Critic

Finding Pleasure in Pain (On The Dance Floor)

The appeal and addiction of boutique fitness according to writer Sheila Marikar.

I have this thought most mornings, as I shimmy across a blonde wood floor, frantically waving my hands above my head: What the hell am I doing here?

I had plenty of opportunities to opt out. I could’ve snoozed my alarm, left the designer lycra in the dresser drawers, and abstained from the rush-hour traffic that clogs the route to Body by Simone, a sun-flooded exercise studio on Santa Monica Boulevard.

But this is what I do. I position myself front and more or less center as often as possible. And I dance. Not like no one’s watching, but spastically—desperately attempting to emulate the eight-count choreography of the jubilant professional dancer charged with elevating the heart rates of myself and a dozen other panting women.

The thrifty rationalist in me knows I could burn the same amount of calories by, say, jumping rope for an hour. But boutique fitness slays even the most cynical of women: just ask the masses who hover over their keyboards at noon to sign up for Soulcycle and Barry’s Bootcamp classes the moment they appear online. If you aren’t booked by 12:05, you’re screwed.

Designing a regimen—dance cardio class Monday, trampoline Tuesday, hips, thighs, and buns Wednesday—seems like a more strategic way to “get results” than lacing up a pair of sneakers whenever the whim strikes. Plus, at Body by Simone, there’s a $15 no-show fee if you skip a scheduled class or cancel within three hours. The thrifty rationalist hates no-show fees.

Prior to Body by Simone, I swore by S.L.T. (or Strengthen, Lengthen, Tone) a Pilates-cardio-strength training mashup that accomplished its namesake proposition in mind-boggling proportions, thanks to a bizarre six-foot-long machine with many patents. For the first time in my life, I had actual striations in my midsection. I was sore all the time. I even tracked down and spent hours talking with Sebastien Lagree, the inventor of the “megaformer” machine, like a devotee making a pilgrimage to her guru.

The fanciest piece of equipment at Body by Simone, by comparison, is a mini trampoline. The studio has white walls and no neon lights. There’s a balcony with AstroTurf and cushioned chairs. I like to fear a new workout. This place looks as menacing as a Beverly Hills nail salon.

In my case, celebrities are to blame. Their endorsements were my siren call. I found out about Body by Simone after happening on a Daily Mail article that showed Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez leaving the gym (“makeup free!”), sweaty and smiling. Prior to my third class, I was told that the founder, Simone De La Rue, a classically trained ballet dancer who wears hoodies with cheeky quips like “Will work for champagne,” was “doing a private” at a client’s home in the Hollywood Hills. This was enough to convince me to drop nearly four figures on an eight-week “total body makeover plan” that included unlimited classes; before, midpoint, and after measurements; and constant encouragement from a squad of instructors. The head trainer told me that some clients get so hooked they end up doing two classes per day. I laughed.

Here’s the thing: There are very few places in this world where a woman can dance to a Kesha remix unburdened by the worry that some Jägerbomb type will grab her butt. There’s a high that comes from syncing one’s steps with an army of others doing the same thing at the same time. At least, this is what I tell myself when I look for two-hour parking spots and schedule meetings around my favorite instructors’ teaching schedules. Inches lost are the icing on the cake I’m not eating because I want my tally, at the end of eight weeks, to break some kind of record.

Stenciled on one wall is a Baryshnikov quote: “I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.” Me? I’m impressed with my newfound coordination, but I also have a militaristic Britney Spears song—a Body by Simone anthem—stuck in my head. It’s called “Work Bitch.”

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