Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness challenge: Turn up the music and pop to a beat

Rachel Grunwell brings you the lowdown on a new form of exercise.

Lawrence Liew is an accountant by day, and smooth mover by night. Photo / Michael Craig
Lawrence Liew is an accountant by day, and smooth mover by night. Photo / Michael Craig

Popping

What is it? A dance style from California.

What's needed? Traditionally, dancers wear baggy pants, two-tone Hush Puppy shoes and a fedora hat. But nowadays it's largely streetwear and sneakers.

The experience: By day, Lawrence Liew works for the Serious Fraud Office - a numbers man, an accountant.

But on Friday nights, he teaches popping at City Dance on Auckland's Queen St.

Lawrence says the accounting "pays the bills", while dancing is his passion and an escape.

He says he loves both (probably because his boss might read this, I tease him). But seriously, he insists he does. He just wears a suit to one job, and baggy pants, Hush Puppies and a fedora hat to the other.

I ask what his workmates reckon about his "other life". He laughs and admits he kept popping under the radar at first, but someone found him on the dance website and gave the game away. He says they tell him "it's good balance in life".

So what is popping?

The answer to this is best answered by him turning up the funk music, loud, and I watch him dance in front of the studio's mirrored wall.

He hits the dance floor and I'm floored.

Lawrence contracts and releases his muscles continuously, staccato-like, in time with the accentuated beats of the music. He transforms all robot-like, and fizzes as if he's been seized in certain spots by "an electric shock" (the last is his description).

It's fabulous to watch. My skin is covered in goosebumps. This 25 year old can dance. He transforms into Chris Brown, Justin Timberlake or the likes of Michael Jackson when the music plays.

It's just a short performance, a matter of just a few minutes, which leaves Lawrence sweating.

He says his students are generally university guys, and some office workers. They hang out sometimes after class and "grab a feed and have a few drinks". Occasionally, they'll head to a bar like Rakinos, where the public might get to see their memorable moves.

Lawrence says it was while holidaying in Taiwan five years ago that he stumbled across a popping dance class. He tried it and was hooked instantly. "It was just so different."

He says there are generally two main popping styles: "boogaloo", a funky style that involves shoulder movements and body and leg "rolls". This is a "groovy style" and this is his favourite "because it's what I'm better at". The other type is "animation", which includes more waving of the arms, "gliding" (think the moon walk) and "speed control" of moves.

So I join a lesson and I try some arm-pops, point my wrists, leg-pops and become a kind of "robot girl" (that perhaps needs some grease).

I ask one of the students, Anthony, if he struggled once upon a time, too.

He nods and says "it's always hard when you start". But these guys are all sweet and tell me I did okay.

The studio here is not flashy, but nothing more is needed except cool beats and sweet-as moves. And these guys totally have that covered. Popping is among 16 dances you can learn at City Dance, including belly dancing, ballet and ballroom.

The company's administrator, Sally Cottle, says it's a place that welcomes any adults, of any size and ability. She reckons dancing beats joining a gym. The 47-year-old knows first-hand - she loves taking ballet classes here.

How much? $16 a class, students $14. Concession cards are also available.

Worth it? City Dance is a hidden gem - it's on a floor above McDonalds on Queen St, but they have no street signs (it's a protected building). Seek it out if you've ever wanted to learn some kind of cool dance - they're bound to have it!

Try it: Popping is on Friday nights, 6.30pm at City Dance - Level 1, 260 Queen St, Auckland, www.citydance.co.nz

Rachel wears: adidas Stella McCartney Run Nylon Jacket $300; adidas Women's Adistar Boost Shoes $270. For stockists ph 0508 ADIDAS, www.adidas.co.nz

Kathmandu Animas Legging $139.98, www.kathmandu.co.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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