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Sweatin’ to the Oldies

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wish I could tell you that I want to exercise for the purpose of longevity and health, but that would be bullshit. The simple truth is that I want to look hot.
     But if you’re like me, you find jogging or race-walking in public humiliating, and a gym membership is impossible on a bohemian budget.
     I have found that aside from jumping rope on my roof and walking my dog, exercise videos offer the most viable fitness alternative.
     With that in mind, I decided to review some of the most popular workout videos of the past twenty years. The only snag in this plan is that my apartment is so tiny that certain exercises cause my limbs to bang into furniture. Also, videos that incorporate leg lifts are a challenge, since my pet chihuahua tries to hump my legs whenever they go up and down. Also, I have no discipline whatsoever. — Rev. Jen Miller

Alyssa Milano’s Teen Steam
J2 Communications
1988
$9.99 on eBay

About five minutes into this video, I remembered why I wanted to kill myself at the age of sixteen. Alyssa Milano, who is perfect, peppy and popular in a jog bra and bike shorts, could drive even the most mild-mannered teen to become a reclusive death-embracing Goth. The video begins with Alyssa singing the teen steam theme song; "Sometimes I feel like I’m livin’ on the edge … teen steam … gotta let it out!" It then cuts to Alyssa’s bedroom, where her phone is ringing off the hook with friends calling because they have various boy and homework problems. Alyssa responds by inviting her friends over to let some of their teen steam out through a fun yet challenging exercise program.
     If you think this sounds like the beginning of a porno movie, you’re not too far off base. I imagine the number-one fans of Tean Steam are dirty old men who could probably use the leg lifts, but who reap no fitness rewards by simply sitting on the edge of their beds and jacking off to it.
     When Alyssa’s two friends arrive, they are, like Alyssa, perfect. They begin the workout by doing some deep breathing exercises and low-impact aerobic moves, which her two friends seem confused by and which seem incorrect and dangerous. I am no fitness expert, but I thought bouncing while in a runner’s stretch was bad for your knees. It seems there was a whole legion of fitness videos in the ’80s that sent women to the chiropractor. Once Alyssa hits the floor portion of the video, it’s a whole different story, as the moves are quite simple – crunches, leg lifts and the like.
     But then Alyssa announces that it’s time to dance and she and her friends are magically transported to a steamy alleyway where dry ice rises from the ground à la Batman. Several frustrated teens, including some young men who look like gay Broadway dancers, appear and begin to do dance moves that only someone who has had several classes and hours of rehearsal could master. I stood confused while staring at the video. Then I decided to turn down the sound, put on some T. Rex and dance right along with them. It almost felt like I had friends. However, I fear normal teens might not be so resourceful, and may in fact be moved to tears by Alyssa’s display of perfection.
     If you are a teen, and want to let some steam out, I recommend doing what I did in high school — binge drinking, experimenting with drugs, skipping school and making out to Led Zepelin’s Kashmir.

David Carradine’s Kung Fu Workout
1993
Praying Mantis Productions
$4.99 on eBay

Unlike videos such as Buns of Steel and Flatter Abs in 8 Minutes, this workout video focuses on kung fu, a form of exercise that offers lasting health benefits through mental and bodily awareness.
     The video begins with an introduction from David Carradine, who sports a bizarre outfit that looks like something he stole off the set of Logan’s Run, but who looks sexy nevertheless. As I listened to him speak in a hypnotic, slightly sadistic voice on the history of kung fu, I realized that David Carradine really is one of the least heralded sex symbols of our time, even in a criz-az-y pantsuit.
     Following his introduction, the video cuts to a lavender room, where David’s class members, who are clad in magenta spandex minidresses with turquoise tights, are warming up.
     What follows is a workout program that’s broken down into six categories: The Snake (Stretching), The Tiger (Stance Training), The Leopard (Kicking Exercises), The Crane (Combination Exercises), and The Dragon (Philosophy).
     I was doing okay until I got to the Crane portion, wherein "Sufi" Kam Yuen, David’s kung fu instructor, takes over and begins to put the moves together at a rapid pace that made me feel like maybe I didn’t have what it takes to be a kung fu master. I was banging into my door and bruising myself with each new combo, while my dog huddled in the corner, terrified.
     My fave portion of the program was The Dragon, where I got to sit back down on my ass and listen to David Carradine talk a little bit more about Kung Fu. My spirits were lifted as David used this portion to encourage neophyte martial art stars to stick with it.
     If you have even the slightest interest in Kung Fu or strange Kung Fu outfits, I would definitely recommend this video – but only if you have room to follow it…Not for studio apartments!

Warm Up with Traci Lords
1988
White Knight Productions
$10.50 on eBay

I imagine that most customers purchase this video for the sole purpose of masturbating to the image of Traci Lords doing non-impact "jazzthetics" in a bright yellow leotard. If anyone actually bought it for the purpose of getting in shape, I’m afraid they were sorely disappointed, as it is almost unwatchable. I am still not sure if "jazzthetics" is an actual form of exercise or something the producers just made up.
     The video begins with Traci Lords stretching out while the camera pans up and down her body in close-up so that you can’t even make out what stretches she’s doing. When the camera does pull away, we see that she is making several gestures with "jazz hands," as though she were auditioning for a Bob Fosse musical.
     About four minutes into the video, things get very strange indeed. A soundtrack starts playing. On it, Traci Lords is rapping — in a style reminiscent of Debbie Harry in "Rapture."
    "Work those hips from side to side, until there’s no fat to hide," she encourages viewers. "Keep your tummy nice and tight, if it hurts, you’ve gotta fight."
    At first I thought, "Oh that’s funny. Traci Lords is rapping about fitness." But then it didn’t end. Let me make this clear – Traci Lords raps about physical fitness for forty-five minutes. It is totally unbearable. If there are any sadists out there who are looking for new ways to torture their beloved masochists, I would suggest playing this soundtrack over and over while said masochists are tied up so that they can’t cover their ears.
Step up with La Toya Jackson
1993
Parade Video
$4.99 from Video Fitness

Like most Americans, I am fascinated by the Jackson family, so I couldn’t resist this video. It begins with cheesy ’80s’style graphics and then cuts to La Toya standing in front of a neon sign that reads, intuitively, "La Toya." She is clad in a long-sleeved, spandex thong leotard worn with a four-inch-thick black patent leather belt and a rainbow-colored Jackie Stallone headband. It’s apparent that, like her more famous sibling Michael, she has neared the "no nose" stage of her plastic-surgery regime. Yet there is a sweet vulnerability and harmlessness to her that pulls at my heartstrings and makes me want to give her step workout a chance. Yet I also fear that La Toya’s workout works a little too well, as she seems to have no ass.
     La Toya soon introduces viewers to Gay Gasper, a national step champion who looks like she is taking hormones to become a man. Together, the tiny La Toya and the buff Gay demonstrate safe stepping techniques. As I attempted to follow Gay’s lead, I stepped onto a stepping stool I had screwed together. It collapsed. Since I had nothing else appropriate to step up on, I decided to sit this one out and watch the two gals do their thing while I painted my toenails.
     What’s really nice about this video is that the people working out with La Toya aren’t perfect. In fact, they’re quite goofy and giggle throughout the entire workout as though they are stoned. What’s also nice is that, once the workout begins, we see that La Toya has accessorized her outfit with leg warmers!
     Even though I only got one step in, this video seems really hard.

Fabio Fitness
1993
GoodTimes Home Video
$2.75 on eBay

    
I have always been a fan of Fabio, "the world’s sexiest man," so much so that when I open my own bar it will feature giant pink marble statues of him wherein beer spurts forth from his manhood into the pint glasses of happy patrons. (Already, I am off the subject of fitness and onto the subject of beer, a subject that I am far more familiar with. Not only do I avoid working out, I even avoid writing about working out!)
     Allow me to start again: When Fabio’s workout partner, the lovely Brenda Dygraaf, announced that the video would not contain any "confusing choreographed moves," I knew it would be a winner. If there’s one thing I hate from an exercise video, it’s overestimation of the viewer.
     Fabio keeps it simple — working the back, chest, biceps, triceps, legs and abs with very basic moves. In order to do this workout, you really need small barbells. (Fabio uses twenty-pound weights, but I would go with a three or five-pounder.) Our sultry host points out that you really don’t need any weights at all, but if the workout was easy for me and I was using weights, then I’d have to say that any normal person under the age of ninety-four might want to grab a couple of dumbbells. If you are trying to specifically target one area of your body, this isn’t the workout for you, as it works on the whole body and for this reason it takes almost an hour.
     You’d think with Fabio as the host, the cheese factor would be high, but it’s not. Fabio does make love to the camera throughout the workout, and he does reminds viewers of just how sexy they’ll look if they stick to his workout, and the tape is peppered with shots of Fabio working out shirtless on a rooftop, but that’s as far as it goes.
    Despite the fact that he has bigger tits than me, Fabio is a very likeable host. His extremely chipper workout partner and co-host, Brenda, might become bothersome to those of you who have a low tolerance for happiness, but any friend of Fabio’s is a friend of mine! The best thing about this tape – I got it for only two dollars on eBay, and there were plenty more where it came from.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Reverend Jen Miller,
patron saint of the uncool and head curator of the world famous Troll Museum, is a contributor for artnet.com and author of Reverend Jen’s Really Cool Neighborhood, a Lower East Side travel guide “for the poor, deviant and bored.” Visit her website at www.revjen.com.