It’s a stormy Wednesday evening and a group of women enter the dance studio just in time to stash away their umbrellas and break out the headbands. It isn’t quite time for class, so the ladies huddle in the lobby and wait for the night to begin.
The room is shaking, but that’s not thunder rattling the walls of this East Nashville studio — it’s the resounding bass escaping a stereo blasting Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj’s “Bang Bang” in front of a group of women ready to shake it.
After a few moments of stretching, a young man sporting a small afro and an orange tank that reads “sweat explosion” bursts into the room. He cranks up the volume, and the ladies know what’s next.
However, this isn’t the average workout. This is C.O.D.E. Jay Fitness– the acronym stands for Cardio Outreach Dance and Entertainment– and tonight’s class is a 90-minute “werkout” taught by the master instructor himself, Twerkmaster Jay.
From working to twerking
“Twerkmaster Jay” is the alter ego of 22-year-old senior MTSU student Jay Conn. Student by day and instructor by night, Conn is a dancing machine, but he hasn’t always been that way.
The MTSU student was initially on the path of becoming an elementary school teacher before changing his major and dedicating his life to the art of twerking. His interest in childhood education led him to volunteer at the Murfreesboro YMCA in his sophomore year. When he broke down and took a class there, Conn discovered that his true niche was the dance floor.
His natural ability to “break it down” caught the attention of his coworkers.
“A lot of my coworkers knew that I liked to dance, but until then, I had never danced in front of them … I think they wanted to see if I could dance,” Conn said, laughing.
A week later, his boss came to watch the class, recognized Conn’s talent and hired him on the spot.
“I got pushed into it … it was not planned whatsoever,” said Conn of his position. “It was a hidden talent I had no idea that I possessed.”
An established name, business follows
The Twerkmaster– a name dubbed from of his master instructor title at the YMCA and being known as “the twerk guy”– secured a faithful following of students during his time at the YMCA. Many of his “twerkettes,” as Conn calls them, followed him to various gyms around the greater Nashville area as he began to expand his new fitness empire.
In May, Conn opened his own studio in his childhood neighborhood, something he says was very important when deciding on a location.
“We’ve been open for a very short time, but I’m particularly glad it’s in this area,” he said. “It was very important to me to have my first studio where I can connect and be a part of the community.”
He’s not the only one proud of the new studio on Trinity Lane. Conn’s mother, or “momager,” as the instructor calls her, plays two critical roles in both the life of her son and the life of the business.
“I’m always a mother first,” Michelle Sims said with a smile. “Once I know he has everything under control, I jump into manager mode. And as soon as the door opens and it’s time for the workout, I throw both of them together, and we have a good time.”
Securing a successful image
Being known as the Twerkmaster isn’t always easy, according to Conn, who says he works hard to steer the negative image of twerking away from his fitness empire.
“This isn’t a bend over and shake it kind of class for an hour,” said Conn, who isn’t a fan of the style of twerking popularized by celebrities like Miley Cyrus. “If that’s what you’re looking for, this isn’t the class for you. This is beast-mode, full-body, head-to-toe work out, which is specialized in a unique feature known as twerking.”
That being said, Conn also says he wants his twerkettes to feel comfortable in the studio.
“It can be a very vulnerable dance move, but they can do it here without judgement,” he said. “They are my support system, they are my backbone, my ‘ride or dies,’ and they love C.O.D.E. Jay Fitness just as much as I do.”
Judging from the laughter and smile on the Twerkmaster’s face, it’s clear to see he loves them, too.
Contact Features editor Dylan Aycock at firstname.lastname@example.org
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