What is Oula? It’s exercise. It’s dance. It’s cardio. It’s therapy—primal, communal, and personal all at once.
At least, that’s what it is for me.
I started going to Oula classes in Missoula, Montana in 2014. I don’t remember exactly the first time. Summer or early fall? –when I was plodding, one foot in front of the other, through the end of what was truly a horrible marriage. In the end it was me and my three children against the world. I felt all the feelings: fear, grief, regret, humiliation…relief.
In those dark days, Oula—this exercise class I’d only just started to love—became the place where I could express those feelings, free of judgment. Where I could clear my head and heart through single-single-double rhythms and the ritual of repeated steps. Everything I had known was cracking and breaking around me, but when I moved to the music, the light seeped in. A chassé meant I could fly. A spin or a turn granted me grace. I found power in kicking and punching the air to 8-count time. In Oula, I was a starling in murmuration with the dancers around me. Endorphins flooded my trauma-scarred neural pathways. Little by little, Oula became the place where novel self-concepts replaced my fear and regret: strength, worth, belonging, fierceness, and fight.
Going to Oula became an integral part of my healing, and remains, years later, an important part of my life. Repeating self-affirming song lyrics while opening my chest and moving my body, the communal catharsis of pounding the floor and shaking my ass and shouting in primal familiarity with other flawed and floundering humans on the dance floor—it led me to love myself again.
Oula was with me through years of overworked, overstretched, over-stressed single parenting. The rush of Oula carried me through sleepless nights when I went back to school. The comfort of Oula cradled me through heartbreak after heartbreak when I started dating again after my divorce and tried to understand what was wrong with me, what was wrong with the men I was choosing, what was wrong with the world. The holiness that I often feel in Oula has become more sacred to me than the religion I left. And when I moved my family 1200 miles from Montana to Los Angeles, Oula was the thread that connected me to both the past and the future; my home, and my new friends in a strange and wonderful place and time.
Could another exercise format have given me the same gifts? I don’t know. I tried running. It gave me bad knees and no joy. Spin class? Bored and saddle sore. Oula offers a checklist of scientifically proven psychological boons: dance, music, communal ritual, spoken affirmations, emotional release—but beyond that, Oula just…calls to me, like no other exercise habit ever has.
So, what is Oula? In Montana, in LA, everywhere I go, it’s a weird and wild and beautiful piece of me.
And I love me.
Amber K. Davis
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