Fitness: Soul Sweat
Workout: Soul Sweat at Alchemy of Movement
An exercise class that includes real dance moves
BY KATE JONUSKA
Alchemy of Movement, 2436 30th St., 303-449- 4410, alchemyofmovement.com
Instructor: Dancing in front of other people can be an intimidating and embarrassing activity, eliciting nightmares of missed moves or audience members laughing and pointing, but there is no audience and no such pressure in Julia Buonanno’s Soul Sweat class. In fact, while she’s lithe and elegant as the pro dancer she is, Buonanno is refreshingly approachable and casual in a way that evaporates any embarrassment at first blush.
“I love to dance alongside different bodies and ages and styles,” she says. “As a teacher, I love to find creative ways to teach people how to disconnect with what they think about their dancing and connect more with what it feels like to move and dance. Above all, I love how playful dancing can be.”
Having taught Soul Sweat for more than a year at Alchemy of Movement, Buonanno’s main goal is helping her clients learn a new way to express themselves and experience a sense of freedom.
What is the workout? Excluding warmup and cool down, the goal of the class is in its title: sweat. The hourlong class moves through a series of upbeat songs, each one featuring its own unique choreography. The learning is very participatory, meaning you learn as you dance rather than watching first, but the routine is broken into manageable pieces and then repeated a few times to suit the music and song length. The first pass may be awkward, but the repetition allows even the rank amateur to feel some mastery by the third pass — perhaps even to add flair.
Honestly, moving through the class felt like a meatspace version of a dance video game, made more vibrant and interesting by the energy of the real-life people and instruction. Plus, that real-time instruction about form and foot placement made a big difference in how comfortable I felt with unfamiliar moves.
What’s different? Despite the upbeat soundtrack and heart-pumping pace, Soul Sweat is no aerobics class in which blatant exercise moves are set to music and passed off as dance. The choreography here, which changes week to week, is full of “real” moves and footwork that wouldn’t be out of place on the dance floor.
Granted, some traveling steps are larger than would be normal in the club, covering more floor in order to get the heart rate up, but the overall impression is that you’re dancing primarily and working out second. Buonanno also does a great job of creating routines that reflect the energy of the music, adding some sass to Janelle Monae’s “Dance Apocalyptic” or keeping Sia’s “Never Give Up” bouncy and expansive.
Cost: $17 drop-in, though packages can bring the price down. Second class is free for new dancers.
Level: Open to all levels, from beginners to those with deep experience.
When: Buonanno teaches at 9 a.m. Wednesdays and offers a free beginner’s kick-start at 8:30 a.m. designed for those who want a head start learning the day’s choreography. Soul Sweat is also led by other teachers. The full schedule is 10:30 a.m. Mondays, 9 a.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, and 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
What to prepare: Wear comfortable clothes — preferably in layers to remove as you warm up — and bring a water bottle as well as a sweat towel if desired. (I was thankful for mine.) Dancers are mostly barefoot, but can wear indoor-only sneakers if their feet prefer.
Muscles worked: While Soul Sweat is mainly a cardio class, the lower body got a good workout and core was engaged throughout. Don’t expect the soreness of more muscle-building classes, however. My main soreness the next day was only my poor feet, which don’t yet have dancer’s callouses.
What I loved: I loved that this class felt truly fun, reminding me of dancing to pop songs at sleepovers as a girl. (Men are very welcome at Soul Sweat, but my class was all women.)
Lip syncing with hairbrushes did not seem completely off the table. Free movement sections also allowed us to really throw it down, and we often made each other laugh. When doctors stress that the physical activity needed to improve health needs not be only traditional “workouts,” I think this kind of joy of movement is exactly what they have in mind.
Plus, I have grown very tired of classes which emphasize “torching calories” or “feeling the burn.” I’ll take Buonanno’s “show me your shimmy!” any day.
What I didn’t like: My dislikes are extremely nitpicky, but I could have done with one or two more complex moves that I could bring home and show off when next at a wedding.
How I felt after the class: In addition to those sore feet — and true to the class’ promise — I was sweaty and in need of a shower. My legs especially buzzed with the afterglow of exercise, but I walked out feeling that I was starting my day off on the right, sassy foot.