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19 May 2020

Haim’s online dance classes are the perfect lockdown exercise

Right now I am more still than ever, but a dance class led by the pop-rock band Haim offered me a reassuring guide to movement.

By Ellen Peirson-Hagger

As I pull on my leggings, I consider what it means to be in my body at the moment. Current circumstances have enforced fairly minimal movement as I navigate between my desk and the kitchen downstairs, rather than schlepping up to central London and back as I would on a usual working day. Sometimes I take a few more steps and find myself in the garden. I’ve been running and taking long walks, but no matter how far I go, exercising for exercise’s sake only ever leads me back to home. There is no purpose for my travels, nowhere to aim my body towards.

Tonight, however, I am about to move along to a dance class led by the pop-rock band Haim, the first of four scheduled Sunday sessions designed to teach their fans routines from their music videos. This week, we’re learning the choreography to “Want You Back”, the brazen lead single from the band’s second album, Something To Tell You. (A third record, Women in Music, Pt. III, is scheduled for release on 26 June.) 

I log into the video call platform Zoom to find almost 1,000 other Haim fans waiting too, in their apartments, houses and gardens, all over the world. In Los Angeles, where the Haim sisters are, it’s 11am. In London, it’s 7pm. I watch the bright morning light of the US distributed across my screen, comparing it to the dusk that’s settling outside my window.

After a few moments of striking string music (not Haim’s), the sisters bound onto the screen. Este and Alana are in Eighties-ready leotards and tights, while Danielle plays it cool in white trousers and trainers. Step by step, they take us through the moves: a “step-to-my-lou” here, “two shoulder shrugs in between the ba-da” there. Their giddiness at dancing together, coupled with how serious they are about properly demonstrating the moves (even if they lack the language to properly describe them), is captivating. I find myself swinging along, their directions seemingly bypassing my brain entirely, my limbs moving of their own accord.

Danielle has all the lines of the best kind of Zumba teacher, one who insists that it doesn’t matter if you step forward while everyone else steps back or if you raise your right arm instead of your left, so long as you’re feeling the beat, moving more or less in time, and loving it. 

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Haim’s music has a groove – that much is indisputable. Just try not to tap along to “Now I’m In It”, or feel the fervour of “Found It In Silence”. But it isn’t inherently danceable in a pop context – the way that, say, Dua Lipa’s recent music is. Haim established themselves as a rock band; onstage they stand behind their instruments, though they have long been known to step out of place to crouch down, along with the crowd, and then get everyone jumping up, as they bang furiously on drums mid-set. Their moves, then, look to the facets of their songwriting more than the standard pop routine. We air-drum to highlight the track’s great drum fill, and slip and slide in time to Este’s funked-up bass. 

The video to “Want You Back” shows the sisters strutting down an empty Ventura Boulevard at dawn. The original plan – as Este tells us, letting us in on band secrets – was to drive, but they crashed the car in the first take, and had to go back to the drawing board. Vehicle-less, they took to their feet, strutting down the middle of the street, intent on moving forward nonetheless.

In fact, the routine we’re learning takes up just a minute of the whole song; the rest consists solely of marching. “You guys really invented walking,” posts a fan later on, when the sisters take to Instagram Live to teach the class all over again. Watch the video to last year’s “Summer Girl” – in which the trio strut down another LA boulevard (Laurel Canyon this time), stripping off layer after layer of clothing – and you’d believe they did, too. 

The determination with which the Haim sisters walk is a wonder from a dream world now. Confined to one place and following along to instructions from a screen, we can’t stride along a street, so they’ve designed the routine to be practised stationary. I move my body on the spot, with nowhere to go and nowhere to be, and with all the time in the world. 

There is no real introduction or explanation to the class, no sense of why we all might be dancing in our living rooms at this moment in time. But that would be to spell it out unnecessarily, to put words to something that is innate, a shared understanding between everyone on the call – because dance is about feeling, not reason. And as I grapevine in my too-small bedroom, what I feel is reassurance. It is reassuring to be instructed in what to do with my body, after so long being unsure about where I should be putting it.

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