Jenny Hill firmly believes that fitness is for everybody.
“I think that working out can often be associated with fitness challenges or extreme body transformations rather than just general heart health,” she says. “It’s just good to move your body.”
Having worked as a personal trainer at revered fitness studios such as Gold’s Gym in Hollywood and Equinox in Chicago, Hill knows how important it is to stay active. But she also knows firsthand how quickly an obsession with working out or burning calories can become unhealthy, and she recognizes that the gym is not always an inviting place. With Yes Honey, the dance fitness studio she opened in The Grove in the fall of 2020, she aims to offer St. Louisans – regardless of size, age, race or gender identity – a safe and inviting place to get their bodies moving.
“I felt like there was sort of a missing niche for that in the gym community but also citywide,” says Hill. “I truly believe that everybody should be active, but a lot of people don’t like running or don’t necessarily want to be on the elliptical machine.
“Dance is just so fun. It’s a way to work out and genuinely have fun while you’re doing it. And I think it’s just as valid as running or spinning.”
Although St. Louis already had a well-established dance community – Hill credits Kode Redd Dance Studio and COCA with laying the groundwork – she felt there was an opportunity for a studio geared toward those who didn’t necessarily have a background in dance. Before opening Yes Honey, she spent a year embedding herself in the dance community in St. Louis, visiting studios, going to performances and networking. As she began revealing her plans for Yes Honey, she was heartened to find that the community embraced the concept.
Hill is not a trained dancer herself, and initially, she planned for Yes Honey to split its focus evenly between dance and strength training. But much to her satisfaction, the dance classes have quickly taken off. A few strength training classes – set to music, naturally – are offered in the mornings, but dance now makes up the bulk of Yes Honey’s offerings. These are broken into “Yes Choreo,” a traditional choreography-driven dance class, and “Yes Move,” a follow-the-leader style class. As the demand for dance has increased, the studio now also offers an advanced dance class once a week.
“Yes Move” classes are Yes Honey’s bread and butter. The hour-long dance fitness classes feature a warmup, 35 to 40 minutes of dance, about 15 minutes of strength training and then a cooldown for a mix of cardio and strength training. “Yes Choreo” classes, meanwhile, are a more traditional choreography class in which the instructor leads participants through a choreographed routine that’s anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute and a half long. Whereas many studios build on these numbers week after week to establish a full choreographed routine at the end, the “Yes Choreo” classes aren’t sequential – you might learn a routine set to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” one week and dance to the theme song from “The Nanny” the next.
Because Yes Honey’s classes draw on the interests and background of the given instructor, they feature a wide range of influences, from musical theater to hip hop to burlesque and heels. While Hill admits that Yes Honey probably isn’t a great fit for people who truly hate to dance, she stresses that no prior dance experience is required, and she and her staff are happy to recommend some beginner-friendly classes.
“I always say it’s like we’re taking world-class dancers and making their dance accessible for everybody,” she says. “The cool thing now is that if you do have dance experience, we have classes for you, but the thing I love about the studio is that you can just be a person who’s seen dances on TikTok or on Instagram and have no experience at all. It’s so inviting and not intimidating.”
Hill and her team want that inviting feeling to extend to anyone who walks in the door. From the beginning, she set out to make Yes Honey inclusive of the queer community in particular, noting the contributions that the LGBTQ community has made to dance in general, as well as the history of the neighborhood where the studio resides. Many of the studio’s instructors identify as queer, and Hill also offers the space for performing artists such as drag kings and queens to practice for free during off hours.
“I think a lot of fitness is deeply rooted in a patriarchal society that’s, by nature, not necessarily inclusive of the queer community,” she says. “And then on a basic level of like, people coming out or transitioning or learning about their bodies and celebrating who they are … it’s just amazing to dance. How fun is that – to just dance and to be with other people who want to dance and not have any expectations or not have any performance or end goal, other than just to literally celebrate what your body can do?”
That’s certainly something Casey Lambert can relate to. Lambert started dancing at a young age and continued to do so competitively through high school until the time came when they needed a reset. Dancing in clubs in their early 20s – and later at Yes Honey, where they started taking classes as a student before joining the team as an instructor a few months later – helped them reconnect with dance in a healthy way for perhaps the first time.
“The world of dance is often very structured, stringent and generally quite competitive – it’s asking a lot of you,” says Lambert. “Once you remove that element of competition or being better than somebody else or even nailing the moves, which is what Yes Honey essentially does, everybody just becomes a lot happier.
“This particular place is very special in that a lot of workout places of any kind are focused on weight loss or on changing your body or respecting this projection of body image that is actually super toxic. Whereas with Yes Honey, you go there to sweat, have fun, enjoy yourself and have an experience that’s healthy for you for once in your life.”
Lambert teaches both “Yes Move” and “Yes Choreo” classes at Yes Honey, and describes their specialty broadly as “dance floor,” invoking everything from electronic and house music to pop to hip hop. Nailing the moves isn’t necessarily the end goal; rather, they focus on self-expression and feeling good. Lambert also works part-time as a drag queen named Jewel Charger, and they translate much of that experience into the heels and chair classes they teach at Yes Honey.
“What we’re trying to do here is literally just get bodies moving and make people feel positive,” says Lambert. “And that’s something that I really have learned through drag – a lot of it is about these affirmations that you can give yourself and ways of celebrating your individuality. For example, at some point in most of my classes, we’re gonna go to the back of the room, we’re gonna have a little pause and then we’re gonna do fashion walks and we’re gonna do poses and we’re gonna just feel yourself for a little bit.
“I think one of the biggest things I can put out there about the involvement of drag in my class specifically is that we are invoking our inner goddess, we’re invoking our inner diva and feeling unashamed about how amazing that is.”
Hill has also been intentional about making Yes Honey a safe and welcoming space for all body types and abilities, including people who might not have felt comfortable at the gym in the past. You won’t hear instructors at Yes Honey talking about fitness goals such as losing weight or building muscle or sharing stats about the number of calories burned in a workout. They’ve certainly had members who have lost weight or gotten stronger over time, and they celebrate those personal wins, but they don’t assume they are goals for everyone. While some people thrive off of that experience, Hill believes there are plenty of other spaces available to them, and she wanted Yes Honey to offer something different.
“I hear a lot that people in our studios come because it is a safe space to work out,” Hill says. “People who have analyzed their life and decided that the gym is not a healthy place for them. That’s what I felt with a lot of places all over the country and I was shocked how much that resonated with so many people and so many people you might not expect it from – people with all bodies. You might look at somebody and think, ‘Oh, they must live at the gym.’ But then you talk to them and they’re like, ‘No, I haven’t been to a gym in two years because I was traumatized by this, that or the other there.’ And to me it was a no-brainer to solve that.”
That sense of inclusivity extends to Yes Honey’s members, too, who Hill jokes are her best salespeople, encouraging new participants and cementing the studio’s approachable, welcoming atmosphere. Member Julia Crump is a trained dancer who came to the studio looking for a way to share her love of dance in a less structured setting. While she came to Yes Honey with more dance experience than some, the encouraging environment of the studio is what kept her coming back.
“It’s a really diverse, welcoming environment,” she says. “I feel like Hill picks the instructors really well; she picks them for their dance and teaching expertise, of course, but also for just how they are as people. It’s the kindest, nicest group of people I’ve ever met. I feel like she has really managed to create this values system so that everybody who is drawn there fits in with that. I’ve never been in a class with people that I feel like are judging; everyone’s kind of doing their own thing.
“We’re just here to have fun and dance.”