Coffee, Fitness & Hip Hop: The Evolution of Dance (in Montclair)

It’s a crisp, bright, spring morning in Montclair, New Jersey. Angel Williams (pictured in the front row on the right) stands in front of the students in her hip-hop class at New York Sports Club. She starts demonstrating a series of moves that evoke the rarefied world of hip-hop glamorama. Suddenly, forty bodies are moving in sync—and it is energizing, enchanting and downright funky. In fact, it is hard to articulate how much fun it is to hip-hop with Angel. The class, in its exuberance, diversity, and intense love of dynamic movement, is in its own way a metaphor for life in Montclair. By way of full disclosure, I will say that I’ve resisted hip-hop dancing, leaving it to people like those in the video posted here (from the hip hop class at NYSC), but it’s been in my world forever and I love to dance---especially when I drink coffee! Today, after several cups of coffee, I went to hip-hop and now there’s no turning back.

Many days, I’ve had the privilege of drinking coffee with Angel and others from the gym after step class or simply during a lull in the day when we’re not writing or painting or teaching or being lawyers or taking care of kids or cooking meals or being corporate executives or having play dates or going to cultural events---because we’re all there in Angel’s class, and many, many of us drink coffee before and/or after we get there.

Of course, we are in good company. People everywhere work out and drink coffee! Many people say that they find it difficult to work out without first fueling up with coffee. They suggest that coffee enhances their motivation, their energy, their endurance, and their enjoyment of physical activity. The impulse to drink coffee before heading to the gym or going out for a run is not purely psychosomatic. In fact, data from well-designed clinical trials and respected researchers suggests that coffee improves exercise-related outcomes and makes it easier to exercise for longer periods of time.

According to toxicologist, James R. Coughlin, M.D., “Coffee…increases alertness, vigilance, and arousal…and reduces fatigue. Caffeine increases the body’s capacity for muscular work and exercise. It also slightly increases your metabolic rate and increases coronary blood flow, as well as the force of cardiac and skeletal muscle contraction.”

The Australian Institute of Sport reports that “there is solid evidence that caffeine enhances endurance and provides a small, but worthwhile enhancement over a range of exercise protocols.” This range includes high-intensity exercise (1 to 5 minutes); prolonged high-intensity exercise (20 to 60 minutes); endurance events (90+ minutes); and ultra endurance events (4 hours).

For one thing coffee is energizing—it changes the perception of fatigue---and helps motivate people to keep exercising until they reach their exercise goals---whether that’s a 5-mile run along the pier, completing a 1-hour kickboxing or hip-hop class, or an ambitious lunchtime work-out on the elliptical machine, rounded off by stretching. For mind-body devotees, coffee aids deeper breathing by relaxing the bronchial smooth muscles and can therefore help gym yogis hold poses for longer intervals.

Note that it doesn’t take a pot of coffee to prepare for a successful work-out; even a single cup of coffee, with a moderate amount of caffeine (50 mg to 80 mg) works. Plus, there’s the mental component. Coffee can definitely help you handle tasks like learning new hip hop moves, putting the entire routine together, and listening as Angel deconstructs the underlying meaning of each move. Some moves reference the Charleston, or a locomotive train, or spiritual ecstasy, or simply shaking your booty. It’s really a beautiful pastiche of intellectual stimulation and physical exhilaration.

Whatever your goals: running, hip hop, a brisk walk in the park, a leisurely walk to your local cafés or museums, kite-flying with your kids, going to the gym for a hard-core, disciplined work out with weights, doing ashtanga yoga, or any other activity, don’t forget to drink coffee. Even one cup will do!

Are you into fitness? How about fitness with a little coffee thrown into the daily routine? I would love to hear about your work-out routines and how coffee makes you feel great every day!


Nice writing! Makes we want to join the group in the picture. I think I would fit right in.

As to my approach to coffee drinking and excercise, I get a coffee buzz going first thing in the morning with just one or two cups, and then I keep it alive throughout the rest of the day with a follow-up cup later in the morning and another cup in the afternoon. I go running three or four times a week.

Unknown said…
Fantastic post Nicole! Your description of the class is so eloquently stated, and oh so accurate.

I love this class! I wonder if I should start drinking coffee before I get there?
Mia Shaw said…
Nicole, I enjoyed the piece on hip hop and coffee. I run between 25 - 30 miles each week and I always drink coffee before my run. In fact, last Sunday on my way to a road race in Central Park, I had to beg the Decamp driver to let me bring / drink my coffee on the bus (drinks are prohibited).

I love my coffee and I am not interested in testing whether or not I can run sans coffee. Coffee is my running fuel and my happy exilir.
Nicole Gray said…
I am happy that I have had the pleasure of drinking coffee with all of you---and we have all exercised at the same time as well. Joe, you would definitely fit in at hip hop class....I'm sure that Joy and other longstanding hip-hoppers would be thrilled if you came & so would I. Happy conincidence that NYSC is right next to Starbucks, where Mia and I happily share post-workout coffee.
stephanie said…
I've been wanting to get in shape. Do you have a subscription to NYSC or do you just pay for the class? said…
This was so great! I loved seeing all the familiar faces. Drink on!
Nicole Gray said…
Hey Stephanie! You and I need to catch up. So much sorry. Want to come and work out with me sometime? You will love NYSC on Church Street. Great machines, classes, trainers---and right next door to Starbucks. 100% walkable too.
TaRessa said…
Nicole, I am probably your only (or your biggest) non-coffee-drinking fan and I want to congratulate you on a wonderful blog and a delightful posting!

Only you could bring together the magic of Angel's hip hop class with your passion for java and make them seem naturally paired.

Great writing; great fun. Brava! And remember, you still have to experience the one, the only, the REAL Starbucks to fully appreciate the international phenom that it has become!

Love & Happy Caffeine (I get mine from dark chocolate, thank you!)

Love & Blessings,
Nicole Gray said…

Seattle is in my future-- within the next several months. Planning on going for a full week(or more)with my family with a foray to Vancouver. Can't wait to step foot in the Pike Place Market!!! will seriously drink coffee everywhere all the time!!!
Indy Jungle (Majewski) said…
I just finished reading this post, Nicole, and I'm still feeling the pleasant, cool after-slide of the word, 'pastiche' that you made me launch off my tongue (ahh, the pleasures of reading aloud!)
Claudine said…
In response to TaRessa's post, no, you are not Nicole's sole non-coffee drinking fan. While I enjoy Nicole's posts and crisp writing, I must confess, my beverage of choice is tea.

Us tea drinkers are pretty much marginalized by Starbucks. They offer only a few choices -- and not my favorite brand at that -- so it's easy for us to feel like the children exiled to the dreaded "kid's table" at Thanksgiving.

Tea doesn't seem to engender the same intense devotion among its drinkers as coffee seems to do. Perhaps it's because there is such an endless variety in what we are willing to call "tea." Any herb, leaf, root, seed, bush, twig or even bark can be brewed, and drunk with the same gusto as coffee. So let's raise a cup and a cheer to our beverage of choice.

And to my tea-drinking counterparts out there, there's always Cha Ma Gu Dao on Glenridge Avenue!
Nicole Gray said…
For the record...I love tea too--and Cha Ma Gu Dao is great. Yummy cookies too!

Thank you for all comments--and thank you to one of my colleagues (who happens to be an MD) who sent me this link:

The article reviews a recent study conducted by Steven Broglio and colleagues and published in the International Journal of Nutrition and Exercise. The short version: Pre-exercise caffeine consumption reduces exercise-related pain in regular coffee drinkers and caffeine-naive individuals. The important link here is adenosine. Coffee works in the adenosine neuromodulatory system, blocking adenosine. Since adenosine plays a role in energy transfer and exercise, there is interplay between caffeine consumption, energy transfer, the sensation of pain, and feelings of fatigue--or conversely, feeling energized. Check out the link...
Steve said…
I've always enjoyed drinking coffee (I'm not very particular about brands), but I never spent too much time contemplating the social and economic interactions between "coffee" and "life".

Recently, my friend and fitness mentor (and motivator) Stephen Crooks introduced me to Nicole!
She radiates charm, wit, and compassion. She's a professional, on-the-go working mother who still takes time to converse over a cup of coffee and play a little chess (her father introduced her to the game when she was a child).

About one year ago I joined Stephen's "Felis Fitness" workout crew at Brookdale Park track in Bloomfield, NJ. I used to always drink plain "tap" water (or sometimes Gatorade) before or during workouts. Stephen usually drank coffee, and I gently teased him about his "unusual" drinking habit (even though I loved coffee--I always thought that caffine dehydrated you during a workout and wasn't helpful).

However, during the last few months (in the depth of winter's snow) I started to drink coffee during our exercise sessions. Guess what? It DID seem to help me!

A few days ago I read some studies that claim coffee consumption MIGHT help athletes during workouts by relieving their "pain" symptoms and enhancing endurance factors.

I'm NOT tossing away plain water in lieu of a cup of coffee--but now I'm open to the possible "advantages" of drinking some coffee during workouts.

I DON'T know if I'm going to be drinking coffee on a hot summer day workout--but during the cold Winter season (and early Spring) a few brewed coffee beans might be just the boost I need.

Now that I've read Nicole's "Drinking Coffee All the Time: Coffee & Life" blog I will NEVER think about the nexus between coffee & life the same way.

Kudos Nicole!
Joi Dupre said…
HI!!! My name is Joi Dupre and I have been looking for Angel Williams for many years!! We were great friends back in Miami in the early to mid 90's and after my divorce in 2000, we lost touch!! Can you please forward my contact information to her!! It would be GREATLY appreciated! Thanks!!
Thanks for this great post, i find it very interesting and very well thought out and put together. I look forward to reading your work in the future. recumbent bike reviews

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