Babe’s Playground offers classes for everyone
by Kyle Farris staff writer, Photography by Jillian Gandsey
Day One: “I’m not sore at all.”
Day Two: “The shampoo bottle got heavy.”
Day Three: “How did I get in the shower yesterday?”
It took two hours at Babe’s Playground, a new fitness studio here, to steal a few days of my youth, to give me a sense at 22 how I might feel at 82. I visited on a Tuesday, and it wasn’t until Friday that I started to regain functionality of my arms and legs, that I stopped shuffling around the office with the same plodding pace as masked killers in bad movies.
It’s not that I’m a stranger to a challenging workout. It’s just that I had never hung upside down, like a possum from a tree, from these long and strong silk ribbons that drop down from the ceiling. I had never twisted my hanging body into a pose called “The Gazelle.” And I certainly had never danced up and down on a sleek metal pole, if you can call what I did dancing.
Babe’s Playground, tucked at the corner of Third Street and Beltrami Avenue, is a place for firsts. The second-floor studio opened in early January to people who want to get into better shape, people willing to bend their bodies and grow their comfort zones, and pay to do it.
“I don’t know of another place like this,” said owner Blair Treuer, who opened the studio after stumbling into a pole fitness class several years ago. She said no fitness studio she has seen brings together all the workouts that Babe’s does.
There’s pole dancing and pole fitness, aerial silks and aerial hoop, antigravity hammock and strength and conditioning, to which the usual rules of gravity apply. And coming soon: ballet.
“It started as a fantasy,” Treuer said. “It was a gamble, and I don’t even like gambling quarters.”
Businesses like Babe’s are gaining popularity nationally as people trade dumbbells for yoga mats. Babe’s at first glance is more circus than gym, a place where people tie themselves into pretzels, spinning their way through hoops and around poles, striking poses that should be impossible.
“I promise,” Treuer said. “It’s easier than it looks.”
So sweatpantsed and sneakered I came to my first class one night: aerial silks, taught by Chad. All the instructors at Babe’s seem plucked from motivational workout videos, all in excellent shape, all so positive-minded it starts to rub off a little.
Chad showed the class how to tie the silks into knots that can cradle the body. From the cradle, you can stretch into poses named after animals, hang upside down awhile, do midair crunches. It’s about as fun as crunches can get.
“Nobody will get hurt today,” Chad said as I dangled head first from a knot I hoped I had tied right. I wondered if Chad thought my name was Nobody, but his arms worked the room like tentacles, tightening knots, supporting dismounts, steadying a wayward reporter.
Silks was fun, like levitating, like being 5 again and showing off on the monkey bars. At hour’s end, I felt I hadn’t done much but tie and hang and hope.
“You don’t feel like you just worked out,” said Julie Kaiser, who has been going for months now and talked to me about a week after our class. “But I bet you were sore the next day.”
In our class of mostly 20-something women, she and I were the exceptions.
Kaiser is 53. “Older,” she said. “A bigger gal.” She’s tried a few different classes at Babe’s, hooked on the aerial arts since she started taking pole a couple years ago.
“The progress is so much slower and harder,” said Kaiser, who also goes to a conventional gym. “I’ve thought many times: What keeps me coming back?
“Small steps, incremental progress. I want to keep getting it.”
Kaiser’s family history is riddled with arthritis and back surgeries that haven’t yet touched her. Back when she started pole, she couldn’t lift herself off the ground.
“This keeps me strong and hopefully young,” said Kaiser, who plans to enter pole competitions. “It’s a great thing at my age and my size to do these things I never thought I would.”
The pole work here is nothing like you’d find at other dimly lit establishments. A lot of it involves wrapping your arm or leg around the pole for support, then doing a modified crunch or stretch. Only occasionally was I self-conscious about what I was doing, was I aware that a photographer, my partner on the story, could blackmail me with a press of her finger.
“Maybe the first class is awkward,” said Michaela Willer, who is 25 and a pole veteran by now. “You go to the first class, though, and everybody’s at the same place. It’s just natural.”
Absorbed in my pole work as I was, I didn’t get a chance to look around the rest of the room. Willer was maybe tops in the class, though. Her moves made me feel a little bad about mine.
“I was not an athlete whatsoever,” Willer said. “I would go to the gym and just run or whatever. Now I take a lot of personal pride in the mental transformation, of seeing things and thinking that I’ll never be able to do them, and then doing them.”
Among the people I met, pole was the big thing, what got them interested in the aerial arts at all. Treuer started in a pole class and taught one before opening Babe’s. That’s how Kaiser and Willer got to know her, and how they heard about the new studio.
“But we knew pole wouldn’t be enough,” Treuer said. “We needed more.”
Hence the other classes. There’s circus arts for kids, antigravity hammock for mostly older adults. There are beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.
“We wanted it to be intergenerational,” Treuer said. “We believe in this. We want to enrich lives.”
She has a gleaming vision of young and old, of those who are fit and those who are getting there, all doing this stuff, together. So Babe’s opening day was hard for her.
“Nobody came,” Treuer said. Now people at the salon tell her what a great job she’s doing.
Classes are filling up, enough so that Treuer is looking for classes to add. People who come once, she said, almost always come again, hooked.
Having dangled, having Gazelled, having worked a pole in ways difficult to explain to my grandma, I can understand this.
It’s a strange thing to feel one day as if you’re levitating, and then hours later as if you can’t walk, and for that descent to feel like progress.