Renesha Berry has devoted herself to bringing people together to build their self-confidence through sexy dance moves in high heels.
Born in Albuquerque and raised in Colorado, the self-taught dancer and performer invented her brand, persona and heels class that she calls The Urban Seductress after having her second child. Her goal is to create a non-judgemental space, using movement, to inspire women to embrace their inner power, to ignite a fire within them and to help them dominate the world.
We caught up with Berry to discuss her dance style, artistic inspirations and aspirations. Here's what she had to say:
Westword: How did you start dancing?
Renesha Berry: I started creating my own dance teams in high school, as most dancers do. I went to Horizon High School and started my own hip-hop club there. I moved to California when I was sixteen, and I begged my parents to let me stay and pursue dance. The school I was going to did not have a dance program, and I noticed a lot of students had an interest in dance, so I created a petition and got a lot of kids to sign up for dance class.
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After I started my own dance team, I was a leader in my own right. I went to California State University San Bernardino to study dance. I took my first ballet and jazz class when I was sixteen years old. I danced for CSU San Bernardino. I started exploring other styles of dance after I started studying dance. I have always been a dancer. If you talk to anybody who knows me, they will say I've always been a dancer, either training or teaching. It's just something I do naturally.
Once I moved back home when I was twenty, I started to get into go-go dancing as a fun way to get paid to do what I love. I got to explore makeup and costumes and get into a different vibe with my dancing, which helped build my confidence as I was growing into a woman. Being in a nightlife scene is different than performing in a university, so that was a different level and layer in my dance experience.
What inspired you to start the Urban Seductress?
I got the idea to start a sexy heels class to empower women when I was pregnant with my second child. This was about four years ago, when I was pregnant with my son. I was barely able to move. I was not used to barely being able to walk without being out of breath; I had a lot of downtime. I was thinking: What do I want to do as soon as I get back into dance? I had a lot of time to think and ponder: How can I create a brand? Instead of a regular dance class, how can I give back to the community? I have a passion for empowering women and little girls. What can I do to spread a message of women empowerment. I thought, what am I good at? I am good at dancing and teaching.
I decided to put it all together in one package: teach a sexy heels class for women to help encourage them to embody their womanliness, and everything that comes with being a woman, and develop confidence to help them thrive to be their best.
I decided my first step was to come up with a name. I wanted something fierce and sexy, because that's a big part of my personality, my alter ego, the Urban Seductress. I'm a mom and a professional during the day. At night my alter ego is a dancer. Throughout my twenties, I used to be a go-go dancer. I worked in the day, and at night I was a dancer, so it was just part of my personality. Dance and having to be a go-go dancer and having to wear different costumes and being in different environments helped me get comfortable with my sexuality. It's okay to be sexy, and there is nothing wrong with that. Embracing my body as a petite, muscular body.
Go-go dancing and being on stage made me comfortable and made me embrace my body. All the recognition I got for my style, my look and energy comes into play with how I feel on a daily basis. So I decided to turn it into a class. The class is not go-go dance-based. But as far as my own journey, that is my background for my urban freestyle movement. I am most connected to the style of hip-hop.
I love the way it feels when you are in a pair of high heels. There is a different energy that comes over you when you are in pair of high heels instead of a pair of sneakers or flats. Some people come to class in a pair of sneakers and then slowly transition to heels. I came up with Urban Seductress, and when people hear it their first response is like, "Oh, what's that?" I wanted something catchy and enticing to people that gives you a little flavor of what to expect, but you still don't know. So that is how I came up with the Urban Seductress: to inspire people with my art, which is dance.
What clubs did you dance at?
Wish Nightclub, which was where Diamond After Dark is now. The club was very upscale, 25 years old and over. It was fantasy-themed. We always had a theme like Candy Land, colorful costumes, fairies; one night we had whole-body suits with thigh-high boots and tall ponytails. So it was theatrical, and I got to explore different nightclubs and different characters. I used to dance at Sutra, Sheer, 303 — nightclubs that don't exist today. I think the last time I go-go danced was ten years ago.
So after you were a go-go dancer, you started teaching dance?
Yes. After I had my first child, my daughter, I decided to not get back into go-go dancing, but to pursue teaching dance. I started coaching at Thornton High School, and then I became the cheerleading coach. I would teach the hip-hop dance team and choreograph for local dance teams in the area. I applied as a hip-hop instructor and would teach hip-hop for all age levels and then have my heels class, too. I would do after-school hip-hop classes with Girls Inc. for outreach. I pursued teaching for many years, and I still teach today. Now I do private dance lessons, wedding choreography, couples lessons, bachelorette and divorce parties. I help rappers and singers with choreography in their music videos and performances; I do the whole lot of professional dancing.
How often is the Urban Seductress class?
Every Friday night, going on four years, the Urban Seductress has been coming out to play. I think I am very unique and stand out in a crowd. I'm extra. I love heels and big hair. That is my signature look. I don't know how to be casual. Women would approach me and say, "Oh, your hair is so beautiful" or "Who does your makeup?" or "You dance so good. Do you teach a class? I wish I could dance like that." Those are the seeds. "Look at your shoes, your outfit."
I love that, because those are all of the things that make me unique, by me just being myself. I don't go out and showboat it. How can I wrap all of that up into a bow? It's Urban Seductress. When women approach me when I'm out and say I look good, that is how I want women to feel when they come to my class, how I feel when I'm at my best. That is the energy I want to embody, and what I want all of my students to embody when they leave class.
It's nice to see the transformation with some of them. They come in a little shy, with leggings and sneakers, and don't know what to expect. They take the class, and it's a judgment-free environment. It's a female-empowerment class. It's not about competition; everyone gets to cheer each other on. I always tell my students, "You are not here to look like me or dance like me. You are here to be the best version of yourself. If we don't know what that is yet, we're going to discover it."
Everyone comes in a little questionable, and then they leave feeling themselves and wanting to go out. I like to give back that way, because I am really good at conveying my message through movement, dance.
That must be very rewarding.
It's the same energy whether it is one girl or thirty students. Classes range from one to thirty people. The class can fluctuate. With smaller classes, it can feel like a private lesson for the few students attending; with a large class, it can feel like a party. Sometimes the class is such a random mix of women who would have never come together outside of this class. My students range in different cultures, ages, styles and sizes, which is the whole beauty of the class. Once the music starts going, everyone is rocking together. By the end of the class, everyone is clapping, cheering for each other, taking pictures. That is the culture that I am trying to spread for all women. I want the class to continue to grow.
What is your mantra, something you say to yourself as get ready to start class or your day?
The thing I always tell myself is go hard or go home. I never like to put myself out there and be wack with it. Urban Seductress already exists, so there is no going back or sitting this one out. I have to go hard. Even on the nights when I am so tired. Fridays are a twelve-hour-long day for me, since I work full-time. Even if I don't have the energy, I figure it out. I trudge it from somewhere. I always say go hard or go home with everything that I do, because it reminds me of what my intention is. As soon as I see women in class, I create a good energy and make them feel good by the end of the day. I don't want to half-ass anything, because I am on a mission. I decided if I am going to put those heels on, you'd better stay up. I can't be basic about it.
What is your favorite accessory?
Heels, because heels can turn up an outfit. I am very unorganized, so I hardly wear jewelry. I am always on the go and swapping out bags; I misplace jewelry all the time. If I have a great pair of heels on, that is going to stand out. Your whole swagger changes, everything about a woman is elevated in heels. Although one of my favorite accessories, I don't wear them every day, like when I am at the grocery store. I always have heels on when I am representing my brand, though.
What is your jam of the moment?
One song that I want to perform is "Focus," by H.E.R. She is cool, funky and laid-back. It's very soulful. I love the vibe of the music. It is sultry and sensual, and the lyrics are very heartfelt. The way the beat drops, it is very sexy. That is my song right now. I love when that bass drops; it goes so hard.
What type of music do you create dance routines to?
I always have Latin or reggaetón music in there, R&B and hip-hop. No one ever takes the same class twice, so every class is a little different. It's based on how I feel.
Sometimes there can be a super-commercial song like Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love," something high-energy, or else something really slow and sensual, like a song by Tank. Sometimes we can get a little ratchet with some Cardi B. So I always base the music around the people who are there and match their energy.
During the warmup, I assess everyone's skill level, which helps determine what kind of class I teach. If I have a beginner, then I know my moves have to be more simple, but it is always something that everyone can do and something everyone feels good doing.
How would you describe your style, or that of the Urban Seductress, in three words?
Urban freestyle movement. My style of hip-hop is not fundamental hip-hop, but my style is based on how I feel, which is the freestyle. Whatever comes in my freestyles is choreography, but it's inspired by hip-hop and that urban element. It's inspired by commercial choreography, like what Usher, Aaliyah, Missy Elliott and Chris Brown do, that type of movement, but it all comes from me and not anyone else. That is the best way I can describe it. The movement is inspired by urban music, but it comes from my own freestyle.
What types of artists inspired you to start dancing?
Aaliyah is my idol. I love everything about her — her style and image. She was just so smooth, cool and she was petite like me. She was very classy by not showing everything. Fatima Robinson was her choreographer, and I love that style. I used to just stand in front of the TV and watch. I related to her so much. One of my dreams was to grow up and choreograph for Aaliyah; that was the main thing that made me want to be a dancer, watching Aaliyah perform. Of course, her whole crew, which included Missy Elliott, was amazing, too. Missy Elliott always had the best dance videos, and the dancers in her videos killed it. Of course, Janet Jackson, as well. She just gets better with time.
Do you think fashion and dance play off each other or inspire each other?
When I teach class, I dress up. I don't come in a leotard or sweatpants. I come in whatever I feel like that night. It could be some cute shorts, thigh-high boots and some gloves; it's extra. I always tell my students: This is the class where you wear that one outfit you don't know where to wear it. It's definitely a physical experience. When you look good, you feel good. I highly encourage people not to wear a baggy T-shirt and sweatpants to my class. However inappropriate you feel like dressing is what you wear to my class, because that brings out another attitude. The way you look is the way you feel. My style and my fashion play off my energy and what kind of class I am teaching that night. If I feel like Rihanna, I'll dress like Rihanna, who was a big inspiration behind my Urban Seductress persona, because she is super-fierce and does not care about what anyone thinks. I think that is the energy every woman should have.
What if women don't want to get their nice clothes sweaty?
It's all optional. You sweat enough where you get a good workout. It's not like you are drenched, but you can dab yourself and go out afterward. It depends where that girl's confidence level is. They develop their style as classes go on, and they're developing their confidence, which carries over to their day-to-day life. You create a self-awareness in the class and discover something about yourself that you didn't know.
How long do the classes last?
If I have a class of thirty women; the class can run about ninety minutes. If there are four people in the class, then one hour can feel like it's dragging on. Sometimes we dance using ballet bars, chairs or the floor, so it really depends on the energy and vibe that night, how I feel, and how confident everyone in class is. People get more and more comfortable with each class and then start referring people like their friends, family and co-workers.
Is there anything you would like to add that I did not ask?
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The one thing I want to make clear about Urban Seductress is that it is for every type of women. Some women are not dancers but are always fascinated by dancers. It can be intimidating for a woman who never danced before. I encourage eighteen-and-up dancers to sign up; this is for adults. You are not going to be dancing next to some young teens. It's all about being grown and sexy, and it's all about female empowerment. My intention is that whatever they get out of the class carries over into their life and starts a whole new cycle. You do not need to be a professional; you can be a beginner. You do not have to know how to walk in heels. I teach a class for that. We all start the class barefoot, and then we work our way into the heels, and then we strut in the heels. I do private lessons for people who want to build their confidence up before they come to class. It's for everyone, not for a certain age or even gender. I've had some men take the class. There are some men who love to dance in heels. The class is for everyone.
Watch Renesha Berry in action when she performs at 6 p.m. Sunday, April 7, at Touch of Class, a fashion event at the Kasbah Nightclub, 15373 East Sixth Avenue in Aurora. Go to Eventbrite for more information and to purchase tickets, $15 to $30.
The Urban Seductress will also perform at Women Crush Wednesday's Manifest on Wednesday, April 17, at 7 p.m. at Summit, 1902 Blake Street. Go to Eventbrite for more information and to purchase tickets, $20.
Sign up for the high-heels classes at the Urban Seductress website.