"OK, we're here," my Uber driver murmured as we pulled up to the South Beach fitness studio Barre Motion. "Ugh," I groaned, slowly opening my eyes one at a time, allowing the day's sunlight to pervade my vision, accelerating the throb of my headache. It was not yet 11 in the morning, and my hangover from Friday night's festivities was at an all-time high. Somehow, though, I peeled myself off the velour car seat, fumbled onto the street's pavement at Lennox Avenue and 16th Street, and schlepped over to the Barre Motion's entrance in my most capable Walking Dead gimp.
Barre Motion, Dr. Julie Jacko's latest fitness venture, emphasizes low-impact isometric movements through a series of ballet- and yoga-style classes. Local writers and bloggers were summoned to participate in one of the hourlong sessions.
After hurling the door open, I was greeted by Danny, the chipper receptionist. He handed me a much-needed water bottle and a new-client form. Soon we made our way to meet Julie herself, our instructor for the day.
Not an ounce of fat lingered on her petite frame, and her tawny hair was styled into a pixie bob; not a lot of women can get away with such a short cut. The only other person on record who has looked bad-ass in such a style was Winona Ryder, pre-klepto days.
"Thank you for making it out today," she said. I appreciated her succinct commentary, chiefly because it hurt to talk, let alone think of a clever reply.
Danny also gave me the low-down on Julie, filling me in on how she's not your average fitness instructor, garnering a PhD in human factors engineering, the cognitive and physical study of reaching the highest levels of performance.
For some reason, Danny took to my irreparable cynicism and offered to better acquaint me with the lay of the land before the class began.
The space oozed optimism, with every nook and cranny glowing white; even the lockers were coated in glossy white ceramic. Though mostly neutral-toned, accent pieces like a green plant box and colorful scented candles for sale made for bright adornments to the airy space. Near the stark-white lockers stood a fancy travertine tile shower with stainless-steal furnishings. Past the locker area was the patio, where cool hues of turquoise, gray, and white covered linen pillows and wooden tables accompanying contemporary leather sofas and a giant square umbrella.
The last installment of the grand tour was the classroom. Black foam mats floated on a sea of marble flooring. Every mat was paired with an unassuming little white rubber ball, a white towel, a black karate belt -- for stretching purposes -- and a thin bright-yellow resistance band that resembled caution tape, a daunting sight. What exactly were we about to embark on? As beautiful as the atmosphere was, it still couldn't mitigate the gruesome thought of my weakened and tainted body engaging in any form of physical activity.
Entering the room, Julie adjusted her headset and started us off slowly with soft-tempo music and a few fundamental tips to consider throughout the class. The most pivotal of the tips was "the tuck," which is essentially tucking your ass -- or as Julie likes to call it, your "seat" -- under to better neutralize your spine, enhancing the workout. Seemed easy enough.
From tucks came pliés. I never thought myself graceful, so slight embarrassment swept over me while I unevenly crouched low, Jiminy Cricket style. I didn't feel too bad, however, after I noticed the rest of the attendees also struggled to keep their balance while dipping low during their grand pliés, save for one superhuman in the middle of the class who trumped the rest of us novices.
Suddenly, the soft-tempo music ramped up to "Bulletproof" by La Roux. My stomach flipped. Fuck, I thought. It's go time. Weary eyes made contact with others around the room as we all braced for the ultimate ass-whooping.
"Pick up the pace," Julie commanded. "And lift, lift, lift, lift," she said while threading her feet, alternating on relevé, and encouraging us to follow along.
Calf-burning exercises of lifting and lowering our legs continued. Uncomfortable chuckles echoed through the room as if to say, "Help me -- my calves are melting off. Do I even have calves anymore? Please check."
Chuckles weakened into faint yammering after the otherwise innocent-looking white balls made their way into the routine.
"Tuck the ball in between your legs and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, squeeze," Julie insisted. It was bad enough that we all looked like we suffered from the meanest case of hemorrhoids ever known to man, but what made things worse was the pulsating anguish between our near-lifeless gams.
"Hold the squeeze, and lower as low as you can," Julie said, adding more weight and repetition to the load.
Now, ordinarily I would have loved the intensity of said squeezing, lifting, and consistent relevés; in fact, I would have relished the cornucopia of physical challenges. But this day, my body knew how to say only one thing: "Fuck you, Nycole."
The thigh and "seat" work dissipated, and we leaped onto a new foray -- abs. In a seated position, we flattened our backs against the mirrored walls and planted our hands firmly onto our foam mats. Then Julie told us to attempt to suspend our legs in the air, triggering our cores and, more specifically, our lower abdominal muscles. Beet-red faces dripped sweat profusely, and moans escaped between clenched teeth.
Throughout the shared agony, Julie made sure to stretch us out after every set of muscle-clamping exercises, giving us a much-needed breather and the perfect opportunity to sneak in a few ounces of H20.
But just when we thought the sweat-showers had come to a halt, Julie instructed us to flip over onto our stomachs and proceed in plank position.
"Now you're going to hold this for a whole minute and a half," she said.
Already shaking from the set of arm workouts with the menacing yellow caution tape and the gaggle of ab-tightening reps, I hoisted my body into parallel position and began to quake. Many of us dropped like flies but regained our position almost immediately. It's almost over, I thought. Suck it up, you pansy.
"Fifteen more seconds. Come on!" Julie shot out through the microphone.
While she slowly counted down each second, time passed like years, decades even. But I knew if I dropped during these last 15 seconds, defeat would cloud the rest of my day.
Finally, the word "one" was uttered from Julie's lips, and bodies plopped simultaneously to the ground in unison, face-planting into our mats.
A look of "we survived" was exchanged among participants, and relief washed over our carcasses as Julie led a deep stretch before we jumped back to our feet.
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Congratulations, along with a pat on the back, were our intangible rewards. A bowl of protein bars sat next to an army of coconut water cartons. A ravenous hankering overtook my once-absent appetite, and with one quick swoop, two protein bars suddenly went missing.
And though I arrived at Barre Motion with not a shred of dignity to my name and tequila on my breath, I left that day with one perky-looking ass. I mean seat.
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