The Make-Up’s Michelle Mae Orr and the Rollins Band’s Bernie Wandel teach yoga in D.C.

michelle mae orr
Michelle Mae Orr in the studio (Photo: Jay Westcott)

Like other former members of celebrated ’90s D.C. band the Make-Up, Michelle Mae Orr was influenced by James Brown. But while her bandmate Ian Svenonius perfected a punk rock version of the Godfather of Soul’s stage moves and vocal flourishes, Mae Orr studied with a different James Brown: the yoga teacher to Flea, Tipper Gore, and Gillian Anderson.

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Make-Up bassist's route from punk to yoga instructor.

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Today Mae Orr is quietly unfurling a rubber mat, waiting for her first class to begin. For the past four years, she’s been teaching at Yoga District, which has studios in Dupont Circle, Bloomingdale, and just south of U Street on 14th Street NW. “Sometimes when I’m teaching, I’ll see someone who I’ve known for 15 years and who has known me in this totally different context, and I’ll think, Oh God, this is the most bizarre thing ever,” she says. But I’ve lived the progression from that to this and so it makes sense.”

Mae Orr's interest in yoga began when she was in the Make-Up. "Right about the time Ian and I started DJing in D.C., just after I moved here to start the band in 1995, James and I met at one of the parties. We were friends first and worked together as promoters and DJs." She became curious about her friend's dedication to something totally foreign to the most people in the D.C. hardcore scene.

"The first class completely blew me away,” Mae Orr says. Soon she was attending Brown's classes whenever she was between tours. For a while she wrote a weekly spiritual musings column called the Dignificant Worm on the Make-Up’s website. In 2001, while in the post-Make-Up band Weird War, Mae Orr began teaching. “Soon I just preferred yoga, and starting doing that full time,” she says.

After Brown left the District in 2000 to tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers as their yoga instructor, Mae Orr began looking for a new teacher. She looked for a while. “The few that I found also had a great impact on me,” she says, “but I still instruct with the essence of what I gleaned from James."

In 2006 Mae Orr jumped into role of instructor and head of teacher training at Yoga District. It was just a single studio in Shaw at the time, founded in December 2006 by former Marvin bartender Jasmine Chehrazi with the idea of teaching in a variety of styles and for $10 per class. Bernie Wandel was on board with Yoga District from the beginning and helped bring Mae Orr over from another studio, InspiredYoga.

Wandel’s own journey to yoga is similarly punk-seasoned: He played bass in the Rollins Band and managed the Black Cat from 1995 to 2003. He was burned out on bands, he says. Yoga seemed like a natural next step. “There I was in a rock club, and I didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, and I didn’t play music anymore. For me music became like eating my vegetables. I wanted to do something that I felt the same intense passion about again, like when I started playing music and would practice for eight hours a day.”

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