Chicago’s ‘Dance Dance’ revolution

By HermineBloom

Every time 28-year-old Jenn Brandel hopped on the treadmill at the gym in the hopes of undergoing a regulated workout routine, the dance tunes blaring through her ear buds

took precedence.

“I felt like busting out a move, but [the gym] is not really the place to do that,” Brandel said.

In 2006, Brandel said she happened to read an article about a free-form dance group in New York called Dance Dance Party Party, or DDPP, where only ladies would get together at a studio to simply dance for one hour without an instructor and with no specific fitness-related goals. The Chicago chapter was born shortly thereafter, when Brandel and her then roommate Jenn Salvatore decided DDPP was exactly what they were looking for.

Now one of nearly a dozen chapters, Chicago’s DDPP classes meet on Wednesdays and Sundays each week at Perceptual Dance Motion, 4057 N. Damen Ave. They consist of an hour of what they refer to as “booty-busting tunes.” No boys, no booze and no judgment are the three rules that all attendees must adhere to.

Brandel, who works as an independent media producer for the Bahai Temple, also does holistic healing and radio reporting for Chicago Public Radio. She initially thought the Chicago chapter of DDPP would serve as a fun way to work out without competition. Soon she realized the classes were incredibly therapeutic not only for herself but for many of the ladies who attended.

“There’s really no place that I know of where there’s a group of women and everyone can suspend judgment of themselves and each other for one hour,” Brandel said. “We’ve had a few dancers who have lost their partners to illness or have had really dramatic life experiences and they’ve come up to me and said, ‘This is really what’s gotten me through, being able to express joy and feel free for this hour.’”

On average, 15 ladies will attend each of the classes, said Kelly Periano, who has been attending for three years and became one of the four den mothers almost two years ago. Aside from their Web site and inviting their friends who invite mutual friends, DDPP is a strictly word-of-mouth group.

Women between the ages of 25 and 30 are the typical attendees, Periano said, but she added there are DDPP regulars who are “gray-haired rockers,” as well.

Whether the women use the class as their only weekly workout or incorporate the class into their regular fitness program, they’re invited to become a DJ for a class, which means they can create an MP3 playlist of their choosing to share with the rest of the attendees. The only requirement is having already attended at least one class.

“[The mixes] are completely eclectic, we don’t screen anyone’s mixes—we just have the warm-up song in the beginning and a cool-down song at the end,” Brandel said. “Every week, we get to hear new music and it’s a snapshot of the person’s personality.”

Mixes include everything from Bolshevik Russian dance songs and ’80s pop to ’90s hip-hop and M.I.A., Brandel explained.

Kristen Studard, who describes herself as alternate den mother when one of the four ladies is out of town, has also been attending for three years.

Studard, social media coordinator for Threadless—a company that sells printed apparel—recalls women crawling across the floor for Shakira’s “Shewolf,” and a time when an Animal Collective song on her playlist elicited the greatest reaction, which was something she hadn’t anticipated.

“DDPP has changed my roommate,” Studard said. “She went for the first month and she was just step-touching in the corner. And then she became the explosive dancer that she is after getting comfortable there.”

In a similar vein, Brandel said they view DDPP as a public service.

“We’re getting a work out, they’re getting a work out,” she said. “It’s a safe space where they can feel free to move however they want to move.”

The four ladies behind the Chicago chapter do not financially profit from the group. Instead, they use the $5 per person class fee to cover the cost of the studio space and equipment such as new speakers, rope lights and a lava projector, Brandel said.

This month, they want each class’s DJ to feature a mix from a different record label. Brandel said they will begin by including songs from a Chicago-based label called Numero Group.

Dance Dance Party Party hosts classes on Wednesdays from 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. and on Sundays from 4 p.m. – 5 p.m. every week at Perceptual Dance Motion Studio, 4057 N. Damen Ave. For more information, visit