It all started on the Saturday night at Jai Thep Festival, when a mini flash mob of half a dozen people stormed the main stage dressed in luminous ‘80s outfits, and began to dance. The sounds of Bowie echoed across the crowds as a man dressed in tight purple leggings with glitter all over his face introduced himself as ‘80s aerobics superstar, Tyrone, before inviting us to join in. Soon the whole crowd was bopping and stretching to the familiar and loveable sounds of Bowie, A-ha and Bruce Springsteen. Several hours later while I was dressed in drag – as you do – I met 38 year old Dan Hales, AKA Tyrone, while queuing for the toilet. After complementing each other on our outfits, he invited me to join his aerobics class in the city, somehow knowing I may just fit in…
Hailing from Adelaide, Australia, Dan gave birth to Tyrone some seven years ago on a stage, as a dance trio called Spandexx Ballet. “We like to think that Tyrone is a 53 year old lover of dance from East Germany who made it over the wall after a hot air ballooning accident,” Hales laughed. “Once he was over he then discovered aerobics.” Six years ago Dan moved to Thailand and brought Tyrone with him. After spending some time hidden away in a box, Tyrone is now back in all his glory — ready to get people’s hearts racing to some super freaky synth beats.
It was almost a month later when I summed up the courage to actually go. Despite my love of dress-up and ‘80s classics, anyone who knows me knows I’m rather fitness-phobic. But under pressure of a looming deadline (and a slight craving to dance to some ‘80s cheese) I took the plunge and jumped in like Van Halen.
My first port of call would be a visit to Chiang Mai’s extensive second hand shops to pick out some totally ‘80s garb so I could really roll with it. Tight Lycra leggings, short shorts, ankle warmers and an array of body suits – it was hard to choose. In the end I went with some tight yellow hot pants, a neon pink tank top and blue leggings with a motif that read ‘sexy’ down the leg. A few Instagram selfies later, I was livin’ on a prayer that I had not over-interpreted the dress code as I headed to the Chiang Mai Drama Centre in Mae Hia after work on a swealtering Tuesday.
As I stepped inside, I was greeted with a sea of smiling faces and luminescent spandex. The first song had just started and everyone was following Tyrone in a well-choreographed series of lunges, squats, air-guitars and jazz hands. It took me a few minutes to stop feeling like I wanted to be dancing in the dark, and I finally got into the groove.
As Take on Me by A-ha played out, the dancing became more physical, sweat began to flow as I thought to myself, flashdance…what a feeling! A few songs later and I was already hoping it would last all night long as I began to lip sync to Bon Jovi while trying to perfect my best disco pose that came after every second lunge.
As the hour came to an end, Tyrone forced us in one last ditch effort to work on our core with a series of sit-ups and planks that left me fatback on the floor. As we stood up and formed a circle, Tyrone shared the love by blasting out Circle of Life at full volume as we all danced around with our eyes closed. Suddenly I was being dragged into the middle of the circle and was told to prance like a fawn. Much to my surprise, I went along with it with no hesitation as the rest of the group skipped around me playing invisible flutes. It felt like some initiation ritual – was I accepted into the club? Was my outfit sufficient? Did I know enough words to the songs? Was this normal in the ‘80s?
As the tune faded out we all fell to the floor, exhausted but euphoric. I snapped back to life, back to reality, and realised that no, that was not an initiation ritual at all. It was just Tyrone being an aerobics superstar, and you have to go with it.
Moments later he slipped off his curly wig, and like a karma chameleon Tyrone turned back into Dan. I sat there catching my breath and thought to myself that this was my kind of work out, and maybe this would be the only way I would ever get fit. Chiang Mai finally has its own Richard Simmons, and we all should be grateful.
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