he said.
Despite falling, house maintained a unit of followers lost in time or captivated by the subversive lifestyle. Czarina Mirani pledged her allegiance as the publisher/editor in chief of the aforementioned 5 Magazine, the nation's only house-focused publication. Additionally, she runs a dance company dubbed Fivestarboogieproductions and possesses training in Tahitian dance, ballet and vogueing. Her ventures brought her to a New York City house-dance assembly with tap, capoeira, salsa and samba influences.
She later joined forces with Xsport Fitness Manager Carlos Morris and Breakdance Chicago (a school for non-professional dancers), offering her own interpretation of house-dance classes right here in the city where it all started.
The skinny: Each class begins with Morris warming up students with arm sweeps and simple stepping moves, gradually progressing as Mirani plays disc jockey.
Post warm-up, she joins in on the fun, preparing the class for an eight-count choreographed routine. Dance moves, accompanied by fluid beats, include jacking (undulations of the torso), the dolphin, East Coast-inspired footwork and the grapevine, continually taught in segments until students catch grasp.
Attendees at the session I attended were diverse in terms of gender and age: a police officer, dancers, college students, 5 Magazine subscribers and a dominatrix. Chris Otterson, a suburban-based DJ, says, "You meet like-minded people, while getting a real feel for the music and culture."
The getup: Jeans, fitted hats and polos remove nothing from the performance of some. However, I left the class sopping wet due to such thick attire. Mirani recommends loose clothes you can sweat or get dirty in (when it comes time for floorwork). Gym shoes just make sense.
Wear and tear: Constant legwork might cause tripping and stumbling, but klutzes needn't worry; rubber flooring saves the day. Mild lower-body soreness will surely occur, so stretching before and after class is a good idea. Don't forget a water canister and towel.
The first day of each session, always free, offers a dose without the dedication. If interested, packages cost $95 for six weeks (six one-hour classes). Class meets 9-10 p.m. on Thursdays in the Alphonsus Academy and Center for the Arts (1439 W. Wellington).
Mirani encourages practicing between meetings. Luckily, the city offers nightly venues suitable for the committed, from Green Dolphin Street on Mondays to Betty's Blue Star Lounge on Thursdays. No time for a night out? "The beauty is that you can practice anywhere. You can even do it in your bathroom!" Mirani says.
The payoff: It's doubtful that you'll be able to zap unwanted cellulite solely through the weekly sessions. If you really want to see a change, you'll need to commit to a regiment of dance; try substituting some moves for another boring trip on the treadmill to keep your routine fresh.
Difficulty level: The rapid movements required could cause trouble for some, even after several rounds of instruction. Fortunately, the instructors cheer everyone on, rotate the room (giving the back row an opportunity to shine) and jokingly turn down lights for those who are bashful about the more suggestive moves. What's more, they encourage everyone in incorporating their own soul into the choreography. Dance aficionado Jo Marvel agrees, "It brings out the energy inside all of us, even the shyest person."
The verdict: At about $15 per class, Morris and Mirani's program offers an affordable, comfortable learning environment for this still-relevant style. The only thing I wish they'd add is a 10-minute freestyle session at the end of each class.
For more info on house-music dance lessons visit www.housedancechicago.com or call (773) 512-7384.
For news on house-music artists, tracks, trends and nightlife visit www.5chicago.com.