By LISA ELAINE HELD, MAY 3, 2015
In an average fitness class, running shoes and ponytails are standard. To work out in the Vixen Army, recruits wear wedge sneakers (they’re recommended in the What To Wear section on the website along with a favorite lipstick) and let their hair down.
Members of the New York City regiment are packed into an old dance studio near Penn Station, practically on top of each other, to shake their booties with their Commander in Chief, Janet Jones, 33, who’s visiting from Florida.
“Serve hips for dinner, then add gravy,” she yells to them, swiveling and gyrating, running her hands down from her hair to her torso. The class follows her lead, cheering and screaming out the lyrics to Pitbull and Flo Rida songs as the air in the room fills with heat and humidity, the mirrors fogging, shirts flying off. (Wait, are we in Florida?)
Welcome to the Vixen Workout, the dance cardio phenomenon that’s the opposite of your mom’s Zumbaclass. Jones brings together women of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds, and inspires them to let go—and get sweaty, sexy, loud, and off-script in a way that is unheard of in the average uber-choreographed dance workout.
Launched in 2012, Vixen started in Miami (the city is good at inspiring dance cardio workouts) and now has close to 40 classes per week across South Florida— from Boca Raton to West Palm Beach—plus packed daily classes in New York City (where they’re a budget-friendly $18). It launched in Chicago recently, too, and in August, Jones will launch an official teacher certification program “so we can go nationwide pretty quickly,” she says.
Jones didn’t always have such a specific direction. She started her career as a professional dancer and choreographer and worked as a Miami Heat dancer. But as she watched all her friends climb the corporate ladder, she started feeling like her creative choices were irresponsible. So she got a job in finance.
“When I was put into the nine-to-five, and that was my whole life, I felt that I was a failure as a woman because that did not make me happy at all,” she says.
After she was laid off, she went back to dancing and opened a dance studio for children. Her light-bulb moment came during a night out at a club with girlfriends.
“No one was able to be themselves or let loose. We all knew the words to a Rick Ross song, but no one wanted to dance or sing. We were so concerned with what other people were seeing,” she says. “ I realized, ‘These are my friends and they have no idea what it’s like to experience themselves as divas.’”
She set out to change that, teaching her first class in Miami to a cousin and friend and gradually growing her following until a line of eager women would form outside of the gym she taught at, prompting employees to compare the crowd to an army. “It just took,” she says.
And while the class is definitely a cardio-packed workout that will leave you drenched in sweat (much more so once you’ve mastered the moves), it’s the let-loose mentality and the sense of being part of something that seems to lend the brand its magic.
“You are not what you are in the real world. You’re not a mom, you’re not a lawyer, you’re just you,” Jones says. “I want you to just completely lose yourself for a second.” She makes that possible by carefully selecting instructors and crafting an environment that feels safe and supportive. And incredibly fun.
“It’s important to give women a place to belong. It’s not just a fitness class. You come here and you’re a part of something,” she says. Lots of brands say that, but in my Vixen class, acceptance and empowerment hung in the damp air around us in an unparalleled way, especially compared to boutique studios where loyal customers are gunning for the best spot, and the most attention.
For example, a regular told me she sometimes gets so into the dance moves she doesn’t even realize she’s improvising and really going for it. Once, when that happened, the woman next to her looked at her with pure joy and yelled, “Yeah, bitch!” —Lisa Elaine Held
For more information, visit www.vixenworkout.com
(Photo credits: Bob Metelus, Jess Moore, David Alvarez)