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caption: Participants lie on the ground for the duration of one song during a Dance Church class on Tuesday, October 26, 2021, at Washington Hall in Seattle. 
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Participants lie on the ground for the duration of one song during a Dance Church class on Tuesday, October 26, 2021, at Washington Hall in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Dance Church is NOT church. But it inspires religious feelings

From the outside looking in, Dance Church looks like a mashup of a fitness class and living-room dance party.

The instructor grooves out in the center of this big ballroom on Capitol Hill, and 50 or so people around her do the same moves, pawing the air, thrusting their hips, clapping, shouting – and doing jumping jacks.

Dance Church, which launched in Seattle in 2010, is a highly crafted experience, from the structure and flow to how fast the beats come at you.

Lavinia Vago, who directs programming, said it’s all about creating a release.

“You feel like you can let go and lose control of the moment, and it’s both mental and physical,” she said.

And when it works, it can be really special, she said.

“We don’t really say it’s spiritual, but there’s a layer of transcendence that’s brought by the energy of togetherness and by the exhaustion of the class that makes it feel like a very important ritual,” she said.

To some people Dance Church is so important, it inspires real devotion.

Dancer Gabriel Prestella got a tattoo. He unzipped his Dance Church-branded hoodie and pulled down his collar. The tattoo on his chest reads “Dance Church.”

“It’s close to the heart because it’s the most moving and positive thing,” he said. “All the dancers that do it are the most uplifting and positive people and they mean the world to me.”

Prestella said that when he discovered this place, he broke down in tears of joy.

Before Covid, he said, Dance Church was more intimate.

Sometimes people were shoulder-to-shoulder -- with three times as many dancers as today – up to 160 people squished in a room.

“You’d get a lot hotter and sweatier too, when you’re in a room with a bunch of people,” Prestella said.

When the pandemic hit, Prestella tuned in online.

“The online classes really helped me out a lot,” he said. “They helped out a lot of friends. And they opened the door to more people.”

Dance Church membership exploded -- over 144,000 people streamed classes. That’s more than three times as many as ever attended in person classes. And it even helped the company snag millions in funding to expand their online experience.

Here in Seattle, class has been back in person since September. Instructor Laura Carella said her first time back was intense.

“I was like, ‘Wow, I experienced feelings that I haven’t experienced in a couple years,’” she said. “My heart felt so full, and I felt like I was on a high after.”

Heightened emotions like this lead people to talk about Dance Church as an actual spiritual experience.

For Karthik Vasuki Balasubramaniam, it’s “literally church.”

Balasubramaniam said the experience meshes with his own personal theology.

Like when all the dancers come together in a circle at the beginning and end of class. “When we hold hands together and when we dance with someone,” he said, “that’s where I feel like, ‘Oh yeah, I can feel the God in you.’”

Dance Church has classes in Seattle and Brooklyn, New York. In-person classes cost $20 per session. Pre-registration required, as are masks and proof of vaccination with photo ID.