Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Twisting your way to bliss, part 1

In order to maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle, one must eat. Frequently. To balance out all that eating, however, there's exercise. And it can be fun! Finding the right exercise class takes some scoping out. Important factors to include are:

  1. The instructor. Is he/she encouraging or slightly judgmental? Does she/he clearly have favorites and only pay attention to them?
  2. The playlist.  Do the songs match the mood of the workout or do you want to cringe the umpteenth time you've heard "Moves Like Mick Jagger"?
  3. Continuity. Is this something you can actually see yourself sticking to? Do you find it enjoyable?

If the sound of lunges, burpees, crunches and flying pushups makes you cringe, as it does for me, you may get exhausted just thinking about the workout even before it begins.

I prefer the option of dancing myself silly (getting into shape is an added bonus). Zumba, Hip Hop, Belly Dance, African, Bhangra/Bollywood, and Yoga. These are all methods to fitness I revel in and if you're like me, you may want to de-stress/balance out all that yummy food intake with classes at these places:

M Dance Fitness has several locations in Midtown, Chelsea, and Union Square. All the instructors here are super nice and the Zumba and Hip Hop classes are equally fun and the best playlists (for Zumba) I've heard so far in New York. The three main instructors have their own unique style, but all are worthwhile talking. With her small frame and short haircut, Diana Dove puts me to shame when she teachers her hip hop class. I mean, yeah, I wasn't trained in it, but her movements are just so fluid that I'm jealous. The one class I took with Gina Masulla was high-energy too. And Misty's classes, instructor and owner, are always a good time.

While many Zumba moves are repeated no matter what class you take and who's teaching it, I've found I definitely like certain teachers' styles and playlists a lot more than others. Some classes mix in a bhangra or Middle Eastern song or something unexpected and that's usually great fun. Aside from the classes at M Dance Fitness, I quite enjoy the Friday night Zumba at Pearl Studios with Jessica from R.i.S.E. It's high energy and so fun. I sweat more than I have in awhile (partially because the room was super hot, but it was also a good workout). Her playlist my first class was great. It was all Latin except for "Rock around the clock" and included Danza Duro and some Shakira, winning choices in my book. The Monday night class with Julie gets you pumped too. She's a lot more peppy but not overly so and "Jai Ho" seems to usually be on her playlist, which I'm a big fan of. I'm not sure if it's because I've sweated so much by the time she gets 'round to playing it or because the song gets in my bones, but I always feel like I'm going to take flight when we dance to it.

These classes were much better than say the time I took an evening Zumba class at the New York Sports Club in Midwood and endured two country western songs. I have no problem with country music (well, good country music that is) but I feel like it just didn't fit. It's like the swing dancing to rap.

A trial class at M Dance Fitness is $15. The normal drop-in rate is $20 with class passes available for varying costs. Zumba drop-in at R.i.S.E is $16 at the door, $13 if purchased online.

Perk: Last time I checked, M Dance was looking for someone to stay at the front door at one of their studios and let people in in exchange for classes. Not sure if this has already been filled but check back. Many studios offer classes in exchange for volunteering at the studio.

I started taking classes at the D.C. location of Dhoonya Dance five or so years ago during college. I was searching for a space with a less competitive atmosphere than say GW University's bhangra scene/dance teams. I wasn't too keen on the Joy of Motion Bollywood/bhangra option either. I started off doing DhoonyaBasics and basically retook it four times in a row, sometimes with the same instructor, but always with new routines. I liked the idea of mastering something. No need to challenge myself. It felt nice to know what I was doing and not have to hide in the back of class. Then a few years ago, they added DhoonyaFit--an intense and fast workout. The first time I took it, I felt like I was going to pass out from being out of breath. But in comparison to other feelings I've had during/post some workouts, I decided this was something to continue. While it was fast-paced and challenging to keep up at first, it didn't make me want to cry like the thighs and tris class I attempted at Triomph Fitness in Park Slope. When Dhoonya expanded to NYC, I was not only ecstatic for the ladies I saw grow a small business into an awesomely marketed/visible dance/performance school, I was glad that if I moved, I could continue my dance education.

NYC Belly Dance with R.i.S.E
Wednesday night class was fun. I've taken belly dance classes before (and in Spanish too) and been confused. Especially about making figure 8s with your hips but now I get it. Instructor broke it down in away I understood. Something I can do with my hips and not feel limited by them or that they're too big. I know it sounds cliche to say, but knowing that you can indeed move in ways you didn't makes you feel a bit better about yourself. I'm an accessories girl, so the instructor having extra hip scarves for students to wear was so much fun.

I know yoga isn't dancing, but it's just as graceful (ideally anyway.) That's why I've included it here. There are so many yoga spots in NYC and Brooklyn, that I won't even attempt to go to all of them. Here are a couple I have gone to.

Yoga Vida's Union Square location is beautiful. The dark hardwood floors, big windows and crimson drapes are so inviting. I was lucky enough to have work off on a day when some classes were still going on and take the Friday noon Flow class with Amanda. She explained transitions very well and was supportive of students taking any modifications they needed (not like some other yoga instructors I've had who expect people to go into crazy bendy things without checking out their level of experience first). Amanda's playlist was so chill and unexpected: Alicia Keys, Ray Charles, Nina Simone, and Joss Stone (since the rest of it was so good, I won't discredit her for the inclusion of Joss Stone). Zoe's Flow class is pretty awesome too. I enjoyed her transitions and positive attitude.

Perk: Newbies can take as many yoga classes their first week for just $10.

YogaSole in Park Slope has an awesome, laid-back vibe, which is actually hard to achieve for studios in New York--at least you can tell the difference between a Manhattan and a Brooklyn studio. I recommend Merav as an instructor. She introduced me to this starfish pose I had never done before but found it a great stretch. This is very tranquil space, quiet. Classes weren't too big and there's no sense of competition here.

Perk: Drop-ins cost $15, but newbies can sign up for a deal to pay for 2 classes and get the third free.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

exercise playlists to live by

Sometimes when I'm on the cross ramp or elliptical (so, rarely), I like to imagine that my hair is blowing in the wind and that I'm in a Bollywood movie, particularly a musical scene. When this fix isn't enough, I go to actual Bollywood/bhangra classes. Well, at least I did in D.C. I fell in love with Dhoonya Dance back in college and can't wait to start classes at their locations in NY. So far, I have taken a few bhangra classes here--mainly at the New York Sports Club on W16th and 8th Ave. when I had a Groupon for a month-long membership. And lately my morning train rides have consisted of listening to past mixes I made and thinking in my head how much choreography I can remember from the past classes I've taken. It also got me thinking...what songs would I like to choreograph a dance workout to? I came up with two lists below:

Bhangra Beats
songs I'd include if I taught a bhangra class:
  1. Patola by Daljit Mattu
  2. Aaja Nachiye Boliyan Paiye by DJ Rekha and Gunjan from Basement Bhangra
  3. Hauli Hauli by Bikram Singh feat. Tigerstyle
  4. Nach Ley (New Flava Mix) by Dr. Zeus
  5. Kudi Patole Wargi by Malkit Singh
  6. Nach Baliye (Bhangra Mix) from Nach Baliye-The Music Album
  7. Bhangra Mega Mix from Judgment Day 3
  8. Mele Vich Jatt by Lehmber Hussainpuri
  9. Pe Pe Pepein by Neeraj Shridhar, Master Saleem, Hard Kaur 
  10. Romantic Jatt by Miss Pooja
Alternates: Lal Ghagra feat. E=MC by Sahara (video below), Captain Bhangra Da by Daljit Mattu, Daru Pee Ke by Romey Gill, Aankh Naal by Kam Dhillon, and Dil Tera by Soni Pabla feat. Miss Pooja

....and Bollywood hip shakers
songs I'd include if I taught a Bollywood dance class:
  • Tumse Milke Dil Ka Jo Haal by Aftab Sabri, Hasim Sabri, Sonu Nigam from Main Hoon Na

  • Laga Laga Prem Rog by Alka Yagnik and Kamaal Khan from Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya
  • Lodi by Gurdas Mann from Veer-Zaara

  • Dil Dooba by Sonu Nigam from Khakee
  • Ishq Kamina by Sonu Nigam from Shakti-The Power

  • Marjaani by Sunidhi Chauhan from Billu Barber

  • Shut Up and Bounce by Sunidhi Chauhan from Dostana 
  • Jogi Mahi by Sukhvinder Singh from Bachna Ae Haseeno
  • Aaja Nachle by Hans Raj Hans from Aaja Nachle
  • Jee Karda by Labh Janjhu from Singh is King
  • Twist by Neeraj Shridhar from Love Aaj Kaal
Alternates: O Re Kanchi by Shaan from Asoka, Fitna Dil (remix) by Udit Narayan from Shikhar, Desi Girl by Shankar Mahadevan from Dostana, Touch Me by Alisha Chinoy from Dhoom: 2, Kajra Mohabbat Wala (remix) by Sonu Nigam
    *I couldn't find YouTube videos for all these songs but if you are really curious and can't find them to download, make a note in the comments section and I'll send them to you.

    Sunday, January 8, 2012

    Continuing education

    Typically I like to try out activities I write about before posting, but I just can't wait this time. Since I moved to Brooklyn, I've hit the ground running, researching all the things to do in the borough and beyond on a budget. I recently came across Dollar Fridays at Brooklyn Creative and thought, "yes! a way to continue my interest in photography without breaking the/into a bank." Brooklyn Creative, an art and photography education center, offers $1 photo classes on select Fridays. Though I minored in photography in college and am already schooled in the basics, I'm sure I could definitely use a refresher. And so, I've marked my calendar to attend the Jan. 20 Composition class from 6-8 p.m.

    $1 Friday classes run two hours and cover a small range of topics in photography including a DSLR Crash Course--if I had one, I'd totally go!--(Jan.13) and one in Adobe Photoshop (Jan. 27). Maybe I'm a nerd, but this sounds like a fun, creative way of spending a Friday night--at least if you want an alternative to happy hour with time to spare should you want to do something after.

    Brooklyn Creative offers a wider range of photography, printmaking and other classes for a heftier fee. Sadly, I will probably not participate in these unless I decide I need to give myself an expensive gift. But if you're less cheap than I am, I encourage taking a look at their course offerings.

    Another site I've been eyeing in hopes to build my skills and have some fun in the process is the listing of classes offered at Brooklyn Brainery. Crowdsourced education for varying prices, the Brainery offers an array of course content but it seems that you have to act fast before classes fill up (of course the food ones I want to attend are all full!) They add new ones all the time, so check back. I certainly will. In the meantime, maybe I'll check out this course on Indian art and architecture.

    Monday, January 2, 2012

    Weeknight Adventures: Dance the night away

    Thursday night after work I had every intention of finally going to the Brooklyn Library to get/validate a library card. I emailed a friend who lives in the vicinity of the Brooklyn Heights location about an hour before the end of work, asking her if she wanted to come with. She called me right on the dot at 5 o'clock and said she and another friend (someone we went to college with) were actually going to go dancing and that there was this sangria open bar thing in the Meatpacking District. This was very much the opposite of going to the library, but I thought, why not? Sangria and a free bhangra lesson? These are two things I enjoy very much.

    And then I realized this was all a precursor to the famed Basement Bhangra nights. Since high school, I have been obsessed with Bollywood movies, Bollywood dance, and bhangra. (My love of Indian food goes further back to when I became a vegetarian at 10 years old and started experimenting with cooking). Anyhoo, not only was this something unexpected that sounded like fun, but also something necessary. I always looked forward to DJ Rekha coming to play at the Black Cat in D.C. and now it was time to see her where it all began: NYC!

    The sangria open bar for $5 at Sob's ran from 7-8 p.m. and the free bhangra lesson began sometime after 9 p.m. All-you-can-drink white or red sangria is a pretty sweet deal and by the time the bhangra lesson rolled around, the place was packed. The crowd ranged from those who clearly needed no lesson to those who were curious to learn. My friends were even called on stage along with other volunteers from the audience to help demonstrate some bhangra moves. So indeed, a great time was had by all.

    And apparently Sob's hosts these bhangra nights about once a month or so. The next one is for this Thursday, Jan. 5. Choose your own adventure. Again, there's an open bar from 7-9 p.m. $5 before 8 p.m. The free bhangra lesson starts at 9 and if you want to stick around for the actual DJ Rekha show, which is bound to be energetic and awesome, tickets are $13 in advance and $16 day-of. If you miss this one, you'll have another chance on Thursday, Feb. 2.