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The Cult Jam

NEW YORK — There are people who obsess over working out, and there are those who take Derek Mitchell’s videography classes at Crunch. Mitchell’s moves, set in time to, say, Janet Jackson or an up-tempo J.Lo groove, inspire the kind...

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Derek Mitchell right shows his stuff

Derek Mitchell, right, shows his stuff.

Photo By Steve Eichner

NEW YORK — There are people who obsess over working out, and there are those who take Derek Mitchell’s videography classes at Crunch. Mitchell’s moves, set in time to, say, Janet Jackson or an up-tempo J.Lo groove, inspire the kind of devotion usually reserved for religious leaders or the pop stars themselves. After all, though 80 people may show up for his class, only 55 get in. Professionally employed fanatics used to send their assistants ahead to wait in line for hours outside his studio until the Crunch management got wise. Now the fans have to go wait in person. But reworking their schedules around Mitchell’s exercise class doesn’t deter his devotees.

So it’s no wonder that when an e-mail circulated a few weeks ago — RE: National Derek Day — announcing his last Manhattan class after two years at the gym, the Derek fans came out in droves. By 7:30 p.m. there were already 15 people waiting at Crunch on Lafayette Street. The class wouldn’t start until 9:30 p.m.

"I’ve scheduled my life around his class," admits one woman, a psychotherapist. But she can justify the behavior. "I think this is therapy. It’s an incredible stress release."

Some mental health professionals seem to disagree, however. "Once when I’d taken 24 classes in a row my shrink said ‘I don’t want you to say the words "Derek" or "Crunch" or "videography" for the next half an hour,’" says a landscape designer named Lawton. "So I got a new shrink."

Mitchell is a bouncy, baby-faced 27 year-old with bright eyes and well-developed musculature. He began dancing at age 7, mesmerized since the curtain went up on "42nd Street," and hopes to choreograph or direct his own music videos once he’s moved out to Los Angeles, where he’ll introduce videography at the Crunch on Sunset Boulevard in early September. "I just love the medium."

But pinning down what makes Mitchell’s class so special isn’t easy. It stems not only from his students’ passion for dancing like divas, but the bonds they’ve forged in the community that has grown up around him.
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