Positive Life-Affirming Exercise

An Interview with Ryan Heffington


“No More Words” belts from the stereo. Los Angeles-based dance artist Ryan Heffington hollers encouragement to the forty-ish sweaty people in the room. “Woo! One two three WORK,” he shouts. “Head circle, walk around, strike a pose.”

This is Sweaty Sundays, a weekly class Ryan teaches for anyone and everyone. It is not ballet, and Ryan is not a ballet practitioner, which is one reason why I wanted to talk to him. Ryan has been incredibly successful in his niche of the dance world; besides founding his popular studio The Sweat Spot, his work spans the gamut from art galleries and fashion runways to TV shows and night clubs. From 1999 to 2010 Ryan co-directed Hysterica Dance Company. In 2010 he was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of the museum’s Engagement Party Series. Also in 2010, Target commissioned him to choreograph for “Kaleidoscope Fashion Spectacular” in the New York Standard Hotel. He is successful in dance but his work is worlds away from classical technique. What does he think about ballet?


Ryan Heffington: I think it depends on what your goal is as a dancer/mover. People that come to Sweaty, you know, the work there is not based in technique. I do walk them through posture and using core strength but that can also come through yoga or Pilates. But if people inquire about becoming a better dancer I always say, “Go to ballet class.” Always, always, always, always. But it can be challenging because in Sweaty they feel free and in ballet it’s different, but I do encourage people to take ballet.

I’m pretty far removed from that world or that exercise but I still have it in me and it’s helped me a lot.

Is ballet an anachronism? Or is it still relevant?

RH: If you’re talking about strict classical ballet, it does have an antiquated sense. It’s classic. It is what it is. But I just went and saw Nederlands Dans Theatre, and everyone’s trained in ballet. You can tell. They’ve taken it and moved forward with style and technique and it’s become something new and incredible.

There’s a place for ballet. It’s not something I choose to go out and see. I understand what good ballet technique is, but it doesn’t excite me to watch. I prefer to see boundaries in dance being shaken up a little bit. That excites me. And the progression of dance excites me. It understand the classics and give props to it.

It seems like your work not only touches the commercial and artistic spectrums, but also touches on accessibility. How do these different aspects of your work inform one another?

RH: Well, I’ve been in Los Angeles for twenty-something years now, and my work has become known, and establishing myself as an artist who evolves and who bounces from circle to circle or from environment to environment, people find me approachable and know I work a lot within the community. A lot of this stemmed from people requesting to be in the world of dance. My friends said, “Hey I want to do what you do. I want to dance.” And so I created The Sweat Spot and Sweaty Sundays, creating a place for my friends to dance. It’s a good time. So my professional resume has made me visible, and then I can give back. I can entice people to be a part of the dance world even if they’re not professional dancers. And now those people are performing because I’m getting opportunities for engagement in a different way. It’s community building. It’s all through dance. My idea is to share that dance can be a super positive life-affirming exercise and anyone can do it. And that’s kind of my goal to facilitate that.


Perhaps ballet can be a community-building, positive, life-affirming exercise too…

Photo by Eric Schwabel

One Response to “Positive Life-Affirming Exercise”

  1. Dan

    ” I understand what good ballet technique is, but it doesn’t excite me to watch.” Ouch that is a tuff comment! I’m very happy watching good ballet technique. I go to a ballet performance to watch the dancers dance. If they have poor technique I don’t enjoy the performance so much. There is a lot involved to make a commercially successful dance production but it the dancer don’t have good ballet skills there is not a lot that can make up for that.

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