She Cheers for Awkward! An interview with Bevin of Fat Kid Dance Party
I grew up dancing; my mom had been a high-level Tahitian dancer, and with her encouragement I spent from about age six to age eighteen taking some kind of dance classes. Self-consciousness and the stress of teenage-me’s schedule eventually sapped the joy from it. I quit once I went to college.
Two years ago, hunting around for a new way to exercise, I discovered a cluster of dance and aerobics instructors who were queer, joyful, and rejecting the idea that you had to look or move a certain way to dance.
Bevin, founder of Fat Kid Dance Party, is one of those teachers. Not long after finding her videos myself, I learned that Heather was also a fan and we began scheduling Fat Kid Dance Parties as a wellness perk for Scarleteen staff and volunteers. After our first live class, I knew Bevin was someone I wanted to interview, and she was kind enough to chat with me about fat liberation, queerness, community, and much more.
How would you describe body liberation activism and fat acceptance to folks who may only be familiar with the term “body positivity?”
Every human has a body. That’s the deal. We only get one in this lifetime. There are systems of power and control that benefit from each of us individually feeling unsatisfied with our bodies. Literally the beauty industry is worth 570 billion dollars (USD), and the weight loss industry is worth 142 billion. So many corporations profit off of self loathing and trying to “correct” the one and only human body you’re ever going to have.
The concept of body liberation is that every person is liberated by the work of creating harmony with your own body.
Fatphobia as a system affects people with fat bodies more than thin bodies, but people with thin bodies still experience harm from fatphobia. There are other -isms and phobias that intersect on the body as well that are all bound up in the experience of liberation: racism, ageism, ableism, classism, religious persecution, purity culture, transphobia, misogyny, homophobia, et cetera.
The concept of fat acceptance is that every body is worthy of love and care. Everyone benefits from the work of fat acceptance, but of course folks who experience more marginalization because of inhabiting a fatter body would experience greater relief from the systemic oppression currently crushing them under fatphobia.
I’m a big believer that no systemic change happens until individuals (that’s YOU and me!) create harmony with our own bodies. There is a soothing place inside you that exists and knows that you are worthy exactly as you are.
The good news about the colonialist nightmare you were born into that lies to you about your body is that you can relieve yourself of thinking that way! The colonialist nightmare made your belonging (an actual human need) hostage to your conformity to beauty standards that are literally all made up. Every time you think something bad about your body you are hallucinating in that colonialist nightmare.
Since these beauty standards are made up, we can also unmake them. We didn’t come here to fix a broken world. We came here to build the world of our dreams. We cannot dream freely while we think there’s something “broken” we need to “fix” about our bodies or selves.
What was the initial inspiration for Fat Kid Dance Party?
I was taking an aerobics class marketed as “all levels” and it was totally not. I could see ten things the instructor and studio could have done to make it more available to more people at diverse physical capacities. I had two decades of event planning and nightlife production experience. I had been blogging, podcasting and speaking about body liberation since 2007. I considered aerobics another vehicle to help teach people how to feel free in their minds and bodies.
I took a couple more classes and could just see how I could make a class out of all the things I know about creating experiences. I could only have endeavored to dream so boldly because of the queer and decolonial ancestors who had shown me to create the thing on my heart even if I have never seen it done before.
When you first started Fat Kid Dance Party, were there other classes or instructors you modeled it on or sought advice from? Or did it feel like you were in unexplored territory?
All of the above! I was so nervous to do this. I was a drag performer for a long time and a 55 minute class was ten times longer than a drag act. So much to memorize.
I started teaching FKDP (Fat Kid Dance Party) on March 2, 2017. My entire life I have turned to dance aerobics in times of struggle. During my biggest heartbreak I bought Hip Hop Abs on DVD from an infomercial and did it for months to just give my feelings an outlet. During a different break-up it was a Taebo VHS tape.
I LOVE dance aerobics and if there’s something I’ve loved in a class it has likely made it into FKDP choreography or culture. I was unknowingly preparing to create this class my whole life.
Richard Simmons is so fun, except for all the weight loss talk. I knew I needed his enthusiasm.
I was teaching in Los Angeles right after he ghosted the world. His former students would come through my class and they were generous to share their experiences and I learned a lot about how to create community! My self care check-ins after Zoom classes are inspired by how Richard would check in with his aerobics Regulars.
My dear friend Emelia founded Pony Sweat Aerobics a couple years before FKDP and she was really sweet about answering questions about building up clientele. She had built an aerobics following based in body positivity and being “fiercely non-competitive” and that made me know it was possible that fat-centered aerobics movement could be a thing in the world.
What was the reception like when you first debuted? And does it feel like overall response to Fat Kid Dance Party has changed over the years?
People came to my first class! And for a long time classes were 2-3 people. I kept showing up, creating more choreography, and being consistent. The classes started to get more regulars and then, thankfully, folks started talking about it!
My biggest struggle is telling people about the classes and explaining what it is and why they should come. It’s aerobics! It’s for anyone of any size who is willing to believe all bodies are good bodies! But people get weird about reclaiming the word “fat” and get weird about working out with other people.
The best is when someone lends you their audience–one person telling their friend about it and inviting them to class, a podcast interview, a journalist writing a story (hey, thanks Scarleteen!).
In July of 2017, not even six months into teaching, a video about the class on PopSugar went viral. 4 million views just on Facebook in one week. It was a blessing to get the attention but I didn’t even have a website for the class yet! It proved people wanted it where they lived and it inspired me to create the crowd fund for my first workout video series!
After the viral video I had consistently bigger classes for a few weeks, added a second weekly class and then settled back into the range of 3 to 20 people per class. That is still the number I see at Zoom classes. But I do foresee a time where it’s more popular as more people desire to create harmony with their bodies instead of using movement to change their body.
I’ve noticed that you, along with instructors like Emelia at Pony Sweat and Erica Nix, create not only fat positive spaces, but also decidedly queer spaces. Do you think there’s a reason for that overlap?
Queerness is not just about sexuality, it’s about being at odds with compulsory ways of experiencing the world as a human. Emelia and Erika are the most magical kind of queers whose oddness inspires others (queer or not) to be their full freak selves.
Belonging is a human need and when we grow up queer (and/or other marginalizations) we frequently trade our authenticity for fitting in. When you grow up and find community with other queers and oddballs, it’s electrifying.
I have learned that just because someone is queer doesn’t mean they are a safe person, but when queerness, body positivity and belonging align, it is a really beautiful human experience.
How do new attendees generally react to the less “conventional” aspects of class, like making Muppet faces or pretending to be a cat?
Fat Kid Dance Party Aerobics is intentionally and explicitly an inner child healing. Parts of that work are going to feel awkward; doing silly things with other people is unusual.
The regulars in my class roll with it and enthusiastically embrace the silly! Newcomers are exposed to so much more than just silly moves for the first time, what I’m looking for is whether they are leaving class smiling. Joy is my work product. Did you make it through all the awkward first times with a smile on your face? Almost everyone leaves smiling.
The mix of songs during class is so eclectic! How do you choose your music?
I love all kinds of music! I spend intentional time in nature walking every day. I listen to music during those walks and I will start to sense that a song could be good for class and put in on a playlist. I play around with them until I feel the choreography coming through.
In my experience, being in class really mimics being a little kid and just loving being in your body and moving in it, which is something a lot of us lose thanks to negative messages we get as we age. What messages, at an interpersonal and cultural level, do you think we could adopt to help people hold onto that connection with their bodies?
All bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are! We only ever get to have one body in this life and having a peaceful relationship with it is quality of life. If humans could learn to honor the wisdom coming through our bodies as children and understand every body is unique I think we could transform our society.
What advice would you give to folks who want to create more spaces like Fat Kid Dance Party?
The person creating the gathering creates the tone. Do the work to really believe that all bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are! Practice doing the awkward thing! The internal work we do shows up in the spaces we create.
If you could go back in time and give your teenage self some advice, what would you say?
I would give her a copy of [the book] Atomic Habits. Doing things in bite size chunks gets things done and I had intense perfectionism slowing me down and sometimes freezing me throughout my teenage and younger adult years. I didn’t realize that you can’t beat yourself up to success, what works is building yourself up to success. The most successful, happy people talk to themselves like a best friend. I wish I could teach my younger self to do that because I wasted a lot of time being at war with myself.