“The year was 1974. My dream was to open up an exercise studio that was fun. I had taken classes all over the city of Los Angeles. Most of the classes were very serious. Everyone looked like they were pouting while they worked out. That is when I decided that I needed to open up a place where people smiled when they sweated and danced to the music. So in the summer of 1974, I opened my doors to ‘Slimmons.’”
Famed fitness guru Richard Simmons may have minted the “alternative exercise” movement with his Slimmons studio and “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” line of aerobic videos, but even the icon himself couldn’t have foreseen where the world of workouts was heading. In the intervening years since Simmons swept gymgoers off their feet with his fun brand of body work, a host of eclectic exertions have taken up the torch.
In the 1990s, cardio kickboxing delivered a potent punch. Indoor rock-climbing walls began to crop up. Soon, “twerking” was made famous at studios like Twerk Werkz by Kelechnekoff in the U.K. (kelechnekoff.com), and by 2017, goat and/or alpaca yoga were promising peace and quiet by commingling humans with their animal counterparts.
Of course, Martha’s Vineyard was not to be outdone in the realm of “crunchy calisthenics.” In 2019, a handful of new entrants are delighting Islanders and tourists alike with fresh spins on old faithfuls:
Class: “Spinging” (a.k.a. Sing-Along Cycling, a.k.a. Karaoke on Wheels)
Studio: Airport Fitness, 24 Vineyard Haven Rd., Edgartown, airportfitnessmv.com; 508-696-8000
Instructor: Kye Howell
Time: Thursdays, 5:15 – 6:15 pm
Cost: Free with Airport Fitness membership, $15 nonmembers, $10 first-timers
In this love child of cycling and crooning, director of fitness and “mental/physical architect” Kye Howell combines spin-class experience from Soho’s Crunch Fitness and his side hustle as karaokeist in fine fashion. Howell — along with his class — sweat it out while singing (or at least trying to sing) along with popular tunes, lyrics scrolling on a flat-screen monitor perched at the front of the room.
“Part of the idea comes from Mathew Knowles, Beyoncé’s father,” Howell explained between breaths. “He would have the band Destiny’s Child run in high heels so they would have amazing breath control on stage. Plus, it makes the time go by way faster.”
Indeed, “Spinging” is a bit like “America’s Got Talent” crossed with the Tour de France, and your yellow (or tie-dyed) jersey will soon be as drenched as if pedaling through the Pyrenees.
“I’ve been attending fitness conferences for over 20 years, and I’ve never heard of this concept,” added Airport Fitness owner Connie McHugh. “So I decided, Why not start it on the Vineyard?”
Degree of Difficulty: 5
Fun Factor: 8
How You Feel After: 10
Instructor: Molly Lindberg
Time: Tuesdays, 8 – 9 am, Cannonball Park, Edgartown
According to Elevate Martha’s Vineyard co-founder Molly Lindberg, “Hula-Hoop Flow” is “an expression of explorative, joyous movement,” and amid the sunshine and cannonballs of Cannonball Park in Edgartown, it’s hard not to agree. “The class developed with the intention to create a safe space to explore being yourself and cultivate the courage to fully embody who you want to be.”
Who you want to be may be a better Hula-Hooper, but even the nonconcentric and circularly challenged can find joy in stretching and moving the harmonizing hoop. “You don’t even have to know how to Hula-Hoop,” Lindberg assures prospective students.
Elevate is just getting off the ground with offerings like co-founder Jameson Little’s “Imaginative Yoga” at the Edgartown Lighthouse, a free “Morning Radiance Meditation-Movement” class on Sundays, and plans for a “Sunrise Meditation” on the Mad Max sailboat. “I would love to do an introduction to fire dance class,” Lindberg added.
Degree of Difficulty: 6
Fun Factor: 8
How You Feel After:10
Class: “Intro to Indian Club Swinging”
Studio: Eclipse Studio MV, 68 Lagoon Pond Rd., Vineyard Haven, eclipsestudiomv.com; 617-935-6499.
Instructor: Derek Notman (12riverstaichi.com)
Time: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6:15 – 7:15 pm
Returning to the Island after a stint in Boulder, Colo., healer and martial arts master Derek Notman offers a plethora of intriguing services, none more curious than “Intro to Indian Club Swinging.” “Indian club swinging is one of the oldest forms of recorded physical culture,” Notman told The Local, “and is still practiced today in the Ankara of India and the Zurkaneh of Iran. It consists of swinging wooden clubs in a variety of patterns to strengthen the body, especially hands, forearms, and shoulders.”
It takes a little bit of practice (you may bonk your head a couple of times), but the introduction is grounding and satisfying, and can raise your pulse well above 72 beats per minute. The class is divided into two 30-minute segments. The first half is warm-ups and exercises with the clubs to strengthen and stretch the body. The last half is devoted to learning the five basic circles and the art of swinging clubs in these patterns.
“In addition to swinging the club,” added Notman, “I’ll be teaching my own particular distillation of physical culture and self-care derived from 30 years of healing, meditation, and martial arts.” Some of those physical cultures include traditional classes in tai chi and Xin Yi Liu He Quan (integrating the heart and mind through the six harmonies).
Degree of Difficulty: 7
Fun Factor: 8
How You Feel After: 10
They may have whimsical names and offbeat trappings, but each of these inventive isometrics is well worth a try. Benefits include increased heart health, core strengthening, improved mindfulness, a better singing voice, and a path toward integration. “People are so exocentric these days …” Notman wisely lamented.
How would exercise legend Richard Simmons categorize today’s influx of fun fitness? One thing is for sure — the days of “no pain, no gain,” are over, at least for now. One can only wonder what’s coming next.