Dancing to drum and bass in Highgate Woods

PUBLISHED: 18:00 20 March 2017

Stacey Cohen's London Jungle Runners. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Stacey Cohen's London Jungle Runners. Picture: Nigel Sutton

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

Do you love dancing to drum and bass but want to be simultaneously educated on the history and flora of Highgate Woods? There’s perhaps only one woman in the world who can give you all of that at once: Stacey Cohen of London Jungle Runners.

Do you love dancing to drum and bass but want to be simultaneously educated on the history and flora of Highgate Woods? There’s perhaps only one woman in the world who can give you all of that at once: Stacey Cohen of London Jungle Runners.

“I used to perform at dance music festivals quite a lot on the acoustic stage,” says musician and forest school leader Cohen. “I remember there was one summer when I came back and I was running on Hampstead Heath and I really missed it. I had so much fun dancing to drum and bass. I realised then ‘I just want to dance but I can’t because I’m on my own on Hampstead Heath!’ It was a really strong desire to dance with other people that kick-started it.”

Since having that desire, Cohen came up with a unique way to enjoy the music. Having attended multiple classes and boot camps, she learned a lot of the physical techniques on her own, and is now a qualified exercise to music instructor.

“I started to do my own workout and integrated yoga practice and I found that cross-training approach quite meditative. I lost weight quite quickly and I became very happy.”

Cohen’s classes last up to an hour and 15 minutes and combine dance, pilates, yoga, running, meditation and mindfulness, all while listening to drum and bass. Everyone in the class is given a belt receiver and uses their own headphones, through which she broadcasts her voice along with the music.

“20 years ago I was going raving but I’m not raving anymore,” she says. “I’m a mum of a 14-year-old and I have other responsibilities. I don’t want to be too critical because I love the drum and bass scene, but I will say there were things about it I was happy to leave behind.

“For me, being able to enjoy that fantastic music outdoors, in nature, in a safe nurturing space is a bit of a gift.”

She says that the class works for people of all abilities, from low levels of fitness right up to marathon runners. You can do it at your own pace, or turn it up a notch if you feel you aren’t pushing yourself.

“My approach is very much that I’m not into people being hard on themselves. I’ll be honest, I’m a runner but I’m a lazy runner. I don’t do marathons.

“There’s this real culture of running especially in London that’s all or nothing – you’re a marathon runner and you run miles and miles, go hard or go home. It’s not accepted to do a little bit of running, but actually a little bit of running is very good for you.”

Cohen loves the feeling of teaching someone whose skills develop over time.

“I have taught children for many years and I just found that that love I have for teaching children translated into working with adults as well.

“I get a real buzz out of seeing someone progress or seeing how people are before and after a class. It really opens them up and they have a great time.”

It’s not just about exercise – Cohen wants to educate people about their impact on the environment. As a forest school leader, she runs holiday clubs for kids in Highgate Woods and is very attached to the place.

“I’m very passionate about maintaining those woods and in the time I’ve been there, the amount of fungus in those woodlands has reduced massively and it’s to do with the way people interact with it.”

This is why the workout has such variation – to reduce the impact of running time after time in the same place.

“It’s a really important site, it’s quite special. There’s some very rare and important fungus, so part of how I designed [the workout] was about footfall and constantly having that awareness and to constantly be moving around.”

Stacey Cohen runs multiple classes throughout the week, and will add new classes based on client feedback.londonjunglerunners.com

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