By Rain Francis of Dance Informa.
Working out in a playground, using balloons, and playing dress-ups? Getting fit for dance has never been so much fun.
As a dancer, you know it’s important to keep your body strong and fit, and you know that it usually requires more than just going to dance class. You may incorporate Pilates, yoga, cardio or strength training into your personal programme in order to perform to your maximum potential and avoid injury. Have you ever visited a gym in a bid to find this extra training you need, only to feel the exercises you are given are irrelevant – maybe even counter-productive – to your dance training? Just as you might choose a physio who has a background in dance, you want to choose a gym that understands exactly what dancers need. Well, now you can. Introducing PITFIT.
First of all, ‘gym’ is not really the correct word. ‘Crazy fun fitness centre’ is probably more accurate. Forget the image of bored people pounding away for hours on a treadmill, or dudes taking themselves way too seriously while lifting weights; if these are the things that put you off the idea of going to a gym, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you visit PITFIT.
A fitness centre dedicated to dancers, actors and performers, PITFIT offers a unique, creative approach to fitness. Recognising the importance of the industry-specific conditioning required to prevent injury and achieve maximum results, the creators of this ground-breaking facility have developed a series of fun, relevant ways to train.
The brains – and the heart – behind the operation is Josh Piterman, one of Australia’s leading musical theatre performers. He is known for Tony in West Side Story, The Ten Tenors classical music group, An Officer and a Gentleman, The Drowsy Chaperon opposite Geoffrey Rush and Corny Collins in Hairspray on the West End.
Josh is also a qualified personal trainer, a master functional trainer and an ambassador for the Australian Institute of Fitness. “I’ve always been really passionate about health and fitness,” he says. “Having to do various roles here and in the UK, I was always thinking ‘how can I do this better, how can I move better on stage, how can I be freer? What’s going to make me a better performer?’”
So he started to develop training programmes himself, working on specific exercises to make dancers stronger and more athletic. As his knowledge of fitness, anatomy and biomechanics increased, he kept tweaking and road-testing his exercises, eventually working with cast members from different shows, such as Wicked, Grease and King Kong.
“As dancers, we look so much in the mirror and work those muscles we see, but sports science tells us that the muscles that make us stronger, faster, more dynamic, jump higher, run faster – all those things that make us move better as a dancer – are actually behind us. So a lot of we do is posterior-driven… the by-product of it is that you still look amazing too, you just don’t have to do a million crunches to get abs.”
When I visited PITFIT I was lucky enough to try a Stage Strength class, which is part of an umbrella syllabus called Perform Stronger for Longer. Run by the very lively Ellen Simpson, who worked with Josh to create the class, Stage Strength encompasses movements inspired by yoga, Pilates and ballet, using resistance bands, balls and the barre. It was a challenging but entertaining hour, complete with lots of laughter and good-natured, melodramatic moaning at the intensity of the workout (no surprise, given it was a class full of performers). My favourite part was the fondu and rond de jambe on a Bosu ball; it was clear to see how such an exercise would quickly improve my balance, core stability, glute strength and proprioception.
PITFIT also offers a myofascial release class, using the dancer’s BFFs: The foam roller and spiky ball. Coming up soon, they’ll also be adding a session of slow flow yoga and meditation, incorporating some of the philosophies of Yin yoga.
And then there’s the Playground, PITFIT’s equivalent of the traditional gym floor, minus all the torturous-looking machines. In the Playground, trainers run classes which are all about functional movement, with a strong focus on core, hip and glute strength, and getting people into moving in multiple planes. So why is it called the Playground?
“Our philosophy is if you don’t laugh, we didn’t do our job, so it’s all about how enjoyable it can be,” explains Josh. “Going to the gym is like a chore for a lot of people… the last time they did an activity that was fun was when they were a kid, and we want to recreate that feeling psychologically. If it’s fun, you’ll feel like you want to come back.”
Playground classes – called ‘Discover’ and ‘Play’ – use TRX, kettle bells, bands, Bosu balls, and even balloons, challenging the mind as well as the body – something particularly relevant for performers who need to stay mentally focussed while performing complex movements.
“’Play’ is our 45-minute super sesh, for super human results,” says Josh. “Chuck Norris wishes he could do this class.” Classes are limited to a maximum of six participants, which means more individual attention and focus on correct, safe technique.
Taking the idea of ‘Making Fitness FUNctional’ to a whole new level, on the first Saturday of every month, PITFIT hosts a theme workout party. Clients get to choose a theme and accompanying songs that they love, and everyone dresses up to workout.
Ready to give PITFIT a go? If you’re in Melbourne you can head along to their open day on Saturday November 22, from 8:00am to 1:00pm. You can try a few classes and be treated to performances by secret “musical theatre elite” guests. “We’ll probably have a bit of a barbie, and maybe some lawn bowls on the grass,” laughs Josh.
PITFIT offers a 10-day intro special, where you can try as many classes as you like in 10 days for only $49 by Josh Piterman. PITFIT is located at 2/82 St Kilda Road, St Kilda, Melbourne. Check out www.pitfit.com.au for more details.
Photo (top): Josh Piterman training at PITFIT. Photo by Chris Parker.