No matter what your fickle thermometer says, Spring is here: that self-conscious season when folks suddenly remember those abandoned resolutions in preparation for summer weather and summer clothes.
Lately, it seems like every gym and fitness studio offers “twerkout” or “twerkercise”, but dancer and personal trainer Marissa “Moe Joe” Joseph has put a uniquely South Louisiana spin on this trend. Since 2014, she’s been teaching “Bounce Fitness with Moe Joe” – New Orleans bounce, Zydeco, second line and related genres blended into an hour of high-energy, fat-burning and soul-freeing fun.
“My dance fitness experience is multicultural,” she explains. “In every class I promote Louisiana, underground, and international music and dance to help each participant rebel from their comfort zone.”
Her new studio, the Moe Joe Gallery, and is ground zero for Bounce Fitness. It opened in 2017 in the New Orleans Healing Center at 2372 St. Claude Avenue. She welcomes adults of all body types to attend her weekday classes which include “everything from trap to Caribbean cardio, hip-hop aerobics, second line and soul, twerk fitness, and Dirty South – shake music, bass and trap together. Basically anything that celebrates the Black and African diaspora, the Caribbean diaspora, Creole diaspora, I wanna celebrate and connect those things.”
As you may know, these dance styles are saddled with baggage and judgments because some people associate them with damaging stereotypes about black women’s bodies and our sexuality. But Moe Joe is unbothered by the haters and critics: “I expect culturally, just given through history, for people to try to demonize and oversexualize what I’m doing, but they’re not in charge of telling me what I need,” she says. “I’m in charge of telling me what I need, what I want to express, and I want other women to experience.
“It’s my goal to help women reclaim the power of their bodies. We’re supposed to be able to move and shake and bounce and drop our hips and pop our pelvis and shake our chest, shake our head, do whatever it is that we feel our body wants to do in that moment,” she states.
“What I offer is definitely more than a workout. I don’t call it a workout; I call it a dance out. I literally want people to dance out their issues. I want people to dance out their health, I want people to dance out their art, I want people to dance out their spirit.”
Sometimes that means gently but directly addressing her clients’ body shame or residual trauma. “If I see you moving your hips in a certain way, if you’re reserved to move your hips, that means that there’s something that’s been broken inside of you where you feel like you can’t move your hips freely. These parts of your body, I have to recognize that they’ve been hurt at one point, or they’ve been attacked at one point. The only way to to heal it is to address it and then teach you how to feel comfortable with your body.”
On the weekends, the Moe Joe Gallery switches gears from fitness to private events – including birthday and bachelorette bounce parties – that immerse groups of tourists and locals alike in an interactive experience of Louisiana’s Creole music and dance culture. Moe Joe defines Creole as the blend of African, Caribbean, European and Native American people whose roots in the Gulf Coast predate the name Louisiana.
“The word Creole has developed with the complexities of Spanish, French, and American rule, but the base of Louisiana’s Creole people are typically brown and black people native/born to parents in Louisiana before colonial takeovers.”
Growing up in New Iberia, a town about two hours west of New Orleans, Moe Joe’s family gave her pride in her Creole roots, love for many kinds of music, and freedom to express her artistic side through dance (with a few limits: she had to carry herself respectfully and she had to go to college).
So she paraded with middle school and high school dance teams and took jazz and hip hop dance at Jill Listi Studio in nearby Lafayette. She also studied under Virgie Broussard Pradia, a dancer from Grambling State University. “I honed my skills of being a black fierce dancer with her,” Moe Joe recalls.
After high school, she got a communications degree from LSU and found a full-time job in the tourism industry. At the same time, she was looking for ways to pursue her dream of being her own boss. She first dabbled in fitness instruction during her mid-twenties. “I’ve always loved fitness, just like I’ve loved dance and performing,” she says. “In order to be a good performer, you have to be fit. And you have to try different things.” Her workouts included karate, capoeira and Tae Bo, and she began creating her own combinations of dance and martial arts.
Moe Joe was also exploring different styles of dance, including African folkloric movement. She found a mentor in master drummer Seguenon Koné of the Ivory Coast and toured with Cirque Zuma Zuma, an African circus. She’s also performed at Jazz Fest and French Quarter Fest. However, teaching fitness offered more financial stability than dance, which can be lucrative one season and cold the next. “Bounce Fitness with Moe Joe gave me an anchor where I could combine my experiences in culture and my pride in being from Louisiana and being creole in one, and offer something to the local community as well as the business side of tourism,” she says.
In addition to hosting classes and tours from her studio, Moe Joe is excited about taking Bounce Fitness on the road. She’s already taught classes at retreats in California and Utah and on a cruise in the Bahamas. She even has an online class. “My experiences are not just about Louisiana and being Creole. I see myself as a gateway to create a space and an experience where people can do things that they would not do within a group of people. Number one, I want to connect people to themselves. I want them to be proud and happy, feel sexy about themselves and have power. And then I want to connect people to whatever their culture is.”