As a snowstorm was barreling down on Manhattan last Thursday, a group of 15 workout enthusiasts gathered in front of the Great Hall staircase at the iconic Metropolitan Museum of Art. Outfitted in sneakers, leggings and T-shirts, these art devotees were not there to quietly shuffle past the priceless masterpieces. They had signed up to power walk, stretch and fist-pump their way through the museum's 36 galleries and 5 wings.
The "Museum Workout" involves a combination of dance, art and performance. The 8:30 a.m. workout has become so popular that future classes are sold out.
Two dancers from the Monica Bill Barnes & Co. - dressed in sequin dresses and sneakers - get the group to start jogging in place to the Bee Gee’s “Staying’ Alive,” which blares from a speaker carried by a man dressed in a tuxedo.
The 45-minute workout has participants do jumping jacks in front of Perseus with the Head of Medusa, power walk through the Hall of Medieval Arms and Armor and squat in front of John Singer Sargent’s famous portrait of Madam X.
There’s a sense of exhilaration mixed with mischief as participants dance past historic artwork. Museum guards look on, some smiling, some clearly unamused.
“The challenge is to get people to understand what this is,” says Limor Tomer, the MetLiveArts general manager who commissioned the workout. “It’s a deeply emotional kind of exhilarating way to connect to the works of art in the museum - through feeling your body, being in your body, circumventing your intellect and going straight to your heart.”
Dancing through the empty halls that normally see up to 17,000 visitors a day is in itself a remarkable rarity; add in a soundtrack that makes you want to groove and a Shavasana pose at the feet of the gilded Diana statue, and it’s easy to understand why tickets to the Museum Workout have been sold out since it was first announced last April.
“It feels like the most unintentionally subversive thing to do,” says Robbie Saenz de Viteri, creative producing director of the dance company. “There’s such a culture here that you’re supposed to stand still and you’re supposed to be quiet and supposed to act so buttoned up. Our costumes are trying to match the formality of the museum but we’re trying to go in the opposite direction in what we do.”
Dressed to Kill
Pierre Terjanian, curator in charge of the Arms and Armor Department, says he appreciates the irony of the nimble dancers stretching in front of King Henry VIII of England's rigid armor.
“I find it very interesting as we explore ways of creating new engagement,” Terjanian tells ABC News. “This is a very solemn display ... but at the very least the ability to move around them and see them in the round is how they were meant to be experienced.”
Maira Kalman, an illustrator/author who collaborated with Monica Bill Barnes & Co. to create the program, says she wanted the workout to be like a “glorious walk through nature – only you’re in a museum.”
“It’s a respite from thinking too much,” she says. “The delight of using your body and having your brain have a little vacation.”
Monet to the Mona Lisa
Will this workout be brought to other major museums across America and around the world?
“If the Louvre and Hermitage don’t come calling,” says Kalman, “I think we’ll have to make a few phone calls.”