Are you bored with the treadmill? Tired of your quiet, predictable yoga routine? Does your workout feel more like an item to be crossed off your to-do list? After a workday filled with focused energy, maybe you just want to un-focus, let loose and enjoy your workout sesh! We’ve put boots on the ground and found some of the most fun, out-of-the-box, fulfilling exercise classes in Birmingham. Be it hula hooping barefoot in the grass, dancing in the dark or doing balletic yoga moves in midair, these classes promise a great workout that doesn’t feel like a chore.
Has your inner child ever imagined yourself as the gorgeously graceful Cirque du Soleil performer, effortlessly swinging and twirling through the air? You don’t have to run away and join the circus to get the giddiness of circus flight. Take an aerial yoga class at Aero Joe, where we found ourselves looking at the complete strangers standing beside us in class, smiling with glee at the crazy-cool moves we were about to perform. We also found ourselves sore in places we’d never been sore before, so it clearly engages a full range of muscle zones for an incredibly effective workout.
Founded in 2013, the classical Pilates studio Aero Joe was the first in Alabama to offer aerial fitness. Aero Joe owner Allison Page fell in love with aerial yoga when her ballet company, AROVA Contemporary Ballet, began incorporating it into their performances. “It’s basically traditional yoga with the exhilaration of flight,” says Allison. “You can experience the circus arts and feel like a kid again, all while building strength and flexibility.” Silks suspended from the rafters support all of the movement, so beginning students can experience advanced yoga postures like inversions. At the advanced level, students put multiple skills together, creating Cirque du Soleil-inspired aerial dance choreography.
“Exercise used to happen in the human context. You had to walk up that hill to get where you’re going or farm in the field, but now it’s like we have to run on a treadmill for 30 minutes because that’s what the doctor ordered,” says ballroom and Latin dancing instructor Christopher Busbin. “So for me, dance puts exercise back in that holistic context where you’re relating to another person and you’re moving to music. And it makes me experience music in a different way.” Ballroom dancing also incorporates elongated movements that require tensile strength, resulting in a long, lean look, which is a plus for many women. But it also requires dancers to focus on the music and their partner, forcing them to forget their day-to-day worries and enter an almost meditative dancing zone.
“It’s my personal therapy, my stress reliever, and it’s just so much fun! Christopher keeps my mind working and my body moving,” says Christopher’s student, Vickie, who also appreciates the mental and physical barriers she’s overcome so many times in her ballroom dance practice, giving her a sense of achievement. “If you go around smiling all day, you’ll start to feel brighter. It’s the same concept here,” adds Christopher. “So whenever you’re doing something like the salsa or a cha-cha, you have to zip yourself into this more carefree, fun, flirty character that you wouldn’t be before you entered the dance floor.” Christopher teaches one-on-one ballroom lessons, couple’s ballroom lessons and Salsa Fit, a Latin-based group exercise class, at the Alabama Ballet studios. Grab your man and go try a 30-minute ballroom lesson for a fun way to exercise and connect to each other!
If you relish a physical challenge and aren’t afraid for your muscles to shake like leaves on a tree, then this intense, 55-minute workout is for you! For the ballet alumna, spoiler alert: this is not dance. The ballet barre is simply used to perform many of the exercises in class, but Neighborhood Barre does not require any dance knowledge. Based off of the Lotte Berk technique, NB classes are fast paced, with pumping tunes to back up a complete strength training and cardio workout without impact. There is no bouncing or jumping, and every move is very controlled. “We have seen many people rehabilitate injuries and be able to participate post partum without complications,” says co-owner Sara Nall. “There is no age limit or size limit, as the workout is completely modifiable to suit any fitness level.”
“I have run, done aerobics, yoga and many other forms of exercise, but the Neighborhood Barre technique, sculpts the body faster and better than any other form of exercise I have tried,” adds instructor Crista Roemen.
Body Jam is part of the New Zealand-based Les Mills fitness classes. Every three months, a new class routine, choreographed by Gandalf Archer, is released at a giant launch party. Participants work up a sweat as they build on a simple dance routine throughout the class. So you’re too busy using your brain to look at the clock or think about your daily worries. We also liked that the lights are low for a relaxed atmosphere, where you don’t feel like you are on display. And the moves are repetitive enough, that you have a chance to get the move down for a feeling of accomplishment. “I love that I’m getting an hour-long cardio class without realizing that even one minute has passed, because the music and moves are so awesome that I get chills,” says instructor Haley Treadaway. “As a mother in my 30s, I love that it makes me feel so super-cool!
“Body Jam is so expertly choreographed with perfectly hand-selected music that once you’ve experienced it, you kind of become obsessed,” says Haley, who once taught a class in the rain in the parking lot, music blaring from her car, because the YMCA had lost power and her class was hungry for its Body Jam workout. “It was an awesome bonding experience, almost like team building within the group exercise class!”
At Haley’s recommendation, we also snuck upstairs to check out her sister Jennifer Reardon’s YMCA barre class, which was rocking the most hip mix of tunes and also featured forgiving low lighting. We loved how Jennifer was sharing three levels of modifications for each move, making the newbie feel a sense of accomplishment, while offering more advanced students a challenge.
Hooping, the modern term for hula hooping, is a truly laid-back way to get your exercise on. The class is part rhythmic hooping routine, part learning and practicing new tricks, and part freestyle hooping. Robbie Lewis discovered hula hooping at a bluegrass music festival in Atlanta, where she was mesmerized by a girl doing simple waist hooping. After playing with hoops for years, she started teaching classes at St. Vincent’s One Nineteen and formed Hoop for Fitness.
“The hoop is your dancing partner, your prop and your exercise! We can teach you to hoop, even if you have never been able to hula hoop as a child,” says Robbie. “We also teach ways to move with the hoop off your body. It truly puts a smile on your face!” All levels are welcome. Grab a class with Ann at St. Vincent’s One Nineteen, visit Victoria at Caldwell Park or hang out with Robbie at a community event. You can also join a Fire FlowJam at Avondale Brewery on the third Thursday of each month, a free movement session with great tunes and sharing of new tricks, as well as advanced hoopers displaying tricks with juggling and even fire!
We didn’t have any “during” pictures of this new workout, because it takes place in the dark! Laura Interval, an artists’ and actors’ coach, often uses physical exercises to break through mental blocks. She created this exercise form—part dance movement therapy, part dance party—as a way to get a terrific workout while having fun. “We rarely let go in a conscious way, with the kind of abandon that allows us to connect to our minds and bodies and release all the stress and emotional junk that we hold,” says Laura. “In the dark, your inhibitions will disappear and you can feel what it really feels like to dance like no one’s watching, while surrounded with the positive energy of other women doing the same.”
The hosts, called “SOL Sisters,” offer intentions to focus on for your body and mind during the dance session. But once the lights go out, there are no instructions other than to move to the music, freeing you from any feeling of having to do things the “right” way. “Dancing in your own way is so much fun, you don’t even realize how much exercise you’re getting,” says Laura. “I want every woman to experience this empowering, freeing and confidence-building hour.”
So maybe you are craving more personal expression or a confidence boost through ballroom dance, Body Jam or SOL Dance Experience, or maybe you need a high-intensity, low-impact workout like Neighborhood Barre, or maybe you just want a completely unique experience like aerial yoga or hooping. You can find fun workout fulfillment in Birmingham’s diverse exercise scene!
Have you seen our photo gallery from the ZooGala 2015? Check it out here as we bet you see someone you know! styleblueprint.com/birmingham/gallery/zoo-gala-2015/