If you’ve ever dreamed of showing off your sweet dance moves in front of a live audience, you need to meet Venetia James. James is the founder of Hundred’s Unit, a troupe of amateur dancers who train and perform together, transforming lives along the way.
James, a dance and fitness instructor as well as a hairstylist, got the idea for Hundreds Unit when she started lifting weights as part of her fitness routine and noticed she was one of the few women of color doing so. “I wanted to know where all the women were, so I did some research.”
James was troubled by what she learned: Women work out less than men, in general, because they are short on time, they lack the resources to join a gym and they aren’t sure of what exercises to do once they get there. Most concerning to James, however, was discovering that many women were too embarrassed about being out of shape to work out in public.
“It made me think: What would encourage women to invest more in their health and wellness?” says James, a former professional dancer who appeared on BET for a decade. “What if you could be a part of an event that celebrated who you are and where you are? Dance is a universal language, so I thought that could be the hook.”
Through Hundred’s Unit (the name comes from James’ vision of seeing a huge group of women dancing in unison), women sign up for a six-week workout session, during which time they also rehearse a dance routine together. At the end of the session, the group performs at a public event. Hundred’s Unit has wowed crowds at Kings games, the Mondavi Center, parades, festivals and more.
“I know how amazing it feels to dance in front of an audience, and I wanted to give that opportunity to other women. The brand itself is about every woman, every shape, every size and ability,” explains James. “We’re about diversity and building each other up. We dance to everything—African, hip-hop, Latin, Bollywood. It allows us to learn about each other and develop lasting friendships with women who don’t look like us.”
Women improve their fitness with each session, but the real change happens on the inside, according to James.
“That is the whole point, to inspire and celebrate women to the point of changing lives. If you feel good about yourself, you’re going to be a better mother, wife and friend. Not only are you stepping outside of your comfort zone; you are also going after a dream that never was realized because of how you felt about yourself or maybe you didn’t have the training or the look. It’s less intimidating because you know you’re part of a community.”