Nina Rodriguez treats a pair of heels and dance as therapy.

The video introducing Iconic Dance Class starts in slow motion as rows of people move to Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love.”

As one of Bozeman’s newest dance classes, it stands out. There are college students, restaurant servers, business people and moms who left kids with the babysitter. Some wear sneakers, others heels, and there’s sequins and flannel. There are more body types, ages, identities and racial diversity than is typically found in one spot in Bozeman.

When they dance, it’s powerful, sensual and theatrical and whatever nervousness came from practicing that in public is released as a celebration of movement.

In the video, Rodriguez leans against a windowsill with a microphone. Her legs are crossed at the knees and her tall heels ensure her feet reach the floor. The sleeves of her camo jacket are rolled back just enough to give her hands space to move with each word.

She’s instructing, but not steps.

“I try to keep the idea of being that kind of queen that’s like, ‘is this good for me or is this good for everybody else,’” Rodriguez, 38, told the dancers. “You got to take care of you. Cause don’t nobody love you like you. Not even your momma.”

Lessons include posing like a boss, chair work, advanced movement to tracks by Billie Eilish, character-based performance technique and classes that mirror — of course — icons like Beyoncé and Rihanna.

But Rodriguez said lessons are 70% teaching confidence and 30% dance.

“Self acceptance is really important to me. I’m a whole lot of things: A woman, a plus-size woman, a person of color, there’s so many aspects of my life,” she said. “Iconic is for all dance levels, shapes, races, gender orientations, to have a safe space to express themselves freely.”

Rodriguez called Iconic Dance Class a movement she didn’t mean to start. It started as something she needed.

A few years ago, she worked in finance for JP Morgan Chase in New York City. As someone who has always been in dance, New York had the full gamut of life and classes when she wasn’t at work.

“But the commute, the high-stress position, high-stress industry, it got a little crunchy,” she said.

Rodriguez did what most do when they’re discontent — scrolled through job advertisements. She stopped over a position as a cook for a ranch near the border of Yellowstone National Park. It was as different as possible.

Within a week, Rodriguez packed her apartment and headed west. A horse-pulled wagon picked her up a few miles from the ranch and took her to her new office.

“I was cooking on a wood stove and hiking and sitting out under a big sky having a beer after work and was like ‘oh my god I love this place,’” Rodriguez said.

For two years, she worked as a CPA through tax season in the city then returned for summers in Montana before moving to Bozeman full time.

When she stopped rotating between seasons, she noticed her new home missed something.

“Alternative dance,” Rodriguez said. “There’s ballet and tap but I need my heels classes. Just getting into the studio and moving your body, I needed that. I thought, ‘I’ll put together one heels dance class, I’ll do it once really for myself, and if four or five people show up, fun.’”

She wasn’t the only person who wanted more from Bozeman’s dance scene.

Her Facebook event page aimed toward friends garnered more than 200 “interested” clicks. The day of the class, more than 100 people were signed up.

Rodriguez called in a favor with a local DJ to work the music so she could manage the crowd.

Five months later, Iconic Dance has continued.

It’s picked up instructors and students who have begun to show their work through local performances and collaborating with other projects in town.

The first minutes in Rodriguez’s classes are usually about unlearning what stops people from moving, their fear of judgment or self-criticism.

When there’s new people in the group, Rodriguez begins with an uncomfortable instruction: Hold eye contact with a stranger and tell them they’re going to slay.

“It takes a lot to go up to someone you don’t know and there’s the gift of, ‘you didn’t have to pick me but you did,’” she said. “You automatically create this sensation of ‘we are going to succeed no matter what.’”

Rodriguez reminds her dancers to look their reflections in the eye as they head toward a studio’s mirror. When they turn, they stare toward the people on the other side of the room who encourage each move they make.

For some, it looks easy. They move as if each body part has its own mind that chooses to work together. Some dancers are still unsure, breaking eye contact and finishing a twist or low dip to the floor with a shy laugh.

To Rodriguez, how someone dances is a reflection of how they feel. The class works and celebrates together wherever someone is in a moment.

Rodriguez said the next goal is to find consistent studio space. She hopes to eventually take lessons on the road with stops in Billings, Missoula and Helena to “spread the movement.”

“Iconic is a lot more than dance, it’s helping people. This is my way of providing a kind of therapy for folks on a different level,” Rodriguez said. “We’re bringing a culture and confidence to the community. It’s going to grow, it’s going to be bigger, it’s going to be better.”

For more information on the class and upcoming events, visit Iconic Dance Class on Facebook.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought. 

Katheryn Houghton is the city government and health reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.