“I’m obsessed with my legs,” says Jessie Diaz-Herrera laughing. “Sometimes I flex my thigh muscle and I just say, ‘YESSSS!’”
As a hip-hop dancer for well over a decade, Jessie (whose dance alias is Curves With Moves) has worked for those thigh muscles. In addition to her own practicing and performing, Jessie teaches private clients and holds a monthly class in lower Manhattan called "Body Positive Dance," which focuses on encouraging people to appreciate their bodies through dance regardless of age, ability, size, or shape.
Jessie says, “For me, dancing is a way to express myself and my body confidence. It’s a way to be free in my skin and be comfortable.” And just like she’s worked for those legs, the New York native has also worked hard to develop her self-loving attitude.
“Body positivity is a journey,” explains Jessie, “and I’ve faced my share of adversity.” So how did this 30-year-old cultivate a confidence that empowers her to lift up other women all over the world? Let’s take a look...
Rewind to the early ’90s when Jessie was a super-active kid. As a way to burn off some of her overflowing energy, her parents enrolled their 6-year-old in ballet at a serious academy in Brooklyn. (Jessie was born and raised in the Bronx.) The studio was so competitive that it required auditions every few years in order for dancers to stay on.
At age 12, Jessie remembers being nervous for her big audition. She performed at her best and waited for her review. Jessie’s instructors gave her feedback: Her skills were good enough, but in order to advance, she’d need to lose some weight.
“I was just a medium-sized girl going through puberty,” she remembers. Still, Jessie loved ballet and she idolized her teachers. In the way that children do, she felt that the studio’s request was a “little bit wrong” (enough so that she didn’t tell her mom), but she wasn’t sure exactly why.
Determined to make her studio happy, Jessie started skipping meals and pretending to be sick when family dinner time came around. After a few weeks, she fainted at home. Jessie’s mom confronted her: Why wasn’t she eating? What was wrong?
“My mom was like: ‘Nobody tells my daughter what to do! My daughter is beautiful!”
When Jessie explained the situation, her mom didn’t skip a beat. The “typical Nuyorican mama bear” went straight to the academy with Jessie in tow. She remembers, “My mom was like: ‘Nobody tells my daughter what to do! My daughter is beautiful! You should be so eff-ing lucky to have her dance for you!’”
Jessie says she was terribly embarrassed—and angry too. She wanted to continue dancing, not to be forced out of the program through her mom’s demands. Of course, in hindsight (and now with a daughter of her own), Jessie sees her mom’s explosion as an incredible gift. “I thank her so much for sticking up for me at a time when I couldn’t and I didn’t know how.”
Throughout middle school and high school, Jessie put dance on the back burner. She’d go to parties and realize how much she missed it, but she focused her energy on sports instead. That was until her freshman orientation week at Babson College. An upperclassman saw her dancing at an event and persuaded her to try out for the hip-hop team.
She auditioned the next day and “the rest was history.” She says, “Hip-hop opened up a whole new world for me.” Without the ridiculous, conforming physical demands so common in classical ballet, the world of hip-hop was much more inclusive and relaxed.
While Jessie found joy, release, and acceptance in hip-hop, she still wasn’t totally comfortable. “I never talked about being a plus-sized dancer. I wanted to fit in and just be part of the crew,” she says. She remembers whenever a costume was chosen she didn’t feel confident in, she would figure out a way—whether that was making small changes or “putting on a ton of Spanx”—to make it work. In other words, she prioritized everyone else’s comfort over her own.
The Jessie “I love my legs!” Diaz-Herrera we know today didn’t find herself until after the birth of her daughter, Violet, in 2015. Uncomfortable with the changes to her body pregnancy had wrought, she fell into a funk. “I was just disgusted with myself and my body,” she says. “I was so down on myself.”
At the encouragement of her husband, Jessie tried to be more intentional about sharing positive pictures, thoughts, and affirmations on social media. A few months later, she made it back to the dance studio too. With every class and every post, she felt not just her body but her spirit reemerging. Eager to spread the love of her newfound confidence, she started her “Curves With Moves” class and started to grow her Instagram following.
Jessie explains that every class starts and finishes with affirmations. During the warm-up, she does a singsong call and response: “I love my ar-arms. I love my ar-arms.” After taking the crew through a full 90-minute class in which they learn a full routine, she ends with each woman saying something positive to herself in the mirror. “They’ll say: ‘I am beautiful. I am worth it. Today might have been hard, but I came and I did it. I’m worthy of love. I’m worthy of respect.’ I always end up crying,” Jessie says with a laugh.
“I feel great today and whatever haters are out there, I’m only here for uplifters.”
Seeing how the dance class has transformed the confidence and self-worth of so many women, Jessie is launching a virtual subscription platform this year called "Curves With Moves: Dance Connect." Through this service, women from all over the world (including those not quite ready to dance in front of others) will be able to experience her class and connect with one another.
Jessie says no one can touch her positivity. As a prolific Instagrammer, she’s experienced her fair share of trolling, but she’s not interested in changing herself to make anyone else more comfortable. “I feel great today and whatever haters are out there, I’m only here for uplifters,” Jessie says. “You can’t touch this body and the confidence. I don’t know what’s going on with you—but over here, we’re good.”