While hip-hop may not be the first thought that springs to mind when talking about Charleston, it's renewed popularity shouldn't surprise you either. In such a diverse, cultural place, dance and fitness are no exception to our try-anything attitudes.
Which is why the music and style of dance is spreading about as fast as you can shake it. And Angel Roberts is showing us how through Peace Love Hip Hop.
Her three weekly classes on Daniel Island and in Mount Pleasant and West Ashley (with a downtown installment coming in January) take students through high-energy routines set to a heart pumping soundtrack.
"Peace Love Hip Hop is about creating opportunities for people of all ages to dance. Our style of hip-hop dancing combines getting fit and healthy, having fun and building community spirit," said Roberts.
The mostly female attendees have found that sense of community as well as confidence and well-being in Roberts' classes -- that is, when they recover from the intense workout that hip-hop movements involve.
"I love that Peace Love Hip Hop classes are more an experience than an exercise class. The energy in the room or gym -- or wherever we are, we even had a class in a fire station once -- is amazing. We encourage each other to give everything you've got. And you can't help but smile," said Julie S. Christy, a regular student and owner of Insurance Solutions with her husband.
The Mount Pleasant mother of three attended her first class 2 1/2 half years ago at the suggestion of a friend. Despite her inhibitions, she was hooked.
"I always leave the class feeling stronger, physically and mentally, and looking forward to the next time I can go," she said. "Angel's got that spark. She makes it fun and fresh and positive. It's never repetitive. She always has the newest music and hippest moves."
Roberts, a daughter of a dancer, grew up in a dance studio learning and eventually teaching many styles, all except hip-hop. It wasn't until she went to school in Greensboro, N.C., and volunteered at a nearby Boys & Girls Club did she discovered it. In teaching kids dance, they taught her some moves of their own, and a hip-hop passion was born in Roberts.
Work took her out west to Los Angeles, where she did costume design for "That '70's Show" for eight years. There, she also continued to hone her hip-hop style. It wasn't until 2006 that the Myrtle Beach native made it back to the Lowcountry and established Peace Love Hip Hop.
Roberts still travels to perform in dance conventions for teachers' showcases, but says her favorite part is interacting with her students.
Those warm and fuzzies exist only before and after dancing, though. Her style is hard-hitting.
"It's sharp, fun, edgy choreography. Some people are flowy, but I like to attack the steps and hit it hard," Roberts said.
Melanie Hamilton, fellow former dancer and student of Roberts, knows exactly how good hitting it hard can be. She found friendship and fitness through dance.
"I won't soon forget my first class," said the middle school teacher-turned-stay-at-home mom.
"We had just moved to Daniel Island and I didn't know many people. It was also a move after a very rough patch in my life. I was working to reconnect with myself, and boy, did I at Angel's hip-hop class. I smiled -- picture the biggest cheesy grin ever -- the entire time!" she said. "During that first class with Angel three and a half years ago, I felt like I was at home -- at home with myself. I felt pure joy. Angel knew it, too. All dancers have that understanding of themselves and each other."
Hamilton's son also takes hip-hop from Roberts. In fact, that's how many students got involved.
Roberts first offered to teach hip-hop at the Daniel Island studio where her daughter danced. The first class rapidly grew from around 10 to double, then triple. Then the mothers started asking for adult classes. As the numbers swelled, the classes outgrew one location after another.
"I love to watch people walk into my class for the first time, a little unsure, and within minutes the smile starts to grow across their face and about half way through, they are having the time of their lives, like, 'Wow, I forgot how much fun dancing was,' " says Roberts. "I also love to watch people become better dancers, at any age, and become so much more confident, in so many ways."
At PLHH, it doesn't matter whether students have experience dancing, or have danced only at weddings. Roberts says after just the first time, you get it. After the second time, it's clicking. After the third time, you'll be hitting the patterns as hard as anyone else.
Alesya Bags founder and Daniel Island resident Alesya Opelt was a beginner just looking to get in shape when she started PLHH classes as part of the "Get Fit Daniel Island" program.
"When I started hip-hop, I was in the worst shape of my life. I had a 3-month-old, about 35 extra pounds and my motivation was to simply button my jeans again. Now, I'm easily in the best shape of my life, care about what I eat and my motivation is to be running around well into my 90s," said Opelt.
"I wouldn't call myself naturally coordinated. But at some point, you have to forget about that and just enjoy the music," she added.
That's exactly what Roberts wants her students to take away from her classes, coordinated or not.
"I hope people walk away feeling sweaty and fabulous, like they have just been to the most fabulous dance party and tore up the dance floor all night long, happy, tired, refreshed, fulfilled, ready to conquer anything," said Roberts.