It’s not the club but it feels like it. Except instead of skintight dresses and stilettos, ladies strutting through the doors are outfitted in workout gear and a rainbow of hair-protecting headscarves. There are wall-to-wall Black women—big-curly-natural sisters, waist-length-weave-wearing sisters, senior citizen sisters, twenty-something sisters, all shades, all sizes, all ages.
From their midst, Danette “Dani” Tucker, the class’ instructor, steps to the front and betrays her petite stature with a big voice that calls the attention of the 60 or 70 women gathered in the gymnasium of a Washington, DC rec center. “Y’all ready?” she yells into a headset microphone. It’s a half-question, half-command. The bass kicks in, filling the room with the collective urge to dance. Go-go music blasts. It’s time to werk, werk, werk.
In fact, that’s the call-and-response battle cry throughout the hour-long fitness session. During cardio jumps. Stand-up crunches. Even an upper body segment dedicated to carving “Michelle Obama arms.” This is Da-GoGo, DC’s funky answer to Zumba, and it’s helping Black women in the District and a growing number of other areas lose weight, get healthy and not get bored with working out.
Introduced in February 2012 as the fitness brainchild of Tucker and fellow founders Erica Berry and Tricia Barnes, all native Washingtonians, Da-GoGo has grown at a pace that even surprises them. “God gets all the glory for the way this thing has taken off,” offers Tucker, a former Zumba instructor who was just experimenting when she choreographed a routine to go-go music. “He just kept sending us more students and affordable ways to grow and blessed us with opportunities for exposure that didn't cost us a thing.”
Formerly known as Z-GoGo—the ‘z’ being a nod to Zumba, which has since been dropped for legal reasons—what started as one class is now a full-throttle movement among largely low-income and working-class Black women, the fitness world’s underserved. And it’s quickly expanding beyond the DMV. Spin-offs from former students and associates have sprouted in Seattle and metropolitan New York City. Tucker is heading to Atlanta at the beginning of 2014 and California later in the year to teach classes and sign up new instructors. “We tend to go where our DVD sales are huge and where people express an interest in teaching,” she says.
The Da-GoGo effect is undeniable: she has lost 60 pounds since she started teaching and designing the program and Berry has shed 65. Devotees have similar testimonies (including the writer of this post, who lost 10 pounds in a month by going to classes twice a week) and the instructors have knocked off anywhere from 40–100 pounds in the time they’ve been leading Da-GoGo sessions.
The attraction, aside from a rigorous workout that feels more like a party with a roomful of girlfriends, is that many of the women that lead and participate in the classes are curvy. The most disheartening thing to a thick girl trying to shave off a pound or 10 or 20 is to have some already ripped glamazon with zero body fat cheerlead her through a grueling 45 minutes—or, even worse, a whole hour—of obnoxious, not-fun exercise. (No offense to the thin girls. Keep up the good work.) Da-GoGo classes get everyone moving, no matter how slim or not-slim, Tucker says, because their instructors prove you don’t have to be a size 6 to be agile, active and fit.
“For the longest time, fitness instructors didn’t look like their students and that’s discouraging to the majority. We look like our students and they love it. If we can do it, they can do it,” she says. “It’s so encouraging to our curvy women, who make up most of our demographic. Actually, 98 percent of our instructors are home grown right from class.”
Each session varies in size and location, but they’re all $5—affordable, even by flat-broke standards. (There are other offerings, including a low-impact class for fitness newbies and a gospel music-themed workout.) Da-GoGo leaders just want to make fitness accessible, effective and most importantly, fun for women who look like them. “To see them enjoy getting fit, setting wellness goals and flat out sticking with it like they’re doing is my greatest blessing out of all of this,” Tucker smiles. For more information, or for DVDs and class schedules, visit gogofitnessllc.com.
Janelle Harris is a writer, blogger and editor, and the owner of The Write or Die Chick , a boutique editorial services agency. She’s also a single mother, a proud Washington, DC girl and a longsuffering Kanye West fan. Chat her up on Facebook or Twitter.