Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Better 'Fit'

I'm really pleased with how my WE cover story worked out this week!

A Better ‘Fit’

Some people seem to have exited the womb running marathons for pleasure. But a great many more of us have never had a natural inclination toward sport and fitness. To those who are emphatically convinced exercise sucks, every form of workout has its own built-in reasons for our rejection: soccer looks stupid, boxing is bloody, and mall-walking is just sad. When you’ve built up a lifetime’s worth of excuses to not do something, it’s hard to face the fact that, eventually, everyone must make peace with physical fitness. Luckily, no one ever said it has to be boring.

For those of us requiring something a little more engaging than grunting our way through a spin class, Vancouver offers plenty of workouts to trick your body and mind into thinking exercise can be fun, simultaneously getting the heart pumping and the party started.


After a rehearsal with burlesque group Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society left her huffing and puffing but still smiling, Melody Mangler had an “A-ha!” moment, and Burlesque Aerobics was born.

A form of entertainment that dates back to the 14th century, the current incarnation of burlesque more closely resembles early-20th-century music and comedy revues in which striptease was the highlight. Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society, of which Mangler is a founder and the current artistic director, has been at the forefront of Vancouver’s burlesque revival.

Going well beyond the basic art of bump ’n’ grind, Burlesque Aerobics focuses on strength training, cardio, and stretching, using the sexy and saucy moves perfected in classic stripteases. “It’s quite dance oriented, so everyone comes out learning certain choreography sequences, but we also embrace silliness — [like making] cat noises,” Mangler says.

The class is typically attended by women, though Mangler says exceptions have been made for men in the past. Add to that its focus on creating a body-positive environment and incorporating fun props (boas!), and Mangler promises an hour of empowerment, fun, and fitness. Burlesque Aerobics takes place Mondays from 7-8pm at Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society’s East Vancouver rehearsal studio, called the Chicken Coop. Screaming Chicken also offers other burlesque-inspired classes, courses, and workshops, with subjects ranging from costuming to dance. More info:


It’s really not a surprise that Devon Boorman was a Renaissance Faire guy in high school. After all, he did go on to co-found Academie Duello, birthplace of Vancouver’s modern swordplay and home to the city’s own Medieval museum. But think twice before teasing him about a codpiece or a cup of mead — he could probably cut a bitch into 20 pieces with just four moves.

Not that he would, of course. After all, in the Academie’s six years, there has never been a serious injury, even though students are training with actual slice-and-dice-capable swords. The key is the Academie’s focus on safety and fun — which, incidentally, lends itself to some pretty firm muscles and kick-ass cardio. There are numerous classes for fledgling swordsmen (and women), including martial arts, stage combat, Olympics-style fencing, umbrella defense, and an innovative program called SwordFit, which combines technical sword (sparring, swinging, and handling) and circuit training.

“Swordplay is a full-body workout,” Boorman promises. “It’s both inherently fun and inherently physical. Just connecting with the history and the fantastical element of it is fun, and when you connect that to the process of learning and mastering the use of a sword, you can keep yourself mentally engaged for years. I know I have.” The next beginners’ sessions happen May 3, 4, and 8. For information, classes, and schedules, visit


Ever since Cirque du Soleil contorted its way into the mainstream and blew the lid off previous notions of Big Top entertainment, the word “circus” has acquired infinitely cooler connotations. Images of pratfalling clowns and bearded fat ladies have given way to lean, graceful, bendy bodies performing seemingly impossible feats that are both fantastical and inspirational.

Travis Johnson, co-founder of the Vancouver Circus School, has spent his entire life melding athleticism, entertainment, and art, and sees circus training as the perfect alternative to a gym. “My dad says, ‘The fun is in the fitness and the fitness is in the fun,’” Travis says. “Which is so true for all of our classes. They’re a fun way to get a workout... and learn some really cool tricks.”

Travis and his parents are championship trampolinists and coaches, heavily involved in acrobatics and circus arts. In fact, his father, Aaron, who’s also his business partner, coached Cirque’s own acrobats. That experience was what led the men to open their first location in North Vancouver in 2004. This summer, they’re set to open a second location in New Westminster in order to keep up with demand, which sees classes fill up within three hours of opening registration.

Travis guarantees a workout unlike any other, but the actual classes sound like the key to unlocking your inner child: trampoline, acrobatics, aerial silks, swinging trapeze, juggling, unicycle, tight-wire, and aerial hoop classes. The New West location promises circus boot camp and circus core conditioning (red clown noses optional). For classes, schedule, and information, visit


The Dance Dance Party Party phenomenon has been making its way west since crowded rooms full of women rocking leg warmers and off-the-shoulder sweaters got together in New York City in 2006, based on the belief that ladies-only dance parties were the workouts of the future.

Sarah Bynoe, a local actress and event organizer, is Vancouver’s DDPP “Den Mother,” a term that would mean leader in any other outfit, but is indicative of the deliberate casualness of the DDPP ethos. “The set-up is simple,” Bynoe says. “An hour and a half of booty-busting tunes, a dance studio or other room with the lights turned low, and women willing to let go.”

Bynoe became a fan of DDPP founders Glennis McMurray and Marcy Girt after discovering their online comedy videos. She contacted the duo, and DDPP Vancouver was born. There are no real rules to the dance party, which might be one of the reasons it’s so readily appealing to those who are apprehensive about starting a more formalized workout.

“It suits all fitness levels, as you are your own teacher,” Bynoe says. “Some ladies come and just step-touch or do other simple low-energy dance moves; other ladies are busting out breakdance moves. Because one of the main rules is ‘no judgment,’ especially of yourself, it’s an ideal place for someone to come who’s just starting out exercising. It’s the best cardio session I’ve had in a long time, and I work out at a gym fairly regularly.” For classes, schedule, and information, visit


Exercise isn’t boring if you’re naked — that’s just a fact. Fortunately, there’s a long-established home for those looking to experience the soothing sensation of chlorinated liquid on buck-naked skin whilst enjoying a riveting game of water polo.

Since 1998, Templeton Pool has been home to NIFTY (Naked Iconoclasts Fighting the Yoke), a monthly, family-friendly swim night, which offers lane swimming (best for building up cardio endurance and muscle tone) and water games (similar health benefits, but disguised as fun). Kimberley DePaco joined in 2004, and though she had always been comfortable with the concept of nudity, she admits she had plenty of reservations attending her first in-the-flesh swim. “The newness of being around others who were nude put my fear of the unknown in high gear,” she says. “I mean, how do I act? What do you talk about? Where the heck do you put your eyes? All these were going around my brain.”

DePaco empathizes with those afraid of taking that initial leap. “It’s a hard thing, going through your entire life learning how to dress yourself to ‘complement’ your body,” she says. “Going from that to, ‘Here’s my body — just me!’ can be a great mind-fuck. The key thing to know is that the people who go to these swims are not judging your body, they’re interacting with the person. The swims are full of real people, of all sizes and ages and nationalities. They’re just a lot happier, ’cause they don’t have to stuff themselves into a constricting swimsuit.” For a list of NIFTY naked swims and other events and information, visit

No comments: