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305 Fitness: A Workout To Rave About

Culture

And twerk to

If my personality could be analyzed by a "What Workout Class Is Right For You" Buzzfeed-type quiz, I would get spin—and rightfully so. Simply put, the classes suit my Type A personality. They're straight-forward in their methods, organized in their structure, and you can train yourself to get better with each class through discipline and by challenging yourself with more weights and greater speed. Not to mention how no one can come in late and disrupt your groove, in part because most studios won't allow you to walk in late, in part because good luck walking into a class and finding your bike while everyone is furiously spinning around you in the dark.

But if I had the power to reduce my control freak levels, and my disdain for interruptive tardiness, and pick a workout that I want to emulate the most, it would be running. And not the grueling train-for-the-marathon kind of running, but Phoebe Buffay style of running. You remember that episode of Friends when Rachel and Phoebe go running in the park and Rachel gets embarrassed when she discovers that Phoebe runs "like a mix between Kermit the Frog and the Six Million Dollar Man" with her limbs failing everywhere? When confronted, instead of being self-conscious, Phoebe dismisses Rachel's embarrassment and says, "I run like I did when I was a kid because that's the only way it's fun. Didn't you ever run so fast you thought your legs were gonna fall off, like when you were running towards the swings or running away from Satan?" (Satan's the neighbor dog, in case you're wondering.) And like Rachel, who, spoiler alert, eventually joins Phoebe in running like a sugar rush-compelled child, I, too, envied the freedom with which Phoebe gave into physical activity.

Which brings me to 305 Fitness. I had, of course, heard of the dance cardio classes that first took over New York almost five years ago and have since expanded to Boston and D.C. (soon coming to Chicago and L.A.); articles raved about it, my friends were missing brunch dates because of their standing classes, and I saw the studio's merch paraded by many fitness aficionados in Washington Square Park. But it took me until this year, when the studio added Sculpt and Flow classes to its roster, to become intrigued myself. The reason for that is I am a terrible dancer; like, no exaggeration can't-keep-a-beat terrible. My reasoning was that I could switch to Flow and Sculpt should the 55-minute cardio classes prove too much for my dignity. 

The first thing I learned: You need to book the most popular time slots at least a week in advance. The popularity of the classes doesn't entirely come as a surprise to founder, Sadie Kurzban, who started the first iteration of what would become 305 classes while a student at Brown University. "The classes were a huge hit—people would line up around the block and we'd have 200, 300 kids packed into a class," she says. It wasn't until she took a trip to Miami Beach with her best friend, though, that the neon lightbulb went off. "We went out to a crazy club, came home at 3am full of alcohol and optimism. My friend turned to me and said, 'Those classes you're teaching, you have to keep it up.' I said, 'You're crazy! I'm not going to graduate and become a fitness instructor.' She said, 'So start a business! Combine those classes with the energy of a real nightclub,'" she recalls. "We drunkenly opened our laptops and Googled 'How do you start a business?' No joke." It goes without saying that it's the incident that inspired the name that's associated with the party central area code, as well as the fact that Kurzban grew up in The Magic City.

The second thing you'll learn: You don't need to be a dancer, or even have danced in any capacity in the past, to take the class. In fact, Kurzban is herself the first to admit that she doesn't have technical training, "just a soul and a big goofy smile when I dance." She adds, "I'm not a dancer. I just like to move. I created this workout for someone just like me. No technique required. The real thing is the attitude. If you walk in anywhere with hesitation, you'll never be at your best. So we encourage you to put on a little alter ego, strut into that dance studio, and live your truth!" When I first walked into the studio, I was definitely under the impression that the whole no-dance-experience-required shtick was only half true, all to say, I was intimidated. That was immediately pushed aside when I saw the vibrantly inviting Greenwich Village studio. The front desk boasts a neon pink "Girls Girls Girls" sign and a pink Vespa, while the walls are adorned with bright murals of the queen of dance and attitude, Beyoncé. "All of 305—the voice, the look, the brand—has come from an authentic place, from the heart. For interiors, I imagined a space that was Art Deco-meets-Art Basel-meets-Calle Ocho-meets-Ultra," says Kurzban.

While waiting for Cardio Basics, a primer class for first-timers, to begin, a woman approached me to ask if it was my first time. "Pace yourself," was her advice, which all newbies should duly note. For one, for the first 30 minutes, you DO NOT STOP MOVING, dancing your way through routines with no break even for water (though the instructors do say to take a break should you really need one) as an actual DJ, from a booth in the corner of the dimly lit room, spins beats more at home in a nightclub than at a workout class that's anything but 305. And while it's a basic class, there is nothing easy about the speed or intensity. After half an hour mixing short choreographed dance moves, jumping jacks on crack, and air punching, and followed by a short break, the class switches over to the five-minute toning section. This portion of the class rotates between focusing on arms, legs, and, more recently (like, this week recent), abs and ass—and employs either dumbbells or body weight (yes, that might mean planks). Next, come the five-minute drills which, depending on the instructor, range from military-style to partner work and circuit training. The last section is arguably the best part of the class: 10 minutes of very loosely choreographed dancing in a neon-lit room. This is where anything goes, from twerking while holding a handstand against the wall to seducing the mirror with your best catwalk. You finish off with a five-minute stretch.

While, at first, I was completely overwhelmed by the dimmed lights, the rapidly changing songs, the speed with which everyone moved (sometimes in different directions), and by how moronic I looked while executing the moves that I clearly could not keep up with, I stuck to another piece of advice that I got from my instructor Symone: If you don't know what to do, just move your legs, then add arms, then add your own sass. By the end of the 30 minutes I was drenched in sweat, and by the end of 55 I wasn't sure if this was for me; I was self-conscious and disoriented.

I stuck with it, though, and I am so glad that I did. During only my second class, which was Cardio Arms, I began to see the appeal. Be it the fact that I knew what was going to happen, the infectious songs played by the DJ, or the sense of community—which was hard to see in the basics class that was made up of mostly newbies—but I suddenly became less self-conscious and, for the first time in a long time, gave the workout all my energy and strength. Not to borrow from the slogan of a popular gym, but 305 is a judgment-free zone. Not only is everyone focused on themselves and their moves—really, no one cares about what you're doing—but the attendees are extremely diverse in terms of ages, body shapes, genders, and ethnicities, which is a rarity in New York where youngish, white, Lululemon-clad women (admittedly, me included in that list) are usually the predominant presence at the workout du jour. 

But what's more, the 55-minute workout flies by and is very simple in its methods. "It's incredibly effective because it's basically an ass-kicking workout disguised as a dance class. Most of the moves we do are high-intensity, aerobic moves like jumping jacks, explosive lunges, and shadow boxing. But with a live DJ blasting high-tempo music, you forget you're working out," says Kurzban. "Plus, the workout is full body, and the moves are constantly changing. So unlike a lot of workouts that have repetitive, monotonous moves, 305 keeps the body guessing, which means improved neuromuscular efficiency." This also keeps the regulars, of which there many just based on the pre-class banter, coming back week after week, with much credit owed to the truly incredible instructors and the DJs.

"The talent we have is absolutely unparalleled. Most of our DJs are nightclub DJs, who love to work at 305 during the day before they go out at night," says Kurzban. "We find our instructors by hosting auditions every three months. Last time, we had 300 applications, and we only accepted four. That's tougher than getting into Harvard. We hand-select and then rigorously train all of our instructors." And it shows, with every instructor better than the last one and displaying an unimaginable level of energy and excitement even at 7am. 

As for the Flow and Sculpt classes, they are not so ordinary either. After taking the cardio classes, I expected Sculpt to be easy and slow-paced in comparison. Erm, not so much. "Sculpt is our antithesis to barre. I find I go to barre classes, and I feel like I'm getting a gyno exam in front of 20 women who are avoiding eye contact," says Kurzban. "I wanted to create a strength workout for women that wasn't about body shaming, 'whittling waists,' and 'eight weeks until summer.' 305 Sculpt is about building strength. You leave feeling like you are the strongest human ever." The 45-minute strength, low-impact class begins with an intense workout, involving planks and push-ups, and then transitions into using dumbbells, which I thought were going to kill me (mind you, they were four pounds), and resistance bands, before going back to full-body exercises like extreme lunges to create long and lean muscles.

As for Flow, it is hands down one of the best yoga classes I have ever taken. And, sure, you can credit Erykah Badu, whose music was playing in the background during the hot-temperature class, for that statement—side note: all yoga classes should play Erykah Badu—but there is something about the pace of that class paired with instructor Kirra's no-BS approach to yoga that, for the first time ever, made me enjoy the practice. "Throw spirituality out the window. Our clients need more flexibility, so they can recover from all of the crazy intensity moves in our cardio," says Kurzban. "They think yoga isn't for them because they imagine it comes with a gong, chanting, and headstands. Flow turns all of that on its head, no pun intended. It's sexy, it's feisty, our instructors are hilarious."

I'll admit, even once the self-conscious wall came down during the second cardio class, I still didn't magically fit into the class. I would often forget the moves, look absurd doing most of them (especially compared to the actual dancers in the class), and struggle to make it through the entire class—but that's okay. I was free, in the moment—it's impossible for your mind to race or think about other things while moving so damn fast— and dancing so hard that I, in the words of Phoebe Buffay, thought my legs were going to fall off. I've put more energy into working out than I have ever in my life and, most importantly, I was having fun while doing it, looking silly or not. Over time, the moves became easier for me, and I even adopted an alter ego with a ponytail so high (and a diva-like attitude to match) that my boyfriend refers to me as Ariana Grande every time I come home from a workout. And it's that desire to bring that unabashedly empowering attitude out of people that prompted Kurzban to launch the classes in the first place.

"The Miami inspiration is two-fold: (1) We are fun, loud, irreverent, colorful, bright, diverse, optimistic. We're all the things you might imagine about a trip to South Beach," she says. "(2) As as a young, impressionable female, growing up in Miami, it felt like a prison instead of a paradise. By age 9, I was secretly counting calories in a food diary while my mom and older sister had eating disorders. So naming my company after 305 was also a way to reclaim my power and build my own Miami in another city. It's taking all the elements I love about where I'm from and reframing them to create my own feminist-inspired paradise." 

It goes without saying that 305 Fitness has also made me generally more fit. I've developed arm muscles, my body got stronger and leaner, and I am more flexible than I have been in a while. What's more miraculous is that 305 Fitness is one of the only classes that has stuck (like, I might actually be addicted) and gotten me to work out before work. And while, yes, the morning sessions might remind you of the pre-work morning rave dance parties that were popular a few years (What, me? I never went. Or, did I?), you leave the class with an unprecedented amount of energy for the day to come. And while I progressed from the fourth row to the third (and sometimes even second when I am feeling extra adventurous), it might be a while before I pull a Joey and lead a dance class. But, at least when I do, my jazz hands will be on-point.