During the past six months of pandemic restrictions, it has been a challenge to find ways to get enough exercise to keep from turning into a gelatinous blob. Although LA County gyms, yoga studios and fitness facilities continue to suffer from “outside only” limitations, Angelenos have found creative ways to keep in shape while staying connected to the outer world at large. In the early days of the lockdown, acclaimed choreographer Ryan Heffington became an unlikely touchstone for wellness activity, which rapidly spread around the globe.
Heffington created a sensation of communal exercise via his Instagram Live “SweatFest” sessions, which quickly attracted thousands of live participants including several Hollywood A-listers.
Heffington is best known for his work with musician Sia, having created the memorable dance choreography for her “Chandelier” video, which has been viewed more than 2.2 billion times on YouTube. He has also done choreography for Grammy Award-winners FKA Twigs, Florence & The Machine, Arcade Fire, and for the Netflix show “The OA.”
In early April Heffington began offering online workouts for free, and participants could often be treated to guest call-in appearances from celebrities, including Oscar-winner Emma Stone. The “La La Land” star dropped in for a “Grease”-themed duet of “You’re the One That I Want.” During a lip-sync break in the workout, participants are encouraged to “grab a prop,” (anything that can simulate a microphone) and throw on an outfit to sing along. A memorable COVID-19 lip-sync health lesson-in-song was a rendition of MC Hammer’s “You Can’t Touch This.”
Emma Stone has been spreading the word. In an interview with Vogue magazine, she said of SweatFest, “It’s a public service in a time that is very scary and heavy, a way for people to let go and have fun for an hour, and I can’t wait to see how the community that’s following along grows.”
During the session, which starts with a hardcore yoga plank routine, regulars become familiar with the funny-named workout moves such as the Happy Hippy, Heavy Diaper, Gummy Worms, Nancy Pelosi Claps and Used Car Lot Inflatable, all of which can be broken up with a declaration of “Dance Party!”
Heffington was taken by surprise at the reaction after starting originally with 75 workout regulars from his now-defunct Sweat-Spot facility in Silver Lake.
“It wasn’t even the numbers that really shocked me,” Heffington told Women’s Wear Daily. “It was mostly about people sending comments of where they were from, how many different countries around the world were being represented. That was shocking to me.”
When the livestream begins, Heffington grooves and warms up to music, staring into his camera, calling out the check-ins from cities near and far, “Hello Echo Park! Ireland’s in the house, and Toronto! Costa Rica. Scotland. Kalamazoo! Ojai, hi! Copenhagen. Los Feliz. Hey Berlin, London’s here, Mexico City’s in the house. Hong Kong! Welcome.”
A collection of hourlong SweatFest sessions is archived on his Instagram page, which can be used for workouts anytime Heffington decides to take a break, which he has been doing more frequently. (Though catching the SweatFest live gives participants more of a feeling of connectedness.) Heffington often reposts Instagram Stories of his followers in their home environments, which add to the communal entertainment value.
The sessions are free, but Heffington has used the platform and PayPal to raise tens of thousands of dollars for various nonprofits benefiting front line workers, Black Trans Lives Matter, Child Mind Institute, the NAACP, Black Lives Matter and others.
The workout earns its name. At the end of the hour, you’ll be covered in sweat. Heffington winds down on a calm, spiritual and altruistic note, “All that happiness and light we just created, it’s going to the center of the Earth and it’s mixing, we are all connected. 6,500 people, all that great energy swirling together collectively. We did this!” Then Heffington repeats the affirmation we all need to hear, “We’ll get through this. We’ll get through this. We’ll get through this. We’ll get through this…”
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