Music thumps against the walls in a darkened room as dancers sweat out their inhibitions. The fun atmosphere seems like a hot new club, but it’s actually a Banana Skirt Productions Ratchet Fitness class in full swing.
In 2014, Akeinah Rahmaan founded Banana Skirt Productions after she was fired from her job at Def Jam just four months after coming back from maternity leave. Eager to get back out there, the single mother decided to stick to her roots in music but in a completely different way.
“I was looking for ways to get back in shape after I had my son, and it kind of all came together from there. I was never really a gym rat and was not looking to go to the gym and get on the treadmill. I knew I needed classes,” Rahmaan said. “I started looking for dance classes and didn’t see anything that appealed to me, so I thought I’d create my dance classes for my friends and for other mothers at the time.”
After putting up a few ads on Craigslist in search of choreographers and then finding a studio in Hoboken, N.J., Rahmaan was on her way to creating Banana Skirt, which would later gain popularity through Instagram. She would eventually move the classes to New York as a way to make them more accessible.
The name Banana Skirt is a tribute to Josephine Baker and her famous banana skirt because of the fearlessness and courage Baker showed throughout her lifetime. Those are two characteristics that the company emphasizes to people who decide to join.
“I want to impart that onto everyone that comes to our classes. That fearlessness that she had was amazing and I thought the name spoke so loudly,” Rahmaan said.
The company gained visibility on Instagram after starting one of the first Beyoncé-inspired “Formation” classes, where members were allowed to learn the dance moves to their favorite Beyoncé songs. But that’s not all Banana Skirt has to offer.
While the Starpop Fitness class allows members to learn the vigorous choreography to their favorite pop music, the most popular class, Ratchet Fitness, gives dancers a high-impact workout. Unlike the Starpop classes, the room is dark, giving the vibe of an actual club and allowing members to let their guard down.
“It’s a fun and friendly environment. Everybody is laughing, everybody is having a good time. We try to create a party atmosphere in each of our classes so it doesn’t feel so regimented,” Rahmaan said.
Song mixes for each class are decided primarily by Rahmaan, who studies the music charts and radio play. But members and choreographers are encouraged to suggest music to be played during classes.
“I came from a place loving music first. Dance and fitness comes after that,” Rahmaan said. “All of our classes are approached from the prospective of music first.”
Through Banana Skirt, Rahmaan hopes to be a positive influence. She wants to use dance to enhance people’s lives as well as inspire younger Black women and especially those with special needs to know that they can do — and be — anything they want.