The Lower East Side and its adjacent neighborhoods Nolita, Chinatown, and Little Italy have plenty of gyms and fitness studios to choose from. Should you want a change of pace from the cardio machines, Pilates, and free weights, however, you will also find a number of more unusual classes and regimens for raising your heart rate and toning your muscles.
55 Chrystie Street # 308 (between Canal and Hester Streets)
107 Suffolk Street #307 (between Delancey and Rivington Streets)
If you think belly dancing is simply a matter of gyrating your hips, think again. Salit, a dancer who has performed with various dance troupes and off-Broadway for more than a decade, will show you that it also entails footwork and arm and upper-body movements—in short, a full-body workout with emphasis on posture and flexibility. Salit teaches beginning and intermediate belly dancing at Chrystie Street Ballet Academy as well as an open-level class at the New York Capoeira Center (more on which below). She also provides private and semiprivate classes.
294 Broome Street (between Eldridge and Forsyth Streets)
The story behind ConBody is as impressive as the results seen by participants in its classes. While in prison for drug dealing, Coss Marte lost 70 pounds in six months by working out in his cramped cell without equipment. When he was released, he decided to make a career of bringing his “prison-style workout” to the masses. While Marte might be hard-bodied now, when he entered prison he was overweight and unable to handle more than two slow laps around the track—information he shares so that you do not feel intimidated by the workouts. Classes range from 30-Minute Sweat, targeted to those who spend most of their day behind a desk, to more-intensive hour-long boot-camp sessions.
380 Broadway, Fifth Floor (between White and Walker Streets)
Even if you have the proverbial two left feet, both DanceBody and Everyday Ballet contend that you can have a lithe, lean dancer’s body. Though the founders of DanceBody were dancers, and their training inspired the workouts, classes include mat exercises for toning as well as high- and low-impact “dance cardio.” Everyday Ballet is the brainchild of another dancer, ballerina Tiekka Tellier; its classes, set to ballet music, encompass core training, stretches, and freestanding and barre exercises. Although you may be garbed in sweatpants and socks, by the time class ends you will feel as if you are gliding in toe shoes and a tutu.
161 Bowery (between Broome and Delancey Streets)
Kettlebells are as much as part of a Mark Fisher Fitness workout as tutu-clad instructors. Image: Wilson Bilkovich/Flickr
This highly atypical gym proves that “fun” and “fitness” do not have to be mutually exclusive. The trainers who lead such classes as Circuit Party, Superhero Strength, and Ninja Essentials sometimes wear tutus and animal costumes; vibrant graffiti-style art adorns the walls; a huge inflatable unicorn is the spirit animal and mascot. The classes, which incorporate kettlebells into aerobics, have a definite party atmosphere. The Snatched in Six Weeks program is an intensive exercise-and-nutrition regimen with a true community spirit that has yielded enviable results and a cult following. There’s a reason the company’s tagline is “Serious fitness for ridiculous humans.”
107 Suffolk Street #307 (between Delancy and Rivington Streets)
The cabaça, a dried, hollowed-out gourd, is part of an instrument used in capoeira. Image: Solomon Ariranha Nadaf/Flickr
Developed in 16th-century Brazil by African slaves, capoeira is a martial art that incorporates dance, acrobatics, and music as well. As a result, the focus is as much on flexibility, rhythm, and endurance as it is on strength and speed. The New York Capoeira Center practices a style called mindful capoeira, with an emphasis on “cooperation over competition.” Classes are offered for beginners as well as for more-advanced students.
156 Mott Street (between Grand and Bloome Streets)
A Caribbean-influenced fitness center in Little Italy? Why not? Pon de Flo offers several types of classes, all with a soundtrack of Caribbean, reggae, or dub music. Flo-Rollin uses foam mats for muscle release as well as high-octane core-strengthening moves; Flo-Shred emphasizes low-weight, high-repetition strength and resistance training; the On the Beat classes have a carnivale/dance-party vibe, with smart lights that change colors and patterns in response to the music.