Buy Local: Never Too Old! Find Your Inner Monkey at The Athletic PlayGround

August 14, 2012
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“I thought maybe I could get a little fitter, and do some cartwheels.”

These were the modest ambitions of Zach Fischer, 27, when he joined Athletic PlayGround in Emeryville a few years ago.  But Fischer shocked himself.

“I can do a backflip now. And that is something I never thought I could do. I thought I’d missed my window of possibility long ago, when I was a kid.”

Fischer has even started teaching an acrobatics class at Athletic PlayGround.

Athletic PlayGround draws its inspiration from the circus, and provides a place where people discover “they can do things they never thought they could do,” says David Grace, who started Athletic PlayGround in 2008 with Shira Yaziv. And like the circus, the atmosphere is playful, high energy, and, well, alittle wacky. One member often dances around the gym between rigorous sets of strength and balance exercise. Two others always appear with colorful, mismatched striped socks. And there are monkeys everywhere – monkey toys, monkey murals, and humans doing monkey-like things.

“Monkeys are very strong … and very playful!,” says Grace, adding that the gym offers Monkey Conditioning classes every day of the week.

In addition to weekly classes, Athletic PlayGround offers specialized workshops every month, including in Acrobatics, AcroBalance, Acroyoga, Aerials (fabric and trapeze), Breakdance/Hip-Hop, Flexibility, Handstands, Hooping, Partner Flips, Parkour, and Monkey Conditioning. Each day’s schedule includes periods of “Open Play” which allow for a diverse range of activity. Non-member drop-ins are welcome at most classes.

Rachel Baker joined because she “fell in love with the idea of creating a safe place for adults to come and play, harnessing their childlike energy, freedom, and happiness through movement with other people.”

Now she teaches three classes, including Monkey Conditioning. Her class includes an array of “critter” movements: “bear, elephant, bunny, froggie, inchworm, chicken, crab, badger, cat, waterbug and more.” There’s also “regular chicken” and, not for the faint of heart, “hungry, super-sexy chicken.”

Longtime member Ben Williams comes regularly during Open Play periods, training on hand balancing, handstand presses, and gymnastics strength skills. He loves the camaraderie, and values sharing the space with others who are training on a variety of “bodyweight skills” like breakdancing, tumbling, or working on aerial silks.

“I get energy from being around these people—people exploring movement authentically,” Williams says. Although his “Never Thought I Could Do It” list is impressive (a one-minute handstand, aerial cartwheel, back handspring – all after the age of 36), he notes that Athletic PlayGround “isn’t intimidating like some other places. It’s not hard-core. During ‘Open Play’ or Acrobatics class, you’re going to get instruction that’s geared towards success. If you just want to do a somersault, that’s great; if you want to learn straddle-press to handstand or back tuck, you can learn that too. There’s something for everyone.”

In addition to offering classes and workshops, Athletic PlayGround hosts free “Park Days” for the community to come together to play and eat outside, as well as occasional PlayGround Parties with dancing, open play, and performances put on by members and teachers. For children and teens, there are afterschool classes and summer camps.

Athletic PlayGround is located at 4770 San Pablo Ave (at 48th Street) Suite E, Emeryville, CA 94608.

For more information, go to www.athleticplayground.com , join Athletic PlayGround on facebook, or call (510) 355-1626. Check out some of the action on YouTube:

Aerials

Hooping

Parkour

Handstands

Monkey Conditioning

Zach Pine likes his whole-body workouts at Athletic Playground– smile muscles included. He also organizes a weekly informal contact improvisation jam during Open Play time at the Playground. Zach lives in Berkeley.

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