Its 9:30 on Saturday morning and there’s already a line around the corner. I walk past the glass-fronted studio to find a place at the end, parking myself on the fragrant Beverly Hills sidewalk. I crane my neck anxiously towards the front. About a zillion ironically-dressed 20-somethings occupy the space between me and the door. They shuffle foot to foot in off-shoulder sweaters, sweatbands, pale-pink wind-breakers and polyester shorts. They are costumed. Facetious. Sweating off last night’s vodka shots.
Then suddenly, Alexa. Tiny. Grimacing towards me in a Barbie sweater, sunglasses and shorts no normal human would be able to get on since the sixth grade.
"He talked to me," she announces.
"Wait, you saw him?"
"We walked up together. He said ‘are you ready’ Then he grabbed my butt and said thank God cause he hates it when people come in here fat.” She lights a cigarette. “Where’s Becca?"
"I haven’t seen her. Is this the right line?"
"I don’t fuckin’ know."
"Are you all here for the 10:30?" A busty 60-year-old in a bright green “SLIMMONS!” tee emerges through the line with clipboards. "If you’re a new student please fill one of these out, and one of the liability forms as well and stay quiet out here please guys, okay?" And she disappears, sucked back into the crowd of hipsters, all now anxiously vying for clipboards and neon pens.
"Are we gonna get a spot?" I asked Alexa.
She rolls her eyes like a babysitter.
"Sasch, it’s fine.”
"Oh my god, Sascha. You’re going to LOVE this. You’re seriously going to LOVE this. Have you seen him yet?"
Becca, in a side-ponytail and bright plastic earrings.
"He touched my butt."
"Amazing. And we HAVE to stay after and take pictures. Afterwards, they let you take pictures." The line moves forward so we can finally step inside.
“Pictures of what?” I ask.
“Okay people!” The busty green-teed minion again. “Please remember to leave your phones in your car, there is absolutely no photography allowed during class! Okay? None! You hear me?”
Around me, neon-clad hipsters bury their cell-phones deeper in their purses.
“I can’t believe this class is literally called ‘SLIMMONS,’” I whisper to Beeca “Like – what a stroke of genius.”
“No, it’s perfect. I can’t believe he’s still teaching. Do you know how old he is?”
“So if everyone’s ready, hand me those forms, great, thank you. And are all of you paid up?”
We hastily push to the front to run our credit cards.
“Okay great! We’re gonna open the doors, okay? Have fun, and work hard, and let’s get Slimmon’!!”
We turn to the front of the studio as everyone cheers.
“So what exactly do we do once we get in there?” I ask Becca.
“You’ll see.” She grins.
And suddenly, the studio doors burst open.
A funky bass beat drops.
And piercing through the silence in a high screechy voice we hear:
“ARE YOU READY TO SWEAT YOUR BALLS OFF?!”
I laugh. Alexa freezes. And in a stampede of tube socks and lip gloss, 70 Angelenos rush the door.
“GET IN HERE BITCHES! GET YOUR GODDAMN HANDS UP!!”
Before I can even figure out which direction to face I have been swept into a huge, hardwood studio and everyone around me is dancing. I’m colliding with my neighbors. I’m trying unsuccessfully to find myself in the mirrors. I’m grape-vining into classmates with a turn and a clap. And oh my god, are they seriously playing this song?
She’s a brick… duh-duh duh duh, houuuuuuuse.
People around me reach to the sky and pull into crunches.
She’s mighty mighty!
“TURN AROUND PEOPLE!”
Just lettin’ it all hang out.
I’ve lost my friends in the kerfuffle, but since everyone has already started I decided better just follow the fuck along,
We pop into a booty circle then a lift-crunch-and -CLAP!
The room reverberates with the sound of 70 clapping hands and then
“GET THOSE HANDS UP HIGHER!!!”
I join in this time and laugh.
Just lettin’ it all hang out.
“THAT’S RIGHT PEOPLE ARE YOU WORKING?! ARE YOU WORKING YET?!”
We seem to be performing a bizarre hybrid of Bar Mitzvah dancing and aerobics. In unison, we clap, step, kick our knees, and then sometimes, throw in a little sass with a butt spank or a pony or one of those Rush-Hour-Chris-Tucker-style head rolls. I can’t decide if I’m laughing because I’m embarrassed or I’m laughing because I’m having a really good time, but either way I’m finding this intensely hilarious while my ironic classmates remain relatively unfazed. Or maybe they’re just really focused.
I can see why. The class is so full that we can’t even see Richard. It feels like the whole thing is being lead only by the screeching voice itself. I know he’s is up there somewhere, but all I can actually see of him is a dandelion tuft of thinning bright-red afro popping spastically above the heads of my classmates with every step-reach-crunch. I’m desperate to share this moment with someone so I try to turn and find Alexa and Becca but every time I look around out of step, the large hairy hipster on my right accidentally/not-accidentally flails his clapping-arm into my face.
Stunned for a moment from the impact. I fall behind.
Good times never felt so gooood…
But then I catch up.
“THEY NEVER FELT SO GOOD PEOPLE! NEVER FELT SO GOOD!”
Now we are doing jumping jacks with enthusiasm. I sorta can’t believe how fun it is to hop around a room with a bunch of people in costumes.
I’ve been inclined….
To believe they never woullllld…..
I’m inwardly celebrating how much fun I’m having, when the crowd separates for a moment, and yes. I catch a glimpse.
“THAT’S RIGHT HONEY! PICK UP THOSE LITTLE BROWN LEGS!”
Richard, in jail-striped lycras, tennis shoes, and a necklace, is berating someone up front.
“PICK THEM UP, GIRL!! ARE YOU STILL DRUNK WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!”
He is simultaneously really old-looking and really young-looking, jiggling about with such conviction in his skin-tight jail-themed outfit that I am momentarily convinced that doing the electric slide in a unitard is the most normal thing in the world.
Every now and again he screams at us like a bootcamp trainer.
“YOU! YOU THERE! YOU CAN WORK HARDER THAN THAT YOU HOT LITTLE LATINA! I KNOW YOU CAN!”
The Latina in question laughs, embarrassed, and tries to hide behind her friend for moral support.
“DON’T LOOK AT HIM! DON’T GO OVER TO YOUR FRIEND LOOK AT ME GIRL! LOOK AT ME! RAISE THOSE LEGS UP!! IT’S ALMOST BIKINI SEASON. BI-KI-NI SEA-SON!! WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO?!?!”
He is a loving father and a tough coach.
He is Oprah and Mussolini.
And then, as the song finishes, something changes. Everyone around me starts jostling and pushing back to the walls.
Richard and his busty friend are motioning for us all form a huge circle so we push back to the walls and start a basic step clap to “Joy to the World.” And then slowly, theatrically, Richard travels around the circle, and pulls two lucky students out of the crowd into the center of the circle to dance with him.
Joy to the fishies in the deep blue sea! Joy to you and me!
Upon their arrival in the middle Richard promptly rips off both of their shirts. He turns back to the watching crowd, rubbing the shirts on his body to raucous applause and then spastically tossing the shirts aside. Then, the three of them, Richard in front, sashay from one side of the room to the to the other, dancing aerobically as they go.
Richard executes this bizarre ritual with such assurance, that I cannot help but laugh. Partially AT him, but more because I am so in awe. He is the weirdest person I have ever seen. And so powerful! He is impossible no to watch. I’m laughing so hard I’m crying.
I’m literally crying.
Wait…am I seriously crying?
Two days earlier, I’m on a conference call with my body-image coach Amber. I’m three-weeks in to an eight-week self-love workshop, I’m sharing on our call about dating someone new.
“I just notice myself being in my head so much of the time, wanting our interactions to be so perfect.” I say to the group. “I am so preoccupied with the feeling that I’m doing something wrong when I’m with him.”
“What would you be doing wrong?”
“I don’t know,” I tell her. “I guess I feel like a new person in a lot of ways and a stronger person than I used to be, too? And now, it’s like, I’m trying that new person out on this other person and he’s going to receive that! He’s going to receive me, and think something about it.”
“What do you want him to think?”
“I…I want him to love it.”
Back in the studio, Richard’s giving 110%. His high-kicks fly with cartoonish conviction, his knee crunches crunch with theatrical determination. And the rest of us, hipsters on my left, lyrcra’d geriatrics on my right, gay boys who are singing along, pilates girls who know every single move, give our all to follow along.
Amber paused for a moment on the call.
“Have you tried just being you? This intensely ‘you’ you, even though you aren’t sure if you’re safe or not, have you tried just being you anyway?”
Joooyyyyy to the world. Allllll the boys and girls yeah….
I hastily wipe my eyes as Richard approaches our side of the room.
He kick-ball-changes his way over to Alexa, twirling her into the center with him.
“Of course,” I think to myself, “the man loves her butt.”
And I’m right in the middle of noticing that this is the least cool I have ever seen a group of Los Angeleans be en masse, when Richard floats, every so gracefully, ever so carefully… over to me. Our eyes meet. He winks. I cry. And he beckons me out into the center.
And Alexa, and I and this tiny, 60-year-old, flaming, Ginger fitness icon take the stage, or rather, the 30-year-old dance studio. And as we dash from one end of the room to the other doing “I feel Pretty”-esque toe-kicks, and flirtacious, dance-inspired mirror-glances to the dying strains of “Joy to the World” I realize that this muppet-y, ostentatious little man knows what we’re all there to see. We’re there to see him. All five feet of unapologetic, weird, shameless, him.
“I just wanna offer you forgiveness, Sascha.” Amber says to me on the call. “Because ultimately it doesn’t matter what your interactions with this new person are like. It’s all about how you show up for yourself every day. And the second we cut ourselves off from any part of who we are, that’s when we despair.”
After class, Richard sits us all down for a pep talk.
“I attack life!” He squeals at us passionately. “And I come here to be your clown, and be your friend, and to inspire you. But underneath it all, it’s about you and your body and your life. Care for yourself. Love yourself. Live how you want to live. You aren’t here forever.”
Leaving class, I turn my phone back on as I walk to my car. A text pops up.
“Good morning! :) What are you up to?”
It’s from him.
For a split second I wonder what to say back that would be right.
Then Alexa calls.
“We’re going to Jack N’ Jills for lunch. You coming?”
I hop in my car. Push my phone deep into my purse.
And meet my friends for lunch.