Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Moves and music from the best of times" -- on your fanny.

If "Sit and Be Fit" and Richard Simmons' "Sweatin' to the Oldies" decided to have a kid to save their failing marriage, but spent more time playing mind games with each other than child-rearing and then got divorced anyway, that kid would grow up to be "Chair Dancing Through the Decades."

It's a well-intentioned video for the elderly and mobility-impaired, but a) it has the distinction of featuring the God's-honest worst muzak I have yet to hear in an exercise video, where the "hip-hop" sounds like off-off-brand Jock Jams and the rest fades into soul-deadening blandness; and b) the commercial tries to sell it as a rousing family activity or lunchtime pick-me-up for the office. As if!

And yet, I've watched this clip like 5 times, alternately cringing and staring in awe. Maybe it's instructor Jodi Stolove's Russian madame makeup. Or the arrangement of tropical flora behind her.

Maybe it's the feigned excitement on this granny and Kidz Bop "you betcha!" head-nod from this little girl when (1:03-1:08) Stolove's voice gets an echo effect and sounds like the ghost of Maude Flanders saying, "Let's get ready to hip-hop! Y'all ready for this?"

God bless this commercial, which my tipster said she discovered on late-night airtime, for entertaining untold scores of slack-jawed viewers snacking on nachos and cruising for syndicated TV to pass out to after coming home from the bar. This is the kind of as-seen-on-TV gem that can send you to sleep bemusedly content with this bizarre world of ours.

However, of this I'm sure: If I'd suggested to my dear late grandma, even when she was 92 and wheelchair-bound, that we decorate a couple paper plates and wave them around in our chairs, she'd have said, sweetly, "Honey, I'd rather not."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Quinn Within: How Carmen Electra taught me to smack my butt, and mean it.

THE VIDEO: "Carmen Electra's Aerobic Striptease," (Paramount, 2004)
STYLE: Dancey not-quite-aerobics
STRUCTURE: 10-minute, totally unnecessary instruction segment for the warm-up; actual warm-up run-through (about 6 min); Routine 1 instruction (about 12 min); Routine 1 run-through (about 3 min); Routine 2 instruction (12 min); Routine 2 run-through (3 min)
GIST: This workout is almost inexcusably mild, but it can be a nice, easy way to explore or rediscover your inner tease.

Ah, the quest for sexiness. Desirability. That thing.

There's a lot that could be said here about gender politics and the male gaze and heteronormative beauty standards and all that, but I'll start with this: 1) Doesn't matter who you are or how you feel about Carmen Electra, if you're a Quinn or a Daria; feeling sexy can be mighty fine -- empowering, even, if you've never felt sexy before in your life; and 2) The freedom to choose how you define "sexy" and how you incorporate it into your persona (if it all) is what's important, not what you "should" be doing according to a silly workout video.

Ok, half-assed feministy disclaimer out of the way, here's the deal with this video: It is barely a real workout. I bought it about 7 years ago when I was 20 lbs heavier, and it was pretty easy for me even then. Some of the individual moves are difficult to execute if you have limited flexibility or you're just unfamiliar with them, but I don't think I ever worked up a solid sweat doing this. I tried it last night, the first time in years, and it was so basic I got bored and went running instead.

So what is this video good for? Well, here's the thing about me 7 years ago: I was so young! So insecure! So anti-! So skeptical and afraid of those stereotypical feminine powers I was supposed to possess somewhere! Coquettish flirting, preening, seducing -- that stuff seemed so unnatural and contrary to my whole brainy-down-girl thang I felt embarrassed to consider even trying it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The DIY '90s dance workout

So when I said that Paula Abdul's "Get Up and Dance!" video is the best primer of '90s dance moves you're likely to find outside of period music videos, I was onto something. Because for all the stompy footwork in that offering, it really can't touch the wellspring of workout-able moves found on your friendly neighborhood '90s YouTube playlist.

My dance team in real life (Star-Steppin' Cosmonaughties, what!) has been working on a routine to Technotronic's "Move This," so I turned to Paula for support. I picked up a few potential moves from her workout video -- and delighted in watching her shout "JUST SIT ON IT!" with a chair-position-y move -- but I quickly realized I should be tapping her music video choreography output. It started with Janet's "What Have You Done For Me Lately?" and snowballed from there.

May I present a rough template for a DIY/YouTube '90s dance workout. The possibilities are endless. All these videos resist embedding in blog platforms, so just click to watch in YouTube. Take it away, Janet!

THE VIDEO: "What Have You Done For Me Lately?"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pre-"Idol" Paula Abdul: an homage

It's hard to remember, but there was a time when Paula Abdul was a singing, dancing, cartoon cat-romancing dynamo. Not an incoherent but empathetic, sympathetic, pharmie-laden judge on a TV singing competition.

Yes, kids, at one time, Paula Abdul was up there with Miss Jackson in the badass babe department, except OH WAIT Paula was actually schooling Janet in sassy dance moves! "Control"? "Nasty Boys"? "What Have You Done For Me Lately"? All that iconic fierceness? All choreographed by Paula. (And executed with the necessary Janet-ness, no disrespect.) Brava! Here's some fun footage of these two grande dames at work in their prime:

Other remarkable items from Ms. Abdul's resume: 
  • After becoming choreographer for the LA Laker Girls, she was tapped by The Jacksons to choreograph a video for their grasping-at-shadows-of-Michael single "Torture." Girlfriend was barely drinking age! And telling The Jacksons how to dance?! Sass.
  • You know that giant keyboard scene in "Big," like the only part of "Big" that anyone ever remembers? Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia didn't just get those melodious twinkletoes all by theyselves. Paula was the mastermind.
  • Ok, this is weird, but remember this part in "American Beauty"? (I didn't until I found the clip; crazy that it's been 12 years since that movie came out.) Anyway, yes -- Paula, going back to her cheerleader roots.
After conquering the music video landscape of the '80s and early '90s, Paula released her first and very entertaining workout video, "Paula Abdul's Get Up and Dance!" In it, she and several entire "Rent" casts' worth of 20-something urbanite dancers get down in a big ol' warehouse. Though not long enough to be a solid workout, (technically 45 minutes, but there's some padding), it is probably the best primer on '90s dance moves you're likely to find without skimming C+C Music Factory and Technotronic videos -- which I have also done and heartily endorse.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Saturday Soviet Lagniappe

A rare Saturday post! Had to share this righteous tune, because in the course of all my Eastern European sass exploration this week, it's become my jam for the weekend.

May yours be filled with all the pleasures that disco lights, yachts, underwater chess, 80s bathing suits, dolphins and mustachioed gi-wearing pop singers suggest!

Friday, November 11, 2011

In Soviet TV Land, a disco ball refuge for fallen ballerinas

Continuing my tour through Cold War-era Eastern bloc nations, I’m reporting now from ground zero, Soviet Union state-controlled television. And it’s marvelous!

Welcome to Ритмика, which, if Google translation can be trusted, translates to “Rhythmics,” a half-hour TV fitness show that blends backwater ballet and training camp calisthenics inside a bright white disco ball. It’s a strange animal, this show, and totally worth trying out if you like a) Soviet electronic music, even the chintzy stuff, b) Russian ballerinas and/or pretending to be one (click that link -- girl’s like a real-life Navi, just not blue) and c) testing your choreography-pickup skills. 

Hosted by a young lady who suggests a less-bulky He-Man, these programs are short and sweet, and they have no patience for hand-holding or heavy instruction. She and her leotard-clad troupe of thin-limbed backup exercisers get right to business, and half the fun is following along with their peculiar, oddly elegant combinations. 

It’s not enough to lean from side to side and stretch the adductor muscles, no no. Toss in some flair and feeling and grace, for god’s sake! Add an arm combination and an artful back curl, and maybe some footwork! And don’t forget about your head! What’s it doing? It can’t just be there. Stretch it back, and tilt the chin, and if I have to tell you to keep your chest lifted one more time you may as well not bother coming back.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Meet the Metal Lady

At one time, I thought it was pretty balling (in my obviously, dorkily skewed definition of the word) to be rocking UK workout videos led by an Australian warrior princess on the regular. Even after discovering the King of Iranian Dance, I hadn't fully realized the scope of fitness videos around the globe. That is, until I met the Metal Lady, Hungarian fitness star. [Insert Iron Curtain remark here.]

There she is, leg-curling her gymnast-with-a-boob-job bod high above, I'm guessing, Budapest? She's wearing a killer black and yellow ensemble -- I WANT THOSE KICKS -- and her fluffily-banged yellow ponytail makes her look like She-Ra on holiday. The workout ain't bad either, and the generic synth music only adds to the appeal.

Seeing as I don't speak much Hungarian, I couldn't research much else about this chick, except that she's known as the Metal Lady. And I think that suffices. 

But seriously, you guys, I think her hair has mystical powers. I can't take my eyes off it.