Excuse No. 4 I hate gyms
What's not to like about workout emporiums? The muscle-bound meatheads? The day-old sweat stank? Yeah, we hear you. Luckily there are plenty of other places to get in shape.
Jazzercise may conjure images of braided pink sweatbands and Lycra leotards, but the dance phenomenon of the 1970s is still going strong in Chicago (although the outfits have rightfully changed to Juicy Couture pants and T-shirts). There are Jazzercise classes all over the city—from hospital rec rooms to high-school gymnasiums. In fact, there are more than 30,000 classes held each week in 30 countries. I take the class at Lincoln Park’s Holy Covenant Church (925 W Diversey Pkwy; Mon, Wed 6:30pm; Sat 9am) because, well, I’ve never taken a gym class in a church before. When I arrive, I’m directed not to a fancy gym locker room but to the church’s bathroom to change. Needless to say, this is the opposite of a see-and-be-seen gym, and I relish not having to wear fancy workout gear and makeup (there’s no one of the male variety to impress anyway, since the class is made up of about 25 women ranging in age from about 20 to 45).
I love the easy pace of the dance class, the light disco moves and the comfortable atmosphere. We grapevine and high kick it to songs ranging from club dance music to oldies I remember my parents singing when I was a kid. After every song, we cheer, applaud and hoot, which puts a huge smile on my face. Compared to a grueling spin class, Jazzercise is a piece of cake. But because I’m jumping, hopping and dipping for an hour, my heart rate still gets up there. Plus, the camaraderie can’t be beat: I’ve been working out at my neighborhood gym for two years, and I’ve never talked to any of my fellow gymgoers. But after an hour of Jazzercise, I felt like I’d known these women for years. Classes are held in locations throughout the city and are about $37 per month depending on the package; check jazzercise.com.
Go-go back in time
It’s amusing to see 25 women reminiscing about the 1960s when none of them were likely alive back then. But so it goes at the Flamenco Arts Center during a Go-Go Dancing class on a recent Tuesday evening, when twentysomethings become ’60s club kids for an hour. We dance to ’60s songs—think “My Girl,” “Please, Mr. Postman,” and “Good Vibrations”—and learn how to dance the Pony, the Jerk and the Hully Gully. After teaching choreography for 45 minutes, the instructor shuts off the lights and turns on her disco ball, encouraging us to let it all hang out for one final song. And we do. The room is hopping while we jump around and shake our booties in time with those heavy ’60s beats. It’s too fun to feel like a workout, but when it’s over, I’m sweating and breathing heavily, and my legs are a little sore the following day. Now I understand how Goldie Hawn stayed so skinny during her Laugh-In days. 3755 N Western Ave (773-868-4130). $60 for six classes or $12 for a single class.
My tight jeans are telling me that power walking from my Bucktown apartment to Wicker Park bars isn’t burning enough calories. It’s time to dust off my Asics, but I hate feeling like a hamster whenever I hit the treadmill at my local gym. The free running clubs that meet at Fleet Feet Chicago seemed like a good solution: Surely their outdoor “fun runs” would offer plenty of fresh air and scenic views. I try the club at the Piper’s Alley Fleet Feet, which offers fun runs Mondays through Wednesdays at 6:30pm. (Tuesdays are women-only. The stores in Lincoln Square and Elmhurst host runs at different times; see fleetfeetchicago.com for details.) If you don’t want your coworkers to see your saggy sweatpants, have no fear: Fleet Feet has three fitting rooms where you can change, a restroom and a storeroom where you can leave your stuff.
The vibe at the coed run I join is relaxed and friendly, and many of the participants are clearly regulars. Since I’m apprehensive about running alone at night, I’m relieved to learn that Fleet Feet employees accompany us on the three-, five- or seven-mile runs along the lakefront. They also offer us blinking lights to carry for extra security. Dave, a member of the Fleet Feet staff, says fun runs take place year-round “unless it’s icy” and walkers are welcome. “We go out even if there’s only one person,” he promises. I’m exhausted by the time I finish my run, but I no longer feel like a hamster. Maybe a squirrel, though. 210 W North Ave (312-587-3338). Free.
Leap of faith
Rather than feeling an invigorating rush of nostalgia as I’m slipping on my pink ballet shoes at Lou Conte Dance Studio, my stomach is clenched as tight as the bun in my hair. I haven’t danced in ten years. Plus, I was just okay at ballet when I was young and crazy-limber, so why do I want to punish my creaky limbs with pirouettes now? Luckily, Lou Conte offers classes for all levels of ballerina—as well as jazz, modern, hip-hop and tap—from basic (no prior training) to advanced (for the pros). I sign up for the beginner class, thinking I’ve remembered enough steps to skip the basic level. But as we’re warming up at the barre to the tunes of a live piano player (a nice touch), I’m realizing I’m way out of my league. I barely recall ever doing these steps, and I sure as hell can’t make my body do them now. After 30 minutes of racing to keep up with the music while white-knuckling the barre, I’m sweaty and nearly panting. The floor work we do next is even more tiring—mentally and physically. “Changement! Entrecat!” The instructor is calling out French terms for what are basically jumps, and as I struggle through them I glimpse myself in the mirror: Not only do I look like a severely addled kangaroo, but when the rest of the class is in the air, I’m on the ground, and vice versa. Yet when the 90-minute class is finally over and I’m changing back out of my ballet shoes, I’m sweaty, exhausted and somehow exhilarated—it’s hands down the best workout I’ve had in years. Eat that, Anna Pavlova. 1147 W Jackson Blvd (312-850-9766, hubbardstreetdance.org). $14 per class.