draw on attitude
by David-Elijah Nahmod
After she won her Oscars and gained both respect and infamy for her political activism, Hollywood legend Jane Fonda reinvented herself yet again. Throughout the 1980s, Fonda was a workout guru, selling millions of exercise videos. Now 76 years old, Fonda remains svelte, elegant, and a force to be reckoned with. Apparently the workouts did their job, as Fonda appears to be decades younger than she actually is.
Though considerably younger than Fonda, 46-year-old D'Arcy Drollinger has begun a new kind of workout phenomenon. The well-known gay drag performer, who has appeared on Broadway in musical theater, is now teaching a new and increasingly popular dance and exercise class in the Castro. The class, called SexiTude, offers a positive message: that everyone, regardless of age, gender, sexual identity, or body type has sex appeal. And indeed, Drollinger's classes include young, buffed cuties dancing alongside their elders, who exercise beside those whose bodies might be considered "less than perfect." They all share their teacher's enthusiastic and positive energy.
"SexiTude is what happens when you combine sexy and attitude," Drollinger said in an interview. "You get SexiTude.
"The word came up during one of the early classes when I was working on selling the routine," he explained. "It became a term that I kept coming back to. And the name we used when we'd perform. Over time, the word and the concept became synonymous with the class."
Drollinger said that SexiTude is a body-positive, sex-positive, age-positive dance experience.
"That was not something I set out to create," Drollinger said. "It was a very organic process. I had just moved to San Francisco after 13 years in New York. I couldn't find a dance class that I connected with, so, discussing my dilemma one day over coffee with a couple of friends, I decided that I would start my own."
Drollinger said he wanted a class that was fun, relaxed, and a good workout, both physically and mentally. For the first class, he rented a studio at the Academy of Ballet. Sunday morning classes continue to be held at the academy, and Drollinger's added weeknight classes at Dance Mission on Tuesdays and City Dance on Thursdays.
"Five close friends showed up," he said of that first class. "Over time the class grew, and with that the cross section of participants grew. I realized that every Sunday morning I was dancing with an amazing mix of people. So many shapes, sizes, ages, and professions. What I saw connecting all of us was the love of dancing and the celebration of expressing ourselves. In that respect it really created itself: I just facilitated by opening the doors and turning on the music."
Drollinger said that one of the things that set his class apart from others is the time he spends with students.
"I spend time each class working with dancers on emoting, on doing more than just dancing, on selling the number, on expressing ourselves," he said. "We work on our 'sexy face' and our 'attitude.' I also encourage people to dress up, to come with some sparkle. Both these things make the class more fun. More importantly, I believe that they actually make people better dancers."
Wearing a fun or sexy outfit changes the way people move, Drollinger said, and it gives them that extra bounce in their step.
"It's more fun to do the steps when you're feeling fierce. One of my mottos is 'work a look, break a sweat.' I will admit that I get plenty of people in shorts and T-shirts, and we do get very sweaty. Sometimes all it takes is a pair of leg warmers or that strategically placed wristband to make a look," he said.
Essentially, Drollinger said, the class provides a good workout in a positive environment, and somewhere in between folks learn a few new dance moves and a little bit more about themselves.
One student said the classes give her the space to "feel sexy."
"I am, and always have been, a big girl," said Julia Leeman, a lesbian. "I have wasted away too much of my life feeling shame and discomfort in my own body. SexiTude gives me space to allow myself to feel sexy and fierce without feeling like I need to change my body to do so."
Drollinger said that his classes are a "melting pot."
"I would say on average that everyone who comes to my class is non-traditional," he said. "They may not all look that way, but they are. That's why they come."
The energy and sense of fun in Drollinger's class was impressive. Several of Drollinger's students talked about their experiences in SexiTude.
Christopher White, 42, said that taking dance classes with Drollinger and becoming involved with SexiTude has been a profoundly life changing experience for him.
"I not only found a way to be physically active in a way that I found fun and pleasurable, but I have found a community, a family, who support me and accept me regardless of my skill level, my body type or my age," White, a gay man, said.
Brent Reed, 42, said that he found other exercise classes were usually full of younger people.
"I really felt old," Reed said. "At SexiTude fun and camaraderie come first."
Stephany Wilkes, 37, is straight. She said that she likes the Sunday routine.
"Before SexiTude, I never understood why people go to church," she said. "Now I understand the power in knowing that every Sunday at the same time I will see and dance and rejoice with people who share my values."
Patricia McFadden, 43 and a mother of two, said she enjoys the "great exercise."
"I'm not the quickest at picking up the steps, but it is so much fun, great exercise, and everyone is so supportive," McFadden said. "SexiTude means putting your best foot forward whether it's in sparkly heel or a beat up tennis shoe."
The Sunday class is donation-based. Sliding scale prices are $13 for Tuesday classes and $14 for Thursday sessions. For more information, visit www.sexitude.com.