Hip hop retreat, you say? I want my groove back!


I used to be pretty good at hip hop – I swear. I used to love going out with my friends and dancing to whatever tunes were playing (I can't believe I just wrote "tunes"; I'm almost embarrassed enough about my granny status to go back and erase it, but it's actually too funny). My ultimate dancefloor filler was Christina Aguilera's Dirrrty and honestly, I could really bust a move! I am clearly incapable of talking about hip hop, or any type of dance, without talking like someone's dad reminiscing about his disco hey days.

Anyway, I probably wasn't quite at She's All That prom scene levels, but I was fairly decent and, more importantly, I was confident. I loved dancing; it made me feel really good about myself and my body, like my body did what I wanted it to. In a way, hip hop made me feel like I was really letting loose – like I was alive and vibrant and capable!

Hip hop dance improves your mood – fact!

I may be attributing a lot to my glory days of dance (like, I'd say twice a month I went out and danced, so it wasn't like I was dancing up a storm, seven days a week) – but I distinctly remember the high I'd get after a night out, whether there was booze involved or not.

Chances are, any kind of fast physical activity to a musical rhythm will improve one's mood, but there's something very particular about the kind of high you get after dancing: your body just feels soooo good.

I even took classes for a period – with Jane Shortall, Ireland's hip hop queen, in the YMCA on Aungier St. I would go on Monday evenings and learn dance routines to classic songs, like S Club 7's Don't Stop Movin'. That was a particular fave.

So... what changed?

Honestly, I don't know what happened that I stopped loving hip hop – and that I stopped dancing. I moved away to college – I did Arts in Galway – and then, when I came back, three years later, it was as if my body had stiffened up and just wasn't moving like it used to.

I think a lot of it is probably to do with my confidence levels, and the struggles I had with my mental health throughout my twenties. Between the jigs and the reels (sorry!), I just didn't feel like dancing (Scissor Sisters-style).

Last year, I even tried to get back into it – deciding that, having sorted out my head and my body issues (more or less), perhaps I could rediscover my love of hip hop. I signed up to a six-week course with Jane and went to one class – and I was so rubbish, I couldn't bring myself to return. (I know, I know, I'm a quitter...)

But, if at first you don't succeed...

I didn't make very many 2017 goals, but one of them – that I haven't really been shouting about – is that I want to try to be slightly less afraid to try things. I want to push myself to do things that scare me slightly, to push myself out of my comfort zone. So when I saw that Jane was holding a retreat – in Monalea, of all places, where Molly and Chloe (Momo and Koko) hold their yoga weekends – I thought, what have I got to lose?

Jane Shortall hip hop dance retreat

Monalea in all its glory, from Jane's last retreat

Well, obviously, my dignity, for one – and I'll admit that I am fairly terrified about the prospect of going away overnight with a group of people I don't know and dancing in front of them. Dancing! Without alcohol! (Well, I'm sure you could sneak some in, but that might defeat the purpose; there are raw food cooking demos, and the whole idea of the weekend is, after all, to give myself a new lease of life – not a hangover.)

So I reached out to Jane and asked her if she'd like to have me along, and she suggested we meet up with a coffee. Of all of the things I've left the house for so far in 2017, this coffee 'n' chats session has been the best so far.

A hip hop rediscovery?

Jane is a powerhouse of energy and enthusiasm, and we chatted for what felt like hours about what she's trying to achieve with these retreats. Jane's been around the hip hop block when it comes to classes, workshops and choreography and, she said, her passion now is to help women rediscover what it's like to love your body – not for what it looks like, but for how it can make you feel.

We talked about how, when you hit your 30s, 40s and 50s, you start to feel like you're a bit "over it" – you feel embarrassed to dance, to move your body to music, because, somehow, society has given us the impression that dance is not for us. But it's 2016 and we're going to live for longer than ever before; when you hit 40, your glass is most definitely still half full!

I definitely know what it's like to have lost touch with that kind of physical confidence that I had when I was younger; I feel embarrassed when my body won't do what it wants me to, and to be honest I think it's a vicious circle. It's as if that very embarrassment, that feeling of shame in the pit of my stomach, is the very thing that's preventing me from moving the way I want to.

So, come the weekend after next, you'll find me in Monalea (which is gorgeous, by the way), practising my grooves, chilling out and eating really good food with a group of like-minded women who have a vague recollection of a time when they used to love to dance. Here's hoping that, by the time we leave, we'll know exactly what that feels like.

This, of course, ultimately, is an appeal – come with me! (Because I definitely won't be able to chicken out if I have a friend!) We'll arrive Saturday morning, do a full day of dancing and hiking and laughing and eating, stay overnight in Monalea and wake up to dance and eat and hike once more. The two-day retreat is €175; more deets here.

Jane offered me a place on her retreat FOC. I'll always tell you when I've been paid for a collaboration or accepted a freebie; for more, see my disclaimer.