Aerobics For Anarchists

It's 11 on Saturday inside the legendary New York punk club CBGB. That's a.m., not p.m. And there's no band in sight. The hulking man with the blue mohawk and tattoo isn't confused about the time of day--he's there for a workout. As in exercise. He takes one last gulp of his Bloody Mary, stubs out his cigarette on the bar floor and heads for an empty space in front of the stage. Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" blasts through the PA system. The unlikely participant pulls off his sweat shirt, raises his arms and dips into a deep stretch a la Jane Fonda. Punk Rock Aerobics has begun.

For the next 90 minutes the tattooed giant, two instructors and 21 other seemingly hung-over students will do moves called the Skank, the Teenage Kix and the Air Guitar. They'll use bricks for weights and even form a mosh pit at the high end of the cardio pump, all to the music of Black Flag, the Stooges and the Sex Pistols. Never will a J. Lo dance tune or a perky instructor's command of "work those buns" shatter the anti-glam experience.

Punk Rock Aerobics is the brainchild of Boston DIY girls Hilken Mancini and Maura Jasper. Their official Web site's description of the program: "No more sucky classes full of brain-dead bimbos in spandex thongs. An hour and a half cardio and strengthening class that will have you pogoing and skanking your butt off!" Mancini and Jasper started offering the $7 workout session in Boston's Middle East club last year, and featured guest DJs such as punk icon Mike Watt and alt rocker Evan Dando. The class picked up a sizable following, and word quickly spread. Now the girls are negotiating a DVD deal. "We plan to be the next TaeBo, except a lot cooler," says Jasper with a laugh.

Thanks to Punk Rock Aerobics, Pilates may soon seem as dated as leg warmers and the grapevine step. The scrappy exercise style attracts an under-30 set who are only now discovering the rabid yowl of the Germs, and thirty-somethings who never went for the hippie trimmings of yoga. "I've seen some hard-core punk kids and people who are a little long in the tooth and thick in the waist take the class," says Clint Conley, the former Mission of Burma bassist who recently DJ'd a Punk Rock Aerobics session. "Most of them looked like they were wearing the clothes they had been wearing the night before." When classgoer Britta Phillips is asked if she's ever attended regular aerobics classes, she rolls her eyes. "Oh, God. The music!" says Phillips, who happened to play at CBGB last night with her band, Luna. "It's intolerable. I'd taken to watching exercise videos on mute, then playing my own music over them. But it's hard to follow. This is fun and a workout."

Mancini and Jasper got the idea for Punk Rock Aerobics (don't try to rip off the name--it's trademarked) last spring when both were laid off from their jobs. Mancini, who worked as an archivist for a video company, and Jasper, who booked music and poetry at an art gallery, had plenty of free time to concoct their next career move. "We decided to make a class that we would go to," says Mancini, whose workout outfit consists of red-banded tube socks, vintage high-school phys-ed shorts and sparkly blue eye shadow. "We started making up our own crazy moves and giving them names. As long as it's building cardio it doesn't always have to be a V step or, you know, whatever they call them."

It's not total anarchy. The two had to follow some rules, like becoming certified aerobics instructors before teaching their own classes. The exercise-training program wasn't exactly a natural fit for Jasper, who'd never even set foot in a gym. "I almost ran away during the certification," she says. "You're in a room with 50 people and a number on your chest. You have to run up to the front of the class and say, 'Hi, I'm Maura and I'm here to show you an exercise!' This happens at, like, 6 in the morning. It was my worst nightmare come true." But both managed to get certified and began teaching classes by summer.

Back at CBGB, performance artists the Blue Man Group are spinning tunes such as the Ramones' "Beat on the Brat" while Mancini is urging her students on. When sweaty classgoers finally finish, some towel off, then grab treats from a bowl filled with Three Musketeers and SweeTarts, others purchase Punk Rock Aerobics T shirts and a few head for the bar. Mancini and Jasper pack up their vinyl, candy and bricks, then head out for their next exercise in rebellion.