If there's one thing in LA that defines a Sunday afternoon -- aside from farmers' markets -- it just might be Ryan Heffington's Sweaty Sunday dance class at his hipster-dripping Silverlake studio called The Sweat Spot.
Heffington is a force to be reckoned with. While dancers of all levels stretch, talk, hydrate and wait on the wooden floor of his dance studio, everyone has one eye on the door. First timers don't know what's going on when a hush falls over the room and everyone jumps to their feet. It's not out of fear; gosh, no. It's out of pure joy. Heffington bounds into the studio at noon every Sunday and before you know it, his bouncing brunette curls and shimmery shining spandex shorts have lit up the room and the day has begun. His energy could be bottled and sold on street corners.
His work has been shown at MOCA, LACMA, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the UCLA Hammer Museum. He is an artist, a dancer, a choreographer, a costumer. But he wanted to create a dance space for anyone, of any level, to come move, shake, laugh and dance ... and for only $12 a class.
In honor of this year's National Dance Day, HuffPost LA wanted no one else front and center but Ryan Heffington. Hear what he has to say about coming to LA, why dance changes lives, and oh yes, where he gets his outfits.
The Sweat Spot is located in the heart of Silverlake, tucked behind Tarasco's Taco Stand and next to a church ... so LA.
LA native or LA transplant?
I moved to Los Angeles from a small farming town above Sacramento.
One of my friends was recently on the verge of tears in a Wet Wednesday class because she couldn’t learn the choreography (I might be slightly exaggerating). How do you handle tears in the dance studio?
It's funny, tears seem to be common amongst dancers. It's their desire to digest and perform that is so strong. I always encourage dancers to come back at least a few more times. Dance is a hard language to learn and sometimes it just takes time.
What's your first memory of dancing?
It was when I was a wee toddler dancing for my grandparents in their living room in Arkansas. They'd put music on and watch me for hours.
You wear some of the most amazing outfits every Sunday -– neon, spandex, patterns. Where do you like shop? What are some of your favorite stores in LA for non-dance clothes or do you wear spandex daily?
I almost wear spandex daily -- well I'm a teacher/choreographer, you see. I love thrifting. I love vintage. But I'd say my current collection is from American Apparel, my friend's label Lickety Split and vintage spandex. When I'm not sweating I love to hit Vermont Ave -- Weltenberger and Squaresville are pretty consistent with Ryan style of garb. I also just bought a knee length sheer buttondown from my friends at Skingraft the other day...I'm a fan.
What three qualities do you value most in yourself? What three qualities would you say you're working on?
Wow, this got deep real quick. I'd have to say I'm working on receiving in my life. I'm a giver at heart but I'm realizing how important it is to receive. I'm also working on keeping things positive and in turn remembering we're all in this together -- this huge family of humans. And lastly, I'm working on listening to my instinct over my intellectual analytical side. I'm an over-thinker with a strong instinctual core -- just trying to balance the two.
And what qualities do I value most? I'm going to say my honesty, my free spirited attitude and my ability to adapt.
Sweaty Sundays is not a new phenomenon. You have had quite a bit of great press, including articles in both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. As the years have gone on, what do you think has changed in the dance scene in LA? Are there any new patterns or trends in your class that you've noticed?
Within the last 3 years there has been a rise in dancer celebrity status while the development of dancing for the sake of feeling good has grown as well. These two paths I think are fairly different yet exist boldly in LA. Los Angeles is the commercial dance capital in the world, and Sweaty Sundays is the happiest dance class on earth.
Students at the Sweat Spot acknowledge that dancing can change your life. It encourages well-being, happiness and community. I believe this is why most people walk through our doors. Even if it's not what encourages them to come, they soon realize the magic that our studio can offer.
What were you like as a kid? A teenager?
For as long as i can remember I was dancing -- literally. As a kid I'd invite the neighborhood kids over to watch me perform in my living room. (I mean it was free, after all). Even through high school I danced everyday, after school and on weekends. I'm lucky I knew what I enjoyed doing at an early age. I wouldn't say I fit into one group through my school years, but got along with everyone. Growing up a dancer boy in a small town was challenging at times, but I didn't really care. Dancing and performing around town at convalescent hospitals, the local fairs, pageants and parades kept me happy and distracted from school, which I didn't really care for.
Best places to dance in this city?
Dive bars, studios, anything! House parties or impromptu explosive dance attacks at bars is how it usually happens. When DJ friends have one-off gigs that usually turns into some amazing foolery as well.
Favorite Angeleno, living or dead?
How would you explain dance to aliens?
Dance is a magical power. When it is ignited inside, it's better than any intergalactic traveling or probing, hands down.
What is one thing that inspires you on a daily basis?
Music is a constant inspiration for me. I'm addicted. So many unique feelings can be conjured up with a simple tone, phrase or sound. Luckily, for the type of dance I create and classes I teach, it's consistently around.
If not at The Sweat Spot in Silverlake, where might one find you?
If I'm not at the studio teaching, rehearsing or working, I may be found strolling the streets in Echo Park. I live close to shops, restaurants and clubs. I also love spending time at my home. We have an old 1912 Austrian Craftsman house that was made for lounging on the deck with views of the hills. A perfect place to get work done.
What do you think is the biggest problem with the Angeleno attitude? What is best about it?
Allison, our studio manager, and I were just speaking about how wonderful the people are that come to the Sweat Spot. I think they understand our mission to be an open minded and hearted establishment free of competition or judgment. I think your surroundings can heavily influence your spirit and mood and I think that good energy breeds better energy.
Yes, LA has a lot of people searching for fame and identity, which can be frustrating and confusing, but once you find a community that operates from love and freedom, you're attitude is sure to change.
Breakdown your favorite food and drink spots in LA for us.
Favorite dessert: Saffron / Rose water / Pistachio pudding from ELF
Favorite salad: Thai Cobb (no tomatoes) from Fred 62
Favorite locally grown food: Forage
Favorite breakfast: Brioche French toast at Canale or anything at KTCHN 105 @ The Gorbals
Favorite place for a nightcap: Vinoteca
Do you have a song that reminds you of LA?
"Give You My Lovin" by Mazzy Star has special LA memories attached to it. Just arriving in what seemed as a forever black hole of city at 18 and only knowing two people proved challenging for this country boy. I would play this song if I felt lost or lonely -- it was my bright light. The album was a gift from a dear high school friend.
What was the moment you knew you wanted to make LA your home?
It was shortly after I moved here just out of high school. I was hanging out with a motley crew of kids at this cafe in the Valley and everyone was so into their art -- creating music, sewing, painting -- everyone seemed to be living the Californian lifestyle of art + leisure. It was then that I realized that Los Angeles had space for me to develop my art and my art sensibilities.
Beyond the growing pains of life one has just out of college, I didn't feel like I had to work so hard to live and create art yet at the same time could be surrounded by like-minds, beautiful and extreme landscapes and a freedom to develop who I am today. I've always loved LA. Good vacations out of the city or traveling for work usually reinforce my home as a place that I cherish deeply.
What do you tell first time dancers at the Sweat Spot?
I tell them that once you get over yourself, you'll realize that no one else in class gives a *%$#. Now let's have a good time!
All photos courtesy of Ryan Heffington/The Sweat Spot's Facebook page