Pretending To Be Graceful: Absolute Beginner Ballet With Finis Jhung

AlvinAiley

When I was little I loved ballet classes. I was never good but I did LOVE being at a barre and pretending to be a beautiful ballerina. I hadn’t thought about it in a long time until a few weeks ago, when I got a card in the mail from my mom with one of my old dance pictures on it. Then while watching So You Think You Can Dance last week, I decided taking an Absolute Beginner Ballet class was an awesome plan.

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Having taken an Absolute Beginner Hip Hop class at Alvin Ailey a few months ago, I was on their website looking immediately for something that would fulfill my ballerina itch. I signed up for Absolute Beginner Ballet with Finis Jhung since it was on Monday night at 7pm and given that the classes are 90 minutes, it was the only option that worked with my schedule. The Pilates studio I work at is filled to the brim with former dancers and when I told them about the class after I signed up for it they all gasped at the fact that Finis Jhung was teaching it. Reason? Since 1972, he has been a mainstay of the New York dance scene. Finis has taught at all the major New York studios and was a Soloist with The San Francisco and Joffrey Ballet Companies. “His life-long love of theatre and dance has led him to re-evaluate ballet teaching and to develop innovative teaching methods which make ballet easier to understand and more enjoyable to learn, while preserving the essential qualities that make ballet a great performing art.” As a non-dancer, I had no idea but I was suddenly a little nervous about what this class would actually be like.

ringer dancer at absolute beginner

In the description, it says “for your first time you are allowed to wear socks” but everyone else should have ballet shoes. After checking in, I went to wait by the big, main classroom and got my first peak at my classmates… who all were obviously dancers. There was one other lone sock-er but everyone else was not only sporting the shoes but doing very dramatic dancer stretches in the hall while waiting. I immediately steeled myself that this was going to be a much more advanced class than I was prepared for. As we moved the free standing silver barres into the center of the room, I snagged a spot in the middle corner, so hopefully I could follow along with the people in front of me but not so far back that I couldn’t see Finis in the front of the room. Even though the class was filled to the brim with almost 40 dancers and me, Finis thankfully taught what really was an “Absolute Beginner” class. We stood at the barre for most of the class, learning hold ourselves like a dancer, how to shift our weight so that our movements with the out stretched leg could be more graceful. I loved being at the barre and going through the movements to the classical music. He mostly called out the names of the footwork we were going to be doing, gave a quick demo and then we were off. Since I don’t know the names of any of the positions, it was completely lost on me when Finis said the proper names but it was easy enough to follow along. I got scolded a few times with a very firm “chin up!” since I was almost always staring at the feet of the ringer of a dancer who always seemed to be at the front barre.

I mostly didn’t talk to anyone, but during the short break we took in the middle of class, an older woman decked out in a beautiful flowered dancer’s skirt, glasses and grey hair in braids came over to me “I don’t think I’ve seen you here before.” My response “No, it’s my first class, nice to meet you though!” She clapped her hands together and exclaimed “Do you like it? It really is just the best isn’t it?” I responded with “Yes. It really is great, I’m so glad I came. How long have you been coming?” She shyly replied, “It’s embarrassing but I’ve been coming for three years. I love dance so much but I really have NO aptitude for it!” Relieved to have a kindred spirit in the class, I smiled and said “I think that is awesome. I LOVE that you keep coming because you adore it! Being good at something isn’t the important part, it’s the doing something you love even if you aren’t good at it that matters!” She beemed and walked back to the barre, we were about to get started again.

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The first hour of class is all at the barre but when he had us clear the floor for the last chunk of class I had a momentary panic that there would be some big grand runs across the floor. I was fully prepared to just run out of class if that happened. It turned out the final 30 minutes would be spent doing a little floor stretching and then trying to master gracefully gliding across the floor with a few short combo steps. In Absolute Beginner Ballet there were no big moves across the floor but for a full 90 minutes, I felt graceful. I seriously couldn’t have asked for more and I would totally go back. But I would still wear the socks since really… I don’t want to give anyone any ideas that I know what I’m doing!

 

Photo of Finis Jhung teaching from the Alvin Ailey website.

BFX Studio: Amanda Butler & Eli Ingram Build A New Option for NYC

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Last week, I got the chance to go check out BFX studio in Chelsea, the new boutique concept from TSI, the company behind New York Sports Club.  BFX is broken up into 3 distinctive sections – “Master Classes”, Spinning and Private Training. They recruited some impressive talent, including Amanda Butler, formerly of the Fhitting Room, and the moment I saw her on the list, I knew it was her class that I wanted to check out.  The classes at BFX are available either individually, in a package or there is an unlimited class option. I chose the  “BFX Build” since it was a class Amanda was teaching and was at a time I could make, even though I really didn’t know what it might entail – my guess, though, was that it would be a HIIT class of some stripe.

It was not.

BFX Instructors

As we entered the studio, a beautiful room with instructor platform and TRX straps hanging from the ceiling, we were told to grab two kettle bells and park ourselves at the TRX station. The kettle bells at BFX are different than the ones I’ve used most places – they are heavy  but look like a playground ball with a handle. My desire to use them like a dodge ball was intense! Thankfully, I kept that under wraps and made my way to my station without incident.  The class was led by Eli Ingram and Amanda – Eli took the lead, explaining the structure of the class and the moves while Amanda demonstrated. The Build class turned out to be a straight-up strength class.

Our “BFX Build” was 3 circuits, each done 5 times through. Eli told us that each TRX move was supposed to be held for a three second count. Before we started, Eli asked if anyone had any knee or shoulder injuries – I tentatively raised my hand since my shoulder has been wonky lately and Amanda noticed right away, miming “which one?” at me. As I pointed at my shoulder she just nodded and from that moment on, she was all over giving me modifications and checking in on me during each move that might be an issue. That kind of injury attention makes me swoon. I was mostly fine on the various TRX moves but it was awesome to be checked on so much. The class FLEW by. When we got to a pushup move on the kettle bell that made my shoulder scream, Amanda was quick to offer up a straight plank on the Kettlebell that was challenging but ok on the wonky shoulder.  We did Kettlebell swings, thrusters with them and overhead squats in between the TRX moves. My favorite set, though, was the last circuit which included a bridge move with our feet in the straps, then we flipped over and did a Pike move with our feet still in the straps.  As someone who is always working on getting better at handstands, the Pike move seemed like an awesome strength prep! We wrapped up with a quick AB section and then it was done. I was tired but felt that killer all body ache that you want from a Strength class.

Amanda and Eli

After class, I went down to the locker room where I had stashed my stuff in one of their lockers. Sadly, I am terrible at those spinning combo lockers so I had to have the front desk lady help me out… but I wasn’t the only one –she was already down there with the master key when I got there!

This first BFX studio is seriously pretty, with a shiny newness and lots of cool “Master Class” options, awesome teachers, a nice spin studio (although you have to bring your own shoes or wear sneakers –eek) and fully loaded personal training studio. BFX offers HIIT classes too but I loved that they also had just a straight up Strength class – those are rare these days!

 

Images from BFX’s Facebook page and their site.

Falling Epically And Having Fun: Surfing In Far Rockaway With The Locals

FatBottomSlimxLocalsLast summer, I REALLY wanted to go surfing. I’d taken a lesson the summer before with the intention of doing it more but then work got in the way. This year, I’m determined to make surfing and being at the beach a thing I make time for – so I emailed the Locals Surf School to see if they had a spot for me that weekend.  The first time I tried on a Thursday night, they were completely booked up for that weekend, since at the beginning of June every weekend spot is claimed quickly. The following week, I planned ahead, emailing on a Monday and managed to snag a coveted Sunday slot!

I took my very first lesson with the Locals and for me, they are still the go-to surf instruction in Far Rockaway. Owned and operated by Far Rockaway beach natives (hence the name) – “the Mikes” Mike Kololyan and Mike Reinhardt, have created something special. Both have over 15 years of surf experience, are committed to having a 3-to-1 student/teacher ratio and only hire people who are current or former lifeguards. So, when I wanted to take another lesson, I only wanted to go back to them because I knew I would be in good hands.

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The cool thing about going out to 67th Beach in Far Rockaway is that from my part of Brooklyn, you really only have to get on one train and just ride it straight out to the beach!  It never fails to feel like the coolest thing, to get on in the middle of busy city-ness and get off in a beach community. I got there early, since even though it is a straight shot, it is a subway on the weekend and I didn’t want to miss a minute of my class. The fella, an avid surfer, had come with me and after I got all checked in, wandered off to rent a board to use for the day.   I had brought my own wetsuit, since the water was still so cold it was needed, but while pulling it up on the beach, I promptly ripped it (r.i.p. supersuit).  Thankfully, the Locals are fully decked out with wetsuits for their students to wear and handed up a perfectly sized one without hesitation.

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Our group was promptly sent out with Josh, who went over some stretches to get ready, went over our “experience” and then we were off into the water. I was briefly confused since the first class I took there was a section on the beach were you went over safety things to remember, how to pop-up and lots of practice perfecting the pop-up before you headed out.  After paddling out into the water, I glanced back to the beach and realized that I’d been put in the “experienced” group and that up on the beach, the brand new folks were practicing their pop-ups with one of the Mikes.  I immediately decided to just go with it and got into the idea that I really did remember enough from my first outing to make this happen.

FatBottomSlimxLocals IIFor the next two hours, I attempted to catch a wave.  The way the classes work is one at a time you paddle back towards your instructor who is standing in the chest high ocean, then while you face the shore they watch for waves and talk to you about how you can improve after each attempt. When a good wave comes, you are told to start paddling, are given a shove and finally they scream “POP. UP.” In the perfect world, you pop up smoothly, get low and ride that wave all the way to the beach. I never quite made that happen. I’d get up for a little bit, sometimes for longer than others, then lose it and fall epically. I was REALLY good at the falling epically part but would just laugh it off, grab my board and paddle back out. The thing is, I LOVE being out on that board. The waiting for a wave, bobbing in the ocean part is just about the best thing on the planet. I can see why catching the wave is supposed to be the best part –and it is awesome when it happens – but really, it’s important to appreciate the amazingness of just being out there too.  Josh was ridiculously helpful, going over pointers and being super supportive since I really wasn’t able to ride anything without falling at the end.  I think he thought I was getting frustrated but really, I loved every minute of my session.  After two hours, I was wiped but so blissed out. I hauled my big board up on the beach and back to the Locals tent. Up on the beach, I stripped off my wetsuit, putting it in the worn laundry bag and then plopped down on my beach towel and waited for the fella to finish up his surf session….

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The only thing to do after that was head over to Ripper’s and grab a well-earned beer!

EXCEED Physical Culture: The Awesome Addition To The Tribeca Fitness Scene

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I have always loved Exceed – but getting to their UES location made actually GOING to classes there a huge challenge. So when I heard they were opening a studio in Tribeca, literally around the corner from work, I was giddy.  Last week I got the opportunity to host a workout in their new space during their soft opening. I immediately jumped at the chance and set about snagging a fun crew that would be up for a challenging, high intensity interval class.

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Exceed Tribeca is made up of two floors.  Upstairs was still under construction but it looked like it is going to be much bigger than the UES location. The ground floor is going to be the group classes space and the downstairs space is going to be where they do personal training sessions, which is where we held our class during the soft opening. Our group was tiny so it actually worked out really well to have it in the smaller space downstairs – although it easily could have fit more people if needed. Leading our class was Mike Jock, one of Exceed’s staples at their UES location (and who I’ve been wanting to take a class with) and Max Motkowski who is new to their crew.  Mike took the lead in the class and after giving a breakdown of the reasons their classes were shaped the way they were, gave us a demo of each of the four first stations. We then paired up and picked a station to start on.

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In the first round we had TRX rows, a rowing station, box jumps (or jump overs if you wanted the challenge) and a Med Ball station.  I started on the TRX and when my shoes started to slip, Max was quick to come over and brace my feet to make sure I got in every rep. Then we rotated through each station and I watched happily as Mike and Max worked the room, making sure people got the form cues they needed and made adjustments when needed. I LOVED knowing my friends were in good hands! The next round was TRX pushups, lateral box jumps and rowing. MedBall sit ups became slams and by the second station in that round I was already dripping in sweat. Each round got harder, but also was more fun! The third and fourth rounds replaced the TRX with Kettlebells and the rower with a heavy jump rope. My favorite moment was when at one point Mike described to one of the teams who was struggling at the Kettlebell station that the way to swing it was “Like in Legally Blonde, remember? Bend and snap!” while showing the perfect form for the swing. They laughed and then promptly started rocking perfect swings.

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The final round was a sit up ladder challenge. Each pair was supposed to do 10 straight leg sit ups passing the medicine between them, then scissor legs passing the ball, then straight again, then a version with a bridge, then straight, then frog legs while passing the ball, then straight before ending on one that included a double leg tap before tossing the ball. It was hard but also wildly funny since my partner and I kept almost beaming each other with the ball. The challenge ended when one team finished, and thankfully, the Real Pilates crew on the end came through in the core challenge and got through the ladder fast! My team was on the last move but I was grateful when time was called!

FBS x EXCEED Tribeca

It was a class that kicked my ass but was also just really fun. Exceed will be doing a “Friend and Family” preview week, starting on Monday, June 9th. It is first come, first snags the class. So get in there and check out this awesome addition to the Tribeca fitness scene!

Photos by Eric Stafford, Stafford Sports Media for FBS

Act Right: Noah Neiman Takes On Fit & Fearless Fitness

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This weekend, Union Square Park was taken over by Fit & Fearless Fitness, an event that celebrated working out hard and the empowerment that you get from exercise and healthier life choices. I loved the mission and the people involved in this awesome event, so even though I couldn’t stay for the whole thing, I knew I had to go. The event took over the northern side of Union Square with the “class” space immediately after you got through the gates that had been set up. I got there early, which worked out in my favor since I got the chance to hit up one of the event’s sponsors, Champion’s fit truck, before class and score a free sports bra!

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For Fit & Fearless Fitness, the first class up was led by the always awesome, Noah Neiman, billed as “Combat Fitness”.  I had no idea what that entailed but I adore Noah and never doubt his ability to teach a fun, challenging class. Noah, best known for his ridiculously popular classes at Barry’s Bootcamp, has come up with a take on a traditional bodyweight high intensity interval class that includes a lot of boxing moves, tons of squats and a million jumping jacks. We kept going back to the “boxing” jumping jacks, where you would whack the back of your hands together to help open up your shoulders. I both loved them and started to really hate them after about the fourth time we went back to them. Through the whole workout, Noah made his way in through the crowd, high-fiving people, cracking jokes and encouraging people to keep going.

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We did squats with punches, lunges with punches and even burpees with a punch combo in the middle. The first time he had us go down to the ground, you could feel everyone pause…like, wait…you want me to touch the ground at Union Square?? To which Noah yelled: “You aren’t scared of a little dirt! You are tough! You are New Yorkers! Purell is killing you!” To which the entire group laughed and promptly threw themselves to the ground. But I mean really though, there are VERY few people who could get me to actually touch that ground. Noah just happens to be one of them.

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The weather was so perfect for this event, a clear, warm day but it got hot FAST out there working out on the paving stones of Union Square! Thankfully, there was a lot of water to be had and Noah took pity on us, giving us a few more water breaks than I know he would have normally done. After one of them, he called us all over to a huddle and as we gathered he asked me: “What is my phrase?” Which of course I knew the answer to: ACT RIGHT. Noah then launched into what that means to him. That really, it is about working hard, about not praying for someone to help you but for the strength to do it yourself and that REALLY all of us are capable of so much more than we think. He told us we were going to do a couple of times of yelling “Act right” to set the tone for the second half of the workout but on the very first try, we all roared “ACT RIGHT!” at the top of our lungs. We didn’t need a second take – we were all 100% there with him. His response? “That was perfect. THAT is how it’s done! Now lets get back to WORK.”

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I was so sorry I couldn’t stay for the rest of the event but that class was the perfect, inspiring, challenging workout and I am so glad I got to go support this amazing cause. This Inaugural event raised over $170,000 for City of Hope, an organization that believes fitness is a key factor in helping to boost self-esteem, promote confidence and preventing certain cancers – which definitely is a mission that exemplifies “Acting Right!”

Photos by Eric Stafford, Stafford Sports Media for FatBottomSlim

The Brooklyn Half 2014: Spurred On By The Back Of The Pack

This weekend, I crossed the finish line at the Brooklyn Half Marathon after not running more than a mile since December – which is ridiculous. The only running I’d done in months was during CrossFit workouts, which normally were more like running around the block. I had such good intentions to train, really I did, but I just hate running so any excuse to not run,I am all over and this winter’s crazy weather was all I needed to just not run at all. 

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I was planning on scrapping it but then it seemed like a waste since I had a bib to this sold-out race. So, I started playing with the idea of just starting it and seeing what happened. Some of my friends were all “You have to run it! You are fit, you’ll be fine!” the other half were “That is NUTS. You have to drop out! What are you thinking?” To both groups, I said the exact same thing: “I’m just going to start. Run a few miles and just see. There are a lot of subway options on that route!”  I didn’t really think I would run the whole thing… mostly, I just didn’t talk about it.

I ran the Brooklyn Half in 2011, the last race they did where you didn’t get a medal for completing it.  I’ve always been salty about that fact – I like medals!  When I ran it before I wasn’t as fit as I am now, but I had at least tried to train, which, as it turns out, really makes a difference.  I love to race but just don’t love running for running’s sake. I think my exact words after my first Brooklyn Half were: “That’s awesome but now that I’ve done it, I never have to do that again!” Triathlons are more my speed… but I thought since the 70.3 Ironman will end in a Half, starting to train early for that piece of it seemed like a swell plan and I could finally get that damn medal.  Except that intended training never happened.

On Saturday morning I bundled up in old layers, stashed my metrocard, some cash, my id and insurance card (I was worried it might be needed) in a wrist pouch and headed out the door. It felt strange leaving for the race with basically nothing but the bag check sounded like a huge pain in the ass.  I was in the very last corral and we didn’t get started until a little after 8am so I had about 45 minutes of just waiting around.  I loved listening to people chatting away about the upcoming race, all of the training they’d been doing and the plan for the race… but I felt like an impostor.

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As we started to run,  I realized that while I knew where the race began and ended, I really hadn’t paid that much attention to what the course was actually like.  When I ran it before, we looped around the park before heading down the straight shot to Coney Island.  The new route had a lot more twists and turns and was overall just more fun since there was more to be distracted by but I did really wish that I’d looked at the map because I was constantly like …wait… where are we going NOW? I was so slow and pokey, with a running loop in my head saying: “Maybe you should stop. This is ridiculous. People TRAIN for this.”  The thing, though, about being in the back was that I was surrounded by people who were not so fit but had trained for the Half and were killing it by just slogging through. As one of them would pass me, that running loop in my head would be interrupted by an even louder one that said “If they can keep going, so can you.” And so, mile after mile, I kept going.  By mile 8, I was fully in it and knew that I would have to complete the thing but was so miserable by then that the five mile trek from Prospect Park to Coney Island, although straight and flat, seemed unbearably long.  Every few minutes that “So can you“ voice popped up and I just kept going. At mile 11, one of my friends, who was there cheering with Lululemon, screamed my name and grabbed me in a fierce hug.  It was just what I needed. The next 2 miles was fueled on that alone.

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I crossed the line with a terrible time, but DID cross and was just so damn proud of myself for pushing through. I grabbed my medal, popped it on and headed back to the train. I didn’t really belong at the end party with everyone celebrating crushing their goal – I didn’t crush a goal by any stretch but what I did do was not let a race crush me. I was slow as dirt but finished and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

I came home and took a nap, then chilled out for the rest of the day. I was wiped out but really not sore and the following day when I woke up was shocked that I felt totally fine. I learned a lot about how fit I really am at the Brooklyn Half, which is awesome, but I also learned that training is REALLY important. I need to get on that – I have a 70.3 to prepare for!

Photos from the NYRR Brooklyn Half site

Peloton NYC Studio: The Swanky New Addition To The Indoor Cycling Scene

I’ve been dying to get on a Peloton bike since I first heard about them last year during their Kickstarter campaign. I just loved their idea: to give at home riders the kind of awesome boutique class experience you get in a studio from the comfort of your house but I was curious how that would translate into an actual studio. Last week, I finally got to try out one of their bikes at their absolutely stunning NYC flagship studio. 140w23Peloton Located in Chelsea on 23rd street and 7th, the bright, clean, open retail space that you walk into hides what is easily one of the swankiest waiting areas I have seen in any studio. I checked in at the desk, snagged a pair of shoes and headed back to the locker room to change and get ready for class. Of note: the locker room is huge, there are plenty of lockers and 4 showers. For no great reason, I had assumed that their locker room wouldn’t be so decked out and didn’t get the chance to fully utilize it after class. I went to wait in the lounge, to scope it out until the class started. The large space includes couches, large tables to work at and a café that will be openings on May 5th. Apparently, once the café opens, riders will get organic juice and snacks after every class! Other coffee, juices and snack costs will vary, but will probably be between $1-6ish…so standard coffee shop prices. PelotonStudio A few minutes before class was ready to start, I made my way into the studio. I chose a bike in the second row, since I figured that the front row bikes would need to be a little more “on” than I was feeling that morning! The bikes are set up as stadium seating so that you have a good view of the instructor… but also so that there really isn’t anywhere to hide completely. Every class will be filmed and so every rider will be potentially live streamed on camera, not close ups but you will definitely be in the group shots and the mirrors behind the coach reflect just about everyone in the room. It took me a little while to figure out how to set up the bike since I was “Oh, I’ve got this” instead of accepting the help the Peloton crew offered! The studio bike’s only difference from the home bike is the size of the screen, which on the studio bike is much smaller and isn’t the large 21.5 inch one like on the home version. The smaller monitor in the class is used to show the resistance, cadence, and power – it took me a little while to get the feel of the bike and its resistance wheel. Once I did though, I totally loved the smooth, quiet ride and so wanted one for my house! Peloton bikeStephanie Nieman, who I’ve ridden with at a few different studios and is always awesome, had invited me to come check out the studio. She is a rockstar instructor and I jumped at the chance to ride with her again. She warned us that they were still working out some kinks, but to just be present and go with the flow. Stephanie is a force to be reckoned with when she is teaching. Since the classes are filmed, the instructors are lit very brightly and are confined to the bike but it really didn’t change that much about the way Stephanie managed to inspire the riders to work their hardest. There were some technical issues with the music but she led an awesome, challenging class just like she always does. It will be interesting to see what happens when they are fully open and the classes are in full swing – they have a great roster of instructors and a killer space but will the masses come with the threat of being on camera with super sweaty faces being broadcast across the web? I will for sure, but then again, I have a high tolerance for being on film while being beet red…   photos by Eric Hwang for Peloton