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Twerking Their Way to a Sweaty Workout Nirvana


The Vixen Workout (a.k.a. the twerking workout) during a Monday night class at Body & Soul, in Coconut Grove, Fla. CreditBarbara P. Fernandez for The New York Times

As green and red strobes flashed around a darkened Midtown studio, some 75 women, many in animal-print Lycra capri pants and wedge-heeled sneakers, scrambled for lipstick touch-ups, then took their places for their exercise class warm-up.

“Now you’re going to give me a hair flip,” yelled Janet Jones, a classically trained ballerina and former Miami Heat dancer. “And ooh, hair flip. Ooh, hair flip.”

The women obeyed, repeating the words like an incantation while tossing their hair as (there is no other word for it) aerobically as possible. Ms. Jones, 32, segued to a “kitten pose” (rear end out, one leg bent), followed by a hip-swiveling, backside-shaking maneuver she called “ay papi, el papi.” Then she led the group in affirmations: “Damn, I look sexy for a Monday night,” four times, crescendo. Members of the Vixen Army, as Ms. Jones calls disciples of her Vixen workout, were ready to twerk.

To a soundtrack that was about two-thirds Beyoncé, one-third unprintable except for indefinite articles and conjunctions (and to which nearly everyone knew the words), the group performed suggestive dance moves that Ms. Jones has given equally suggestive titles, like “booty call,” “milkshake” and “ridin’ round and gettin’ it.”

Ms. Jones refers to this as “me taking urban hip-hop and Justin Biebering it,” but it’s also practical because the names make the moves easier to teach. There is some giggling when Ms. Jones or her instructors say things like “give me eight ‘ridin’ round and gettin’ its’ into 10 ‘milkshakes’ into five ‘booty calls,’ ” but mostly, there is just sweating. Hair flipping may not spike the heart rate much, but dropping it low certainly does.

The Vixen workout, which began in Miami in October 2012, has attracted a following of thousands of women, mostly under age 35 and many of them mothers of young children, like Ms. Jones. Few go, or have ever gone, to traditional gyms. They are drawn to Vixen’s slightly naughty, pretend-you’re-Beyoncé’s-backup-dancer approach (every woman interviewed brought up Beyoncé) and enjoy the emphasis on makeup, blown-out hair and heels as just part of the costume.

Janet Jones, 32, created the dance routine in October 2012. CreditBarbara P. Fernandez for The New York Times

“We want you to get dolled up to sweat it all off,” reads the “vixen etiquette” on the website. Ms. Jones said her experience as a Heat dancer taught her that she moved differently when she thought she looked good.

Stephanie Muñoz, 27, said she used to ridicule women at the gym with makeup, but that her Vixen workout prep includes a manicure and her favorite Nars red lizard lipstick, a siren red. (She draws the line at getting a blowout.)

“It’s like a religious experience,” said Ms. Muñoz, of Astoria, Queens. “You start to feel better about yourself getting ready, and then you do the workout and you feel like a million bucks.”

Carla Acosta-Medina, 30, came to the $15 Midtown class with two friends who were intrigued by the workout when they spotted pictures of it on Instagram.

“You get to sing and dance and feel sexy,” said Ms. Medina, who lives in the Bronx and has a 14-month-old daughter. “You feel like you’re onstage performing with Beyoncé. When does a mom get to feel like that?”

If it seemed as if it was only a matter of time before someone turned twerking into a workout, well, Ms. Jones was regularly selling out classes of 125 people before Miley Cyrus’s performance at the Video Music Awards in August. The Vixen workout already had spread throughout South Florida almost entirely thanks to Instagram — sweaty selfies, often in kitten pose, practically are a part of the cool down, and have been since the very first class, attended only by Ms. Jones’s cousin and her best friend.

Ms. Jones encourages women to attend with makeup on, hair down and sneaker wedges.CreditBarbara P. Fernandez for The New York Times

“You only take a selfie when you’re feeling hot,” Ms. Jones said.

Post-Ms. Cyrus, Ms. Jones’s army began hashtagging their pictures with “twerk” or “twerkout” and labeling photos “getting my Miley Cyrus on,” and the workout caught fire. Last fall, classes began in Manhattan, Harlem and Astoria. Ms. Jones recently flew to Los Angeles to hire instructors; classes will begin there in April.

What makes Ms. Jones’s workout different from other of-the-moment dance cardio classes is that her moves are raunchier than the rest — moves most women older than 25 no longer feel comfortable doing in a nightclub, if they ever did. That’s because the workout was inspired by an episode at the Arkadia nightclub (now closed) in Miami, when a song Ms. Jones and her girlfriends loved came on, but the group grooved about as enthusiastically as junior-high boys forced to attend a school dance.

“It’s like you have your public persona of being a V.P. of a company, being a mom, and even in a nightclub you can’t let loose,” Ms. Jones said. “And I just thought, well, when can you let loose?” She added the affirmations because at the time, Ms. Jones was slowly emerging from what she called “my blackout period, when I was invisible,” when she lost her job as an administrative assistant and was unhappy in her marriage.

Unlike many boutique gyms, which focus on hiring hot instructors with genetically blessed physiques, Ms. Jones chooses approachable women who are “not the best dancers out there,” to make them relatable. Students are more likely to be singled out and told they look beautiful than corrected on form. In fact, there are no corrections, because “you can’t feel the music wrong,” Ms. Jones said.

Michelle Schloemer, 24, of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, learned of the workout when a blogger she follows on Instagram gave it the thumbs up.

“Some workouts, like maybe a yoga class, you feel overshadowed by all these smaller women, but not here,” Ms. Schloemer said after Monday’s class. She checked her heart rate monitor: She had burned 40 percent more calories than she does on the elliptical machine, she said.

She ran over to join the class picture, everyone making a V with the first two fingers of their right hand. Ms. Jones surveyed her students and yelled: “I want to see every sex bomb,” before taking her place in front. After a couple of takes, the group splintered into twos and threes, the women throwing their hair back as they snapped photos and posted them on Instagram. This army is always recruiting.

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