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When you're definitively, openly, even proudly not a fitness person, but your job sometimes allows you to take ridiculously fancy workout classes to either write about or simply sit back and laugh at, you get used to being the worst in the group. I've flailed in the back of 305 Fitness, gleefully unsexy and unsure of the next dance move. I've laid spread-eagled on the floor of 45 Grand (otherwise known as that super-secret Nike gym), shamelessly wanting to die.
But when I heard that a workout called FitBallet was coming to New York, I thought I'd found somewhere that wouldn't make me feel like a literal human pile of trash. I spent my teen years as a competitive figure skater, which requires many of the same tenets as ballet but with the added complication of, you know, doing it all on ice. I've also done barre and loved it, and I've always been relatively flexible and Pilates-competent. Some ballet-based floor class was going to be nothing!
It was not like barre. It was not like skating. Not since I was 14, when I dislocated my right shoulder playing freshman gym class badminton in front of multiple boys I had crushes on, have I felt so physically pathetic. It was, quite possibly, the most grueling hour of my life.
It turned out that I had overlooked the part where FitBallet described itself as a "high-intensity circuit workout," words I had long ago trained myself to read as "an unpleasant period of time." I also ignored when founder Julie Schecter, a lifelong dancer who quit her job in corporate law to launch the company, warned me that this is in fact "an intense workout."
My class took place at DANY Studios, a Midtown West dance center buzzing with preteen ballerinas and contemporary rehearsals. I was relieved to find that I was one of just three students in the entire class — until I realized both were veterans of the program, dashing all hopes of me being not the worst. It wasn't until after a lengthy warm-up of a few exercises in first and second position that I discovered what the class really was: Circuits.
To be more specific: Really, really hard circuits filled with burpees, pushups, and weighted bicep curls with a few pliés and kicks sprinkled in, each repeated a whopping 32 times. And then again. And then another circuit. And then another. Like its name suggests, it's far more fitness than ballet, which Schecter says is because the goal of the program is to change the wider wellness conversation from "getting bikini-ready" (since this is a nonsense term) to "being all about accomplishment and power."
But while burpees are the kind of exercise that are never not soul-crushing, the most difficult of all was the most seemingly innocuous, when literally all we had to do was hold onto our weights and lift our arms overhead, swan-like, 32 times. If someone were to walk by the class at this point, they'd assume we were physical therapy patients recovering from surgery.
FitBallet isn't made of the impressive, Instagram-ready exercises you'd see at places like SLT, making it all the more humiliating when I gave up on the weights, and eventually the exercise entirely. Fancy fitness people who have already mastered Tone House and Barry's Bootcamp and all of NYC's many other terrifying-sounding workouts will feel right at home at FitBallet. But even if you're fitness-averse like me, do it anyway.
It may have been the closest I've ever been to fainting while working out, but my instructor, Jessica, was knowledgable and kind enough to laugh with me (not at me, though I wouldn't have blamed her) while I was laughing at myself. After all, I'm not a competitive figure skater anymore, and I don't intend to enter a career in professional dance anytime soon.
What I really learned at FitBallet that I never did at other workouts was this: It doesn't matter if I suck. There's no gold medal, no audience to perform for, and no coach to gain the approval of. But after facing myself in the mirror for an hour, pathetically struggling to keep up with the class, I realized that it mattered to me. And once I finally recovered from the soreness (it took four days), I went back to my gym for the first time in months, telling myself that next time, I'd do better.