What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I had a health scare late last year and it became evident that my sedentary ways had to end. I’ve been doing pretty well in that regard, and thanks to thrice-weekly stints on the treadmill and adopting some crazy new habits like eating more vegetables than cheese. I’ve dropped almost 40 lbs and gained some much-needed muscle. I’m feeling awesome.
But as much as I’ve grown to enjoy treadmilling along to the latest Lady Gaga mash-up, a girl’s gotta mix up the workouts to avoid burnout and wake up the ol’ body. Luckily, I can always rely on my new BFF Richard Simmons to step in and get me moving.
I’m not just talking about using his DVDs, although I like those too. I mean little Dicky Simmons, LIVE AND IN PERSON. This 63-year old aerobic elf of the disco motherland is still teaching classes three times a week at his Beverly Hills studio, Slimmons, which has been around since 1974. 1974!
There is a reason for the man’s longevity in this business. Growing up watching him on TV, I always appreciated that he seemed to genuinely care about his clients -- never shaming, always supportive. Not to mention, he is frickin’ hilarious. How could I, as a Los Angeles resident, not want to hop in the car and go see what all the fuss is about?
I went to my first Slimmons class back in May, studiously reading his Yelp reviews beforehand. So I knew Richard could be expected to wear some kind of wild costume. During Oscar season, he showed up in full "Black Swan" drag. For Valentines Day, he wore cupid wings and brandished fuzzy red handcuffs. He’ll sometimes hint at what he’s gonna wear via his Twitter or Facebook page, but even still you are NOT prepared for what you are going to see. Trust me.
The first time I went was Michael Jackson/Pink day. He showed up in the iconic red patent leather "Thriller" outfit, which he kept on during the Michael Jackson songs he played -- but during the Pink songs, he removed the jacket to reveal a red sequined bustier leotard, then applied lipstick and put a flower in his hair. I still don’t understand everything I saw that day, but I know I left a changed woman.
My tales of Richard’s hilarity and wonderfulness intrigued my friend Lauren, so we decided to head over there for a Tuesday night class. Of course, I could not go in unprepared. I wanted to pay tribute to Richard through glamour, so I invented what I am calling the Slimmons Manicure: one coat of Essie’s perfect ‘80s pink, "Bachelorette Bash," and two coats of Ulta’s "Pinata-Yada."
When we got to the studio and I showed Richard my nails, he demanded to know the order in which these polishes were applied. "Is the glitter built into the polish or is it a coat of glitter on top of the pink? DON’T LIE TO ME!!!"
I doubt Richard actually wanted to replicate my manicure, but his interest in it only highlights how involved he gets with his fans. He makes you feel as special and sparkly as one of his tank tops! And ohhh, those tank tops!
His outfit that evening consisted of a flesh-colored top completely covered in fluttering satin ribbons in a variety of candy colors, accented with puffy tulle ruffles at the shoulders. Twirled ribbons trailed from his novelty glasses, while a pair of purple-and-white striped booty shorts worn over a thick pair of mantyhose completed the ensemble.
Richard’s trademark afro was intact, along with the magnetic personality that makes everyone around him a little happier and more energized.
Now, given Richard’s propensity for razzle-dazzle, you might think the workout you’re about to embark on will be a cakewalk. But you, my friend, are about to get schooled. Yes, disco is blaring and Richard is screaming sidesplitting bon mots like, "Reach down! FARTHER down!! Pretend there’s a cookie on the floor! PEPPERIDGE FARMS!!" and "Spread those legs...I know it’s not your first time!" but make NO mistake -- this shit is for real.
You are in for a solid hour of non-stop cardio, running around the joint like a cracked-out terrier. By the time you figure out one move, it’s on to the next. There be huffin’. There be puffin’. Before you know it, you’re dripping in sweat and praying for the sweet release of death. The leg lifts...dude, the leg lifts.
In between the bouncing and the cha-cha and the grapevine and the pony, Richard somehow tricks you into doing over 100 leg lifts. Somebody on Yelp claims it’s closer to 200. I believe it, but it’s all a blur. That is the genius of Richard Simmons. He keeps you so busy laughing that despite the very real effort you’re expending, you almost forget you’re exercising. It’s like a magical party where everyone’s wearing sneakers.
After you’ve done an entire hour of cardio, it’s time to grab some hand weights and line up for some toning exercises. Richard takes this very seriously and pays close attention to your form as you’re lifting. I totally got called out for lowering my arms too far, which I appreciate since I’d really rather not injure myself.
Richard seemed pretty unhappy with the entire group’s effort during this segment, and expressed his displeasure by turning off the music and making us do extra reps. This was his only "Bad Daddy" moment of the night, but it definitely served to make everyone more mindful of what they were doing. This guy is busting his very toned and tiny ass for us, the least we can do is give him our all.
After weights, comes the floor work. Grab a mat and get ready for a killer round of crunches, obliques, bicycle crunches and push-ups. Once again, you’d better not wimp out on these moves or he will totally notice.
For some reason there was a large white poodle lying half-asleep in the corner of the studio throughout the class. I gazed at him while mentally willing Richard to not look too closely at my bent-leg girly push-ups. The mystery poodle’s warm brown eyes took my exhausted self to another place, at least for the moment.
And just like that, after some cat/cow yoga stretches as a cooldown and a few parting thoughts from Richard, you’re done. You’re also in luck, because he hangs out for a while so that anyone who wants to take photos with him gets a chance to chit-chat while taking the snapshots all your Facebook friends will be freaking out about the next day.
He’s extremely sweet and friendly in person, very free with the hugs and kisses. You will leave smelling faintly of his perfume, which I’m pretty sure is Shalimar. Yes, Richard is a riot, but he also stresses self-kindness and empathy towards others, which is part of why people continue to be drawn to him. One guy who was there that night drove all the way up from San Diego (about 2-3 hours away) just to take Richard’s class -- and he was a Pilates instructor!
Our class also had a gym teacher in it. When even people who make it their business to be fit feel that they can learn something from the man, you know he’s got the goods.
With my YMCA membership, I can’t justify driving over to Slimmons every week, but it is definitely something I’m going to try to do more often. I am pretty sure his Halloween class will be legendary, and if you go during your birthday week, he gives you a special present and sings to you! It only costs $12 for the class, so your wallet won’t be "feeling the burn" -- just your butt cheeks.