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Meet Karen: YWCA Fitness Member Turned Dessa Music Video Dancer

By Karen Gu, YWCA Minneapolis health and wellness member
March 12, 2018
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My name is Karen, and I joined YWCA Minneapolis in January 2017. I moved to Minneapolis from Chicago almost three years ago to work at Graywolf Press, a nonprofit publishing house. I currently work as the Publicity Associate, and some parts of my job include promoting our books through media coverage, planning author events around the country and running the Graywolf Press Instagram account (@Graywolfpress). If you need any book recommendations let me know! You can find me on Twitter @karenygu.

Working Out Intermittently

Before joining YWCA Minneapolis I worked out very intermittently. I moved to Minneapolis sight unseen, and it was a tough adjustment to be in a new city where I didn’t know too many people. Staying active was especially difficult during the dark and freezing winter months. Another big change was getting used to an office job that involves sitting for long periods of time.

Joining YWCA to Focus on Health and Wellness

I decided to join YWCA Minneapolis because I wanted to take my health and wellness more seriously, and I wanted to establish an exercise routine. I was also excited to try out all the different group fitness classes.

After joining, one of the first classes I tried out was Monday evening RIPPED with Diana P., and I immediately loved it. It’s a high intensity interval workout, and what makes it so much fun is the music and “choreography” which make it kind of dance-adjacent, but with a lot more burpees. Ask anyone who has talked to me in the past year if they know what RIPPED is. I’ve told everyone about it! They probably even know the acronym: Resistance / Intervals / Power / Plyometrics / Endurance / Diet.

Dancing in Dessa’s Music Video!

I continue to be a member at YWCA Minneapolis because it’s an inclusive gym with incredible amenities and it offers so many different classes and opportunities to try something new –including the surreal experience of dancing in Dessa’s music video!

I first saw Dessa in 2013 when she played at Millennium Park in Chicago for the Downtown Sound summer concert series. I would not have believed you if you told me that five years later I would have the opportunity to dance in her music video. I was totally amazed to see a call for people to sign up for a dance class and music video shoot for Dessa in the YWCA newsletter.

I am decidedly not a dancer, but I had an amazing time dancing with Dessa and 35 or so members of YWCA and of the community. We were all different people, all ages and dancing abilities, and we all danced together while being led by the patient and brilliant choreographer John Mark. I recall that at the start of the evening, John said that we should all experience the joy of dance and have fun, and I really did! Learning the choreography was initially nerve-wracking and out of my comfort zone, but by the end of the night, I felt bonded with all my fellow dancers. It’s definitely one of my favorite YWCA moments. Also, the next day I took a couple of my colleagues to spin class, and Dessa was walking out just as we walked in! I said, “Hi” and she said, “Hi.” Dessa, if you’re reading this, “Hi!”

Supporting YWCA’s Mission

I believe in YWCA’s mission of “eliminating racism and empowering women,” and I admire their commitment to social change and community. I think this mission is manifested in the inclusivity of the YWCA Minneapolis gyms. There are people of all ages, sizes, genders, abilities and cultures working out together, and there is nothing intimidating or exclusive about the gyms.

YWCA’s It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race sets an example for organizations and companies across America, showing that it is crucial to always be aware of racial bias in and beyond the workplace. Claudia Rankine, whose landmark book CITIZEN: An American Lyric (which is published by Graywolf Press) gave the keynote presentation at YWCA’s It’s Time to Talk in 2015. The YWCA is a leader in creating space for dialogues about race and inclusion, and I’m proud to support YWCA’s mission as a member.

Part of the Community

Since joining YWCA, I feel stronger in my body and my mind. I know that when I’m stressed out, I can go to YWCA for a yoga, spin, or RIPPED class to clear my head. For me, YWCA is a place that is welcoming, encouraging, safe and fun. Also, my arms and shoulders have muscle now (many thanks to RIPPED and Diana P.), and I can now do a good ninety degree angled chaturanga.

Last October, I ran my first marathon (the great Twin Cities Marathon), and I’m so grateful to Kristin D., who gave me a wealth of running advice and encouragement, and whose Sunday afternoon yoga class helped me stretch out and recover my tired legs as my weekly miles increased during training. YWCA has helped me become more invested in my health and well-being, and being a member has made me feel like part of the community. It is a really special place, and I’m so glad I joined.