Fancy feet

The Yard from a student point of view.


In this brave new world of online classes, I thought I would try my hand at the virtual offerings the Yard is providing this summer: Pilates, contemporary, and jazz dance, and yoga.

First up was Pilates, taught by Kimberly Murry on Mondays and Wednesdays from noon to 1 pm. I tuned in just as Murry was getting started. While I do have a yoga mat, I didn’t have hand weights, but with Murry’s direction, I scavenged my cupboards and came up with two large one-pound baked bean cans, which, as it turns out, worked just fine.

All I knew about Pilates going in is that it’s a lot about strengthening your core, but I soon discovered that this is way more than just my outer abdominal muscles. Murry explains, “Most people think of your abs as just your six-pack abs, but underneath that, Pilates is working to work on your transverse abdominals, which are your deepest abs that wrap as a band around your midsection. The core is anything that is attached to your trunk from the top of your sternum all the way down to your pubic bone — your trunk.” Murry had us engage our core so that the energy moved out to our limbs. “We are trying to work from the inside out, as deeply as possible.”

Unlike yoga, we didn’t contort ourselves into positions, or flow from one to another. Like a regular exercise class, there was repetition of movement, but it didn’t feel like it continued on forever. Murry stressed our use of breath too, which she says when coordinated with the movement is a way to really reach and strengthen those deeper muscles.

Jesse Keller Jason’s contemporary dance class, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 to 11 am, had a whole different feel. Jason led us through a warmup where we stood facing her, which was easy to follow. We moved through stretches, bending of the knees with our feet in different simple positions (pliés), extending the leg forward or side through to a pointed toe (tendus), among other things. Unlike Pilates or yoga, in dance class you repeat these short sequences to counts in the music, which provided an undercurrent that helped my body complete the motions. She taught us two movement sequences that, although they got us moving, I could do even within the tiny confines of my living room. Jason demonstrated the movements first, we practiced with her, and then she called it out, cueing us when we moved to dancing with the music.

Jason also had us do improvisational movement, making our own shapes when she called out phrases such as big, little, round, static, and flowing. Putting my Zoom screen on gallery view, I could see everyone, which created a beautiful sense of dancing together. Jason’s a pro at creating a class that accommodates first-timers to seasoned dancers, so everyone should give it a try.

I felt centered, grounded, and more flexible after Mollie Doyle’s 8 to 9 am Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday yoga class. She started with something a little different that day, explaining that it was Guru Purnima, a holiday (celebrated this year on July 5th) when yogis and yoginis traditionally honor their teachers. Thus, we were to bring to mind a teacher of any kind who had an important impact on our lives, and dedicate the class to her or him.

We then began with moving from downward facing dog to a wide variety of asanas or poses, which she demonstrated with various alternatives and levels of challenge. Although her class is not for beginners, Doyle’s explanations helped me make choices that could accommodate my limitations. We were, she reminded us, to follow our own body’s wisdom. “Any good teacher is teaching you to know not what to think, but how to think,” she offered.

And, like any class, breath was paramount. “Follow the breath,” she said; “breath is our greatest teacher.” Wonderfully, it was Doyle who taught me this.

Holly Jones kept us moving, the beat going, and the music flowing from the first moment of her class onward. She teaches a jazz class Fridays from noon to 1 pm. Having taken jazz before, I loved the pace. Jones explains, “I call it an open-level class. Hopefully, people can follow along if they’re new to jazz, but it really is geared toward more intermediate students. I certainly don’t want to scare people away if they just want to come and kind of groove and have a good time. But it’s a little bit more technique-based than our other class offerings.”

We began with breathwork, tuning into our bodies, and finding a gentle groove. Next we reached, released, contracted our torsos, and stretched. We went through combinations with simple pliés and tendus, and got our heart rate up with a cardio dance of music-video-backup and ’80s aerobics moves, calling on our inner Jane Fonda. Class ended just the way we started, with big stretches to a dramatic pop ballad.

And while we can’t all literally be in the room together yet, it was a blast to be in each of the classes, moving and sweating with other students and the caring, skilled teachers.

See to learn more about classes, as well as a new one: Ugandan Dance with Godfrey Muwulya, on Fridays in August from noon to 1 pm.