When I was a kid, I spent hours in the corner of my mum’s aerobics class staring at a bunch of bouffant haired, fluorescent gazelles ‘pony-ing,’ ‘grapevine-ing’ and ‘feeling the burn’. It was the 80s; the age of Jane Fonda aerobics videos and Reebok high-tops, when working out wasn’t really working out unless you were wearing a leotard cut up to your armpits with a string of Lycra wedged up your crack.
Back then overheating was no reason not to wear unbreathable fabrics, leg warmers and blue eye shadow because exercise was as much about getting fit as it was about being seen to be getting fit.
In the 80s you didn’t turn up to class wearing a running festival t-shirt and a pair of shorts that were one squat away from disintegrating. You stood behind your ‘Reebok Slide’ in a full face of makeup, an outfit that took four hours to assemble and a hair-sprayed fringe that had significantly contributed to the hole in the ozone layer.
These were my memories of the glory days of exercise; destined to be confined to the nostalgic recesses of my mind. Until I discovered someone was running an authentic 1980s-inspired aerobics class in the heart of 21st-century Sydney and I couldn’t peddle my spokey doke adorned BMX there quick enough.
Retrosweat is the brainchild of fitness instructor and ex-NIDA graduate Shannon Dooley. A self-confessed lover of all thing 80s, Shannon puts her collection of over 50 vintage leotards to good use, leading a class that’s part workout, part theatre and just about as close to the real thing as you can get in a community hall in the year 2014.
When I walked into my first class I wondered a) whether there was a vintage store in Sydney that had any leotards left because EVERYONE was dressed up and b) what time these people had to finish work to get themselves looking like this.
When Shannon walked into the room the first words that came out of my mouth were “Holy Shit!” because every element of my childhood was right there in front of me. From the over-the-top eye shadow to the high cut leotard and shimmer tights. This wasn’t someone who put on an iTunes ‘Best of the 80s’ playlist and tried to claim an ‘authentic experience’, this was a woman who knew how to commit. And when I spied the genuine 1980s accessory of a completely unnecessary waist belt encircling her lithe frame, it took every ounce of restraint not to call her ‘mummy.’
Despite being born from the mind of a trained actress this isn’t an opportunity for Shannon to practice monologues in front of a captive audience. Retrosweat is a real workout, with 12 nostalgic tracks of original choreography encompassing cardio, strength and conditioning.
The moves are 80s inspired so you get all the l-shape grapevines and pendulums of a Jane Fonda workout video with the added bonus of something that’s been missing from a lot of the fitness bandwagons that have rolled by of late: fun.
Classes run for 50 minutes and are accompanied by a soundtrack that includes the music of Prince, The Romantics and Bette Midler. You’ll hear songs that will transport you back to the days of Press Gang and Saturday Disney and others that you’ve never heard but will want to add to your iTunes library immediately.
First time exercisers and aerobics virgins need not be afraid, as Retrosweat is for all levels of experience and there is no trace of the competitiveness that is so often present in ‘group exercise’. This class is about having fun and I’m pretty sure at least a quarter of the attendees were moving the wrong way at some point. But when you’re wearing a fluorescent g-string leotard, and you’re a bloke, I’m guessing direction isn’t high on your list of priorities.
Dressing up isn’t compulsory but there is a prize for best dressed every week and a quick glance around the room is enough to convince even the staunchest dress-up hater, to wheel out the leg warmers and get involved.
So if you’ve been struggling to find the motivation to get to the cross fit box after work, you’re sick of being yelled at in the dark of a spin class or you’ve just been looking for somewhere to wear bike pants without judgement, Retrosweat could be for you. I guarantee you’ll sweat, laugh, feel the burn and if you’re nostalgic like me, potentially shed a tear.
Retrosweat classes’ grapevine into Redfern PCYC on Tuesday nights and the Bondi Pavilion Seagull Room on Thursdays. Passes are $20 with multi-class ‘Sneaker Passes’ available.
Rachel Corbett writes about health and well-being at www.theallergykid.com.
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