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  • Audrey Cleo

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    Dancercising… into the Olympics?

    Above: A recent sketch from Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele” featuring some sweet dancercising, outfits.

    Last week’s episode of “Key & Peele” featured a strangely dark – yet still hilarious – skit about a fake 1980s era dance aerobics competition gone terribly wrong. The whole spectacle – shot brilliantly in homage to the aerobic dance movement that hit a fever pitch in the ’70s and ’80s – is a blur of Spandex, headbands and pitch perfect goofball dancercising. The sketch led me down an Internet wormhole and to a YouTube video of the 1988 Crystal Light National Aerobic Championship opening sequence aka the video so effectively parodied by K&P:

    So much power! So many unitards! And that SONG!

    So, whither dance aerobics today?

    Aerobic dance started not long after Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a former Air Force Colonel, introduced the concept of aerobic exercise after developing military fitness tests and conducting extensive fitness research on some 5,000 military personnel in the 1960s. Cooper’s book, “Aerobics,” was published in 1968.

    Jazzercise – which is a still a thing – started in 1969 and is now taught in 32 countries. Countless dance aerobic programs have popped up since, although modern-day descendants tend to be sexier than their leg warmered ancestors: think ZumbaPole Dance Fitness, various barre-based classes and Tracy Anderson. There are countless other ways to booty-pop on DVD, online fitness portals and local gym schedules.

    And contrary to what the Key & Peele skit may suggest, competitive aerobic dance is not just some anachronistic dorkfest immortalized on YouTube. In fact, it could be an Olympic sport. The Association of National Aerobic Championships (ANAC) will hold its 26th International Championship event in San Diego in July 2015. In 2011, the ANAC added something called AeroDance to the competition mix.  Sportaerobics or aerobic gymnastics require athletes to perform choreographed 1 minute 45 second routines demonstrating, among other things, “cardiovascular endurance” and “power through continuous movement patterns” and looks like a combination of cheerleading and rhythmic gymnastics but with more push-ups. It also looks hard:

    Sportaerobics is already recognized by the IOC and, according to the ANAC website at least, is poised to make its debut on the Olympic stage in the future. It’s easy to laugh at the sparkly Spandex, perma-smiles and cheese factor that seems endemic to dance aerobics, but they just might be key to winning Olympic gold one day.

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    Above: The official trailer for “Surfwise” (2007). 

    Last Monday, Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, the patriarch of the so-called “First Family of Surfing,” died in Newport Beach, Ca. due to complications from a femur injury. He was 93.

    In the pantheon of quirky characters in surfing, surely Doc earned his place. A Stanford-trained doctor, he gave up a thriving practice and instead toured the US, Mexico and Central America in a camper with his third wife Juliette and their nine kids during the ’70s, a Von Trapp family of surfing. The family would later open the world-famous Paskowitz Surf Camp on San Onofre State Beach which has been attended by thousands of surf pupils. An ardent believer in the benefits of surfing not only on mind and body but also in resolving political conflicts, Paskowitz wrote “Surfing and Health” and, with Kelly Slater, started the organization Surfing for Peace in the hopes that the sport could ease tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. In 2007, Doc (born Jewish) personally delivered boards to Palestinian surfers.

    Of course, all of this is detailed in the documentary “Surfwise” (2007), a moving and rather unflinching portrayal of one of surfing’s biggest evangelizers. It opens with a scene of a not-young Doc doing naked yoga stretches before (duck)diving into his personal history and the nomadic, at times destitute life he thrust upon his family, members of whom did not always agree with his way of doing things. There are suggestions of resentment and authoritarianism. But there is no denying that the man loved to surf and lived, for better or for worse, every surfer’s daydream of packing it all up – or leaving it all behind – and following the waves wherever they may take you.

    A few years ago, I volunteered for a day with Surfers Healing, an organization started by Israel Paskowitz – one of Doc’s sons – that holds free surf camps for autistic children. Israel started the organization after witnessing the calming power the ocean had on his own autistic son, Isaiah, a therapy of sorts. And somewhere between helping kids with their wetsuits and handing out cartons of coconut water, I had a chance to meet Doc and his wife, Juliette. Thin and delicate-looking, Doc spent most of the day in sitting on a fold-out beach chair but when introduced to me, made it a point to stand up (“Because she’s a lady!” he said), take my hands in both of his to shake hello and thank me for volunteering my time. I don’t get star-struck, and I wouldn’t call this that – it was more like surf-struck. It’s a moment of which I wish I had a photo a la Bill Clinton and JFK. At some point during our brief conversation, he told me that he could no longer surf every day, an unsurprising fact but one that kind of bummed me out nonetheless if only because it was a reminder that that day comes for all of us.

    The Paskowitz Surf Camp website is paying tribute to the beloved Doc: “In honor of Doc, remember to celebrate life, follow your dreams, never compromise, be passionate! Life life to the fullest! Surf more! And stay away from refined sugar!”

    Some (surf)wise words to live by, no?

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    Sunday Night Futbol

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    Above: Kelly and I take a break from eating stadium food and doing insightful commentary to take a selfie.

    What do two overworked graduate fellows do on a Sunday night to turn off their brains? Go to a soccer game! At least that’s what my colleague, Kelly, and I did by nabbing last-minute tickets to see the LA Galaxy trounce Real Salt Lake in the MLS Western Conference semifinal last night. We watched Landon Donovan in one of the final games of his professional career pull a hat trick, scoring 3 out of the 5 goals against RSL (final score: 5-0) in a not-empty StubHub Center. We made our own running commentary about Cozmo, the Galaxy’s mascot which looks of indeterminate Muppet origin and contemplated Kyle Beckerman’s grooming habits (Me: “Do you think Beckerman’s dreads are hard to keep up?” Kelly: “Yeah, but they’re part of his brand” – we are commentary gold).  There was overpriced, unhealthy stadium food devoured. And to top it all off, we spent about 40 minutes wandering the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills in search of our car. All in all, pretty typical, fun game day stuff and a very necessary break from staring at our laptops.

    When we talk about soccer or futbol – or as one hater I know calls it, “kickyball” –  ever “making it” in the US, the conversation is usually pretty fatalist. You tend to find few US futbol fans who openly and optimistically think The Beautiful Game has more than a snowball’s chance in hell of ever overtaking football, baseball or even basketball. And there are reasons for that, some of them cultural to be sure.

    Futbol may never overtake football but that doesn’t mean Americans aren’t watching or don’t care. And in the US, where cultural tropes of mavericks and heroes and being #1, the impetus that may give the sport that extra push into the mainstream consciousness is just one win on the world stage away. It’s just about getting there.

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    The StubHub Center seats up to 20,000 and there weren’t that many empty seats last night. Over 26 million Americans watched last summer’s World Cup final, and the chant for the USMNT, heard yelled in unison at full volume, was “I believe that we will win.” Imagine if we actually had.


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    Am I cut out for CrossFit? Probably not and here’s why

    A previous version of this blog post erroneously suggested that “The OC Throwdown” is a CrossFit-sanctioned event and pre-cursor to the CrossFit Games. It is not a CrossFit-sanctioned event. However, outlets including ESPN describe Ogar’s injury as the result of training for the CrossFit Games.

    Above video: A clip from HBO’s “Eastbound & Down” season 1 that summarizes my feelings about competitive exercising like CrossFit, feelings admittedly rooted in my own insecurities and weakling status. I own that.

    Earlier this year, during a CrossFit competitive exercise competition called the “OC Throwdown” – a pre-cursor to the CrossFit Games an event not sanctioned by the CrossFit brand – Kevin Ogar attempted an Olympic lift that would, within seconds, render him a paraplegic. One of the top athletes in the sport, Ogar, a former rugby player and CrossFit coach in Denver, was surely no stranger to the highly technical maneuver, but his slight move backwards caused him to drop the bar, 240 pounds in total weight, and sever his upper spine. The video of Ogar’s injury is disturbing, to say the least. Striking still is his reluctance to blame CrossFit for it.

    If you pay any mind to workout trends like I do (albeit as an easily-bored, obligated exerciser), you have heard of CrossFit and have at least one friend who cannot stop singing its praises in terms and zeal that border on fanatical: they’re in in the best shape of their lives, they’re healthier than ever before, bad karma erased, the list goes on. The CrossFit movement is emboldened by its 10,000 worldwide affiliates (gyms in laymen’s terms; “boxes” in CrossFit parlance) and its acolytes, over 200,000 of whom signed up to compete in the CrossFit Games Open, the worldwide qualifier for the ESPN 2-broadcasted CrossFit Games.

    Above video: Highlights from the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games broadcast on ESPN 2 where men and women competed to be the Fittest on Earth.

    CrossFit, at its core as an exercise philosophy, involves (very) high-intensity interval training in a compressed time frame. What it boils down to – with variations – is doing as many rounds as possible of set exercises dubbed “WODs” or “workouts of the day” usually with minimal rest. There are Twitterfeeds devoted to posting WODs or take your pick from a variety posted on the CrossFit website. Pick your pull-up poison; it’s all in the name of achieving elite fitness.

    “What is ‘elite fitness’?” you might be wondering. That depends on who you ask. While some have set out standards for being elitely fit, a sort of one-workout-to-rule-them-all, more generally, “elite fitness” seems to be an umbrella term for achieving the ability to complete the rigorous exercise regimens once only familiar to Navy SEALs and members of law enforcement and the military, populations with which CrossFit is immensely popular. Celebs have jumped on the WODwagon, too.

    “Forging elite fitness” (CrossFit’s motto) is also big business. CrossFit founder Greg Glassman is not what you would call a traditional businessman, but he might be a marketing genius. Operating on a unique model built on a network of, more or less, independent entrepreneurs who essentially buy into the CrossFit brand, the company pulls in around $100 million in revenue. It’s generated mostly from licensing fees and seminars that could turn anyone – even me! – into a Level 1 Certified CrossFit trainer for a $1,000 flat fee.

    In theory, after I complete my Level 1 certification, which includes a multiple choice test and completing a rigorous WOD called the Fran (okay, so maybe I can’t be a CrossFit gym owner), I could open my own “box” – a purposely generic term since it can be customized to the owner’s liking under the CrossFit brand. Box owners pay a $3,000 annual licensing fee, although early owners have been grandfathered in at rates as low as $500.

    To the marketing genius end, not only has Glassman founded an entire workout methodology/philosophy/lifestyle and created a lexicon around it (WODs, boxes), he’s co-opted some of the less-than-flattering buzz around CrossFit into the brand. There’s “Uncle Pukie” alternately known as “Pukie the Clown,” a vomiting clown mascot speaking to CrossFit-induced vomiting that’s made puke buckets box staples. A 2005 New York Times article detailed one new CrossFitter who landed in the ER after his inaugural workout with a debilitating condition known as rhabdomyolysis where muscle breaks down and causes kidney damage. Uncle Rhabdo, a fatigued clown hooked up to a dialysis machine, was Uncle Pukie’s corporate mascot cousin for awhile.

    It’s all very fascinating how CrossFit has turned puke and the rapid breakdown of muscle tissue into tongue-in-cheek marketing tools. Indeed, Glassman himself has acknowledged that CrossFit “can kill you.” But it’s precisely that weed-out-the-weak branding that has made me hesitant and, admittedly, intimidated about ever stepping into a box.

    Then there are the CrossFit-related injuries which have drawn criticism from various fitness professionals and doctors mostly because of inconsistent and unregulated programs that push participants to levels of physical activity for which they are unprepared. But before I get a deluge of hate-mail, let me be clear: certainly, correlation does not imply causation. One study cited the CrossFit-related injury rate at three per thousand hours of exercise, similar to rates in gymnastics and Olympic lifting. Every sport has its inherent risks. Living has inherent risks.

    But the CrossFit brand is bolstered by such vocal practitioners that I often wonder what they’re preaching about. The word “cult” has been thrown around, but I find that way too charged – “community” seems more appropriate. Furthermore, members of said community continue to promote it even when assuming those risks don’t work out in their favor: Ogar is now confined to a wheelchair and no longer competes but continues to train other CrossFit athletes.

    One of my favorite scenes from HBO’s “Eastbound & Down” season 1 is of a conversation between generously-mulleted Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) and his boss (Andrew Daly), a smug school principal bragging about training for an upcoming triathlon, to which Powers responds, “I play real sports, not try to be the best at exercising.” Chuckle, chuckle. It’s a clip I like to shove in my marathon-running, triathlete friends‘ faces mostly out of insecurity because I know I could/would never elect to do what they do. I would probably give up halfway through mile one.

    Competitive exercising just isn’t my bag, so then by extension, I have assumed that neither is CrossFit. But then again, if I were to try sell someone on surfing knowing full well there are sharks in the ocean and rocks and – most dangerous of all – other surfers while singing the sport’s praises, I would probably sound like some evangelist; I would probably sound like a dedicated CrossFitter.

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    Watch: Jasmine Villegas indulges my back-up dancer fantasies, does acoustic performance.

    Jasmine Villegas is currently blowing up the radio with her single “That’s Me Right There” featuring Kendrick Lamar, and she breaks it down acoustic style in the Young Hollywood studio. With over 760,000 Instagram followers and over 1.5 million on Twitter, the pop star – who made her big debut in Justin Bieber’s music video for “Baby” – is no stranger to navigating the often treacherous waters of social media. We sit down to chat about that, her ultimate R&B idol and how I can achieve my lifelong dream of being a back-up dancer.

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    Is it possible to have a strategy in fantasy surfing?

    Above video: Highlights from the Moche Rip Curl Pro 2014 in Portugal, where top seeds Gabriel Medina and Kelly Slater were knocked out in Round 3 by Brett Simpson and Aritz Aranburu respectively. Neither Simpson nor Aranburu are in the top 10 of the ASP WCT rankings.

    Playing fantasy sports is a bit like eating kale: hey, don’t knock ’til you try it. I never really understood the appeal of marinating in front of the computer for hours, looking up player stats and then round robin-ing on conference calls to draft players with friends and co-workers. Was it about the competition? The camaraderie? Or the cash? Being the manager of anything sounds like a huge headache, so why play pretend? Well, now I get it, although I would call my experience in fantasy sports a little skewed.

    Currently, I’m lone wolfing it in two fantasy surfing leagues, the ASP’s and Surfer Magazine’s Fantasy Surfer, where I build my dream teams of WCT competitors ahead of every stop on the tour. Unlike in football, basketball or baseball, where the actual landscapes upon which the games are played don’t change, surfing is a strange beast for which to construct a fantasy team. A court is a court whether it’s at the Staples Center or the Oracle Arena but different WCT locales can warrant wildly different conditions and, crucially, different types of waves: the 4 to 5-foot progressive waves of Trestles versus the 25-foot giants of Sunset Beach. Conditions at the contests themselves can change minute-to-minute, throwing off even specialists at particular spots. And then there’s the judging bias.

    This has led me to wonder whether it’s even possible to have a strategy in fantasy surfing, a sport that, in practice, is inherently unpredictable. Sure, you can pore over stats and competitor performance from contests past, but how relevant is any of it when your guy scores low because of a lackluster set or is eliminated suddenly in the opening heats because of poor wave choice or, worse, is hit with a sudden injury.

    As a relative n00b in the fantasy world, I’m – surprise, surprise – not doing great, opting mostly for passion picks and drops based on last season’s results. I recently brought up the issue with a surf journo who advised I make up my teams based on match-up so I don’t inadvertently eliminate multiple surfers in early heats. He also suggested I let go my attachment to Brazilian superstar and world title contender Gabriel Medina in the upcoming Billabong Pipe Masters. Sigh. Fine.

    Which is not to say that other fantasy-friendly sports aren’t negatively impacted by injuries and surprise wins, but the haphazard “strategies” of fantasy surfing seem to be yet another symptom of a sport that is so unlike other pro sports. The issues with scoring, contest conditions and player performance create a much more fluid – no pun intended – playing field such that I wonder if the only real strategy a play-pretend manager such as myself can employ is making gut picks and hoping for the best. The stakes are low enough to be still be fun. After all, it’s called “fantasy” for a reason with an emphasis on the “fan” part for me.

    Riding the new music nostalgia train.

    I have a confession to make: I still listen to terrestrial radio. At least I’m not alone. Yes, I know that sounds awfully old school of me in this age of Spotify, Pandora, and Sirius, but then again, I’ve been known to even buy (gasp!) CDs once in awhile.

    Music decision fatigue for me is a real thing; I’d rather let someone else do the choosing rather than having to sift through a bunch of genre lists or “stations,” or spend the time constructing my own to play in the car. I’m, more or less, perfectly content to turn up the radio and switch stations when an aurally-offensive song comes on. Trust me, it’s a different story when I’m in front of my laptop where I’ve spent years perfecting a “writing background music” playlist on Spotify.

    I bring up my love for radio because in middle school and for a chunk of high school, it made up of a considerable portion of my new music discovery. I traded mix tapes and CDs loaded with old Blink-182, Operation Ivy, Rancid and assorted ska/punk bands with my friends, but in the car on the drive to school, it was all about turning up terrestrial radio for “new music Tuesday” and at night, falling asleep to Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew on Loveline on the stereo in my room. Thankfully, the same artists I was car-singing to are still churning out new music. Below, a few of my latest favorites.

    Foo Fighters – “Something from Nothing.” It’s the new single released after the premiere of Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways on HBO, a docu-series tracking the band’s eight-city U.S. historical music tour and the making of their new (eight-track, haha!) album. If you’re a pop culture history geek, music history buff or just love the Foos, this show is definitely worth checking out. Personally, I’m obsessed.


    Gwen Stefani – “Baby Don’t Lie.” Lady G is at it again this time with more trippy motion graphics and no silly Harajuku back-up dancers.

    Bush – “The Only Way is Through.” A new one from Mr. Gwen Stefani and friends. I don’t mind the overt pop rockiness the Bush sound has become but part of me still kind of misses the Razorblade Suitcase-era Bush.

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