Sweating with the Stars

By David Leffler – August 1, 2016
Photography by Weston Carls

There are few things more humbling in this world than comparing your body to a professional athlete’s. And yet here I was, walking to Dancers Shape studio to take part in a private workout alongside NFL players Fozzy Whittaker, Jordan Hicks, Adrian Phillips, and Dustin Hopkins, who frequent the studio during their offseason. The irony of sporting the black eye I recently suffered while playing amateur softball and sharing a workout session with these behemoths was not at all lost on me.

Fortunately, my jitters melted away the moment I entered Dancers Shape and was greeted by Jennifer McCamish, the studio’s owner and lead instructor. She makes me feel at home from the start, telling me about her previous career as a professional dancer in New York City and Chicago as she shows me around. Though she’s had a wildly successful career—including dancing at Radio City Music Hall as a Radio City Rockette—she’s far more excited about our upcoming workout together.

“Ballet and dance have been my life for years, so it’s been amazing to open Dancers Shape and share it with people from all walks of life,” she smiles. “Barre equips your body with the type of balance and focus that is crucial for all of us—regardless of whether you’re a professional athlete or just trying to get in shape.”

McCamish made sure to explain how barre works before my partners arrived. Named for its usage of ballet handrails, barre is a ballet-inspired workout that mixes in elements of dance, yoga, and Pilates. Although it can incorporate free weights, barre typically uses one’s body weight through repetitions of small, hyper-controlled movements to work muscles past the point of exhaustion. This full-body focus increases flexibility, balance, speed and agility.

“The biggest benefits of barre are increased core strength and range of motion, which help prevent and rehab injuries,” says McCamish, who has overcome hip surgery and recent operations on both her feet. It’s no wonder she’s in such a high demand with NFL players like Brian Orakpo (Tennessee Titans) and Marquise Goodwin (Buffalo Bills), along with Whittaker (Carolina Panthers), Hicks (Philadelphia Eagles), Phillips (San Diego Chargers) and Hopkins (Washington Redskins).

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 A few minutes later, the players begin to trickle in. Hopkins, Washington’s kicker, is the first to arrive. “The mechanics behind kicking are so fine-tuned,” he explains. “Working with Jennifer has strengthened my core and loosened my hips, which is huge in a sport where every detail can make the difference.”

Whittaker, Hicks, and Phillips arrive a few moments later, already razzing each other after their early morning workout. As Whittaker and McCamish chat, I realize he’s Dancers Shape’s first NFL disciple.

“My wife, Jasmine, worked at Dancers Shape while we were at UT and got me to try it out. I’ve been coming here for over four years now,” he says. “Lots of players have come here since then, which is a huge credit to Jennifer’s passion and drive.”

As we stretch, Hicks looks over at me. “This is my first time doing this, Jordan. Any suggestions?” I ask him. He gives me a huge smile and laughs. “Man, there isn’t any easing into this—you just have to dive in.”

He wasn’t kidding. McCamish lines us along the barre, our bare feet gripping the mats beneath us. Before I can register what’s going on, we dip at the knees and proceed to work every leg muscle you can think of. Immediately, my calves are on fire and shaking. I’d read you’re supposed to ‘embrace the shaking,’ but I was too focused on not falling over to embrace anything other than the handrail keeping me upright.

The most challenging part came during the Pilates section, which uses step-up chairs equipped with resistance bars to increase balance and engage your core. As we progress through the workout, I begin fighting through the exhaustion and embracing McCamish’s calls to action. “This takes so much more than a physical toll on you. It pushes your mental focus and endurance to the brink,” Whittaker would later tell me.

After Pilates, we finish off with stretching and yoga as we cool down. Sweating profusely and gasping for air, I realized we’ve already motored through our hour together—a testament to McCamish’s skills as an engaging, persistent, and relentless motivator.The mood is jubilant as we walk out together, our bodies still on an adrenaline high. “This is why we come here,” Phillips tells me. “We constantly push ourselves to the limit physically, so this balances things out and makes sure we’re taking care of our bodies. It’s our secret weapon.”

After exchanging goodbyes with McCamish and wishing the guys good luck this fall, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself. Though I put on a clinic in inflexibility (and probably cried a little), I felt great. And though barre may never be my go-to workout, I’ll definitely do it again—even though I could barely walk the next day. 


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