YES HONEY Is More Than a Fitness Studio — It's a Queer Dance Haven That's Transformed My Self Image

The St. Louis-based dance fitness studio gave me permission to love my body and my queerness as an LGBTQIA+ non-binary woman, and the space to shake my ass without judgement.

Yes Honey Studio
Photo: Joe Martinez

On weekdays, I work nine to five in social media for a number of brands including Shape, freelance write, and (attempt to) spend some time running my small vintage biz. By night, I express myself through cooking, film photography, and curating outfits for my forays into the queer dating world. Weekends are a completely different story.

Nothing makes me feel more like me than dancing all night to Beyoncé and Lady Gaga in the gay bars around my city of St. Louis on the weekends. You'll find me moving my sweaty body around other sweaty bodies in the fog of a strobe light at 2 a.m. on a Saturday with my best queer people. LGBTQIA+ bars are where I feel safe and accepted and like I'm a part of something bigger than me.

When I started going to YES HONEY Studio late this summer, I felt this queer magic being replicated in a fitness studio environment. The classes are centered on queer dance (such as voguing, heels, or ballroom) and intentional fitness, the teachers are experienced queer or queer-allied dancers, and the music is exactly what's bumping through my chest when I go out on weekends.(Lately, it's Beyoncé's Renaissance.) "Damn," I thought, the first time I tried a class."I'm home."

My YES HONEY Experience

I had heard about the studio through the local business community in STL. "You have to go," people would tell me. "It's so fucking fun, they dance to Carly Rae Jepson, and it actually feels safe!" I was intrigued.

The first class I signed up for was a choreographed musical theater class taught by Lawrence Haliburton, as I love musical theater and wanted to try the challenge of learning a choreographed number. I immediately realized the "YES CHOREO" class was going to be unlike any dance class I have ever participated in. I've dabbled in Zumba, and when I went through a down-in-the-dumps pandemic phase, I tried out some local professional dance studios for a "real dance" experience, but I didn't find the vibe I was after. My YES CHOREO experience was completely different.

Haliburton has been involved in theater and dance since he was a kid, and it showed in his teaching. During the class, I learned a dance number to the song "Livin' It Up on Top" from the Broadway show Hadestown, and yeah, it was challenging, but damn, it was fun, and exactly what I was looking for. During my favorite part of the class, everyone was split into two groups, so that half the class could cheer on the other group while they performed the dance. That element exemplifies the community and support that makes the YES HONEY experience stand out.

Yes Honey Studio
Joe Martinez

Needless to say, I've since returned to the studio to sample its other offerings. For those who are intimidated by the thought of learning choreography, YES HONEY also has follow-the-leader style classes, which are just as fun (called YES MOVE). If you want a bit of strength training, YES STRENGTH classes are hard, fun, and of course, have an element of dance intertwined.

How It Started

YES HONEY is the brainchild of local St. Louis baddie Jenny Hill — a mom, fitness professional, and business owner. Although she's not queer herself, Hill has a history of connecting with queer people. When she lived in California from 2009 to 2011, she worked as a personal trainer at a Gold's Gym that was, in her words, the "unofficial gay gym of Hollywood." A lot of her clients were older gay men who were HIV positive, she says. She became invested in helping those clients and other queer folks gain autonomy over their bodies in the face of health complications, eating disorders, and self-esteem setbacks, she explains.

After working in the fitness industry for several years, moving to St. Louis, Missouri, and having children, the need for a fun workout space that celebrated queerness stood out to her. "I wanted to create an inclusive space where everybody can work out and have fun," says Hill. "There's definitely been days where I go to the gym, go to a concert later that night, and realize I worked out harder at the show than I did in my actual workout that day. I want to capture that at YES HONEY."

When the space got off the ground in 2020, it was meant to be fitness first, dance second. While the YES STRENGTH classes were popular among the members, the dance thing took off. YES HONEY's staff of teachers, who mostly identify as queer, started gaining more interest in teaching dance, specifically, queer dance.

How YES HONEY Celebrates Body Positivity and Queerness

The intention behind the classes at YES HONEY is that class-goers have fun without taking anything too seriously. It doesn't matter what you look like or what your background is; Hill and the rest of the teachers just want to dance with you, work out with you, and have a good time. They hype you up, avoid micromanaging your moves, and give the impression that they genuinely want you to be there. You won't hear toxic language about burning off calories — instead, instructors encourage fierceness, openness, and shaking what your mama gave you.

It's an approach that I appreciate as I've struggled with body image in the past. I've been interested in fitness since I was 15 — going to the gym, running, and biking — but I used exercise as a means to get a body that I thought I wanted, a body I thought boys liked. It wasn't until I came out as queer and started living a queer life that I reframed how I view fitness.I started moving my body and paying attention to how I felt rather than how I looked. Of course, my new perspective is thanks to years of trauma treatment and therapy, but also thanks to the liberation I feel being in a body that makes sense to me now that I'm living my most authentic self.

Yes Honey Studio
Joe Martinez

The intersection of queerness and body movement is something that YES HONEY capitalizes on, and I felt that as a student. When I took a YES MOVE class, we runway walked across the studio and crawled on all fours to the beat of "Cover Girl" by RuPaul, and I couldn't help but smile the whole time.It was the first time I took a dance class where I felt like every student was my hype girl, and every move felt like me.

I was curious to see if the teachers and other members of the classes felt similarly, and I'm not alone in my experience. Jackie Price, a 28-year-old queer lesbian woman, is a chef by day, YES HONEY die-hard by night. Like me, she and her therapist discovered that positivity around her body was closely aligned with her coming out as queer. Also like me, YES HONEY gave her a space to both be queer and move her body with liberation, without judgment.

"I was living [my first class] out for the rest of the week, like 'oh my God, that was the best thing I've ever done,'" says Price. "I love loud music, movement, and having fun, and it's so empowering and accepting in that environment. I just wanted to keep coming back and doing it again."

Casey Uhrich-Lambert, a queer dance teacher at YES HONEY and a part-time drag queen named Jewel Charger, relates. He started dancing at a young age, but when he got older felt compelled to quit based on the heteronormative and gender binary standards of what a male-presenting dancer should look and act like, he shares. His love for movement was reignited on the dance floors of gay bars in New York, and at YES HONEY as a dance instructor.

"I don't have a goal aside from feeling good," says Uhrich-Lambert. "This job is an opportunity to step into dance in a way that I was never allowed to before and it's like a dream."

Since I started taking classes at YES HONEY, I think about the connection between my queerness and my body a lot more. When I'm listening to music in my kitchen and doing dishes, I'm squatting, voguing, and practicing the moves I learned in class. I carry the support I receive from the studio's teachers and students with me when I leave — they're not just supporting me to perform the moves, it's a support of me, of my body, of who I am.

It's not lost on me that not everyone can live in St. Louis to experience the magic. I encourage those who live in other cities to try out classes that scare you and feel the spark of joy when you move. Even if you're not queer, move your body like it's unique and your own, because at the end of the day that's what fitness should be about (Siri, play "UNIQUE" by Beyonce). It should center around moving your body unapologetically and without shame — everyone deserves that.

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