By Debbie Siegelbaum - 07/09/12 11:05 PM EDT
When former House staffer Jane Brodsky needed a break from the grueling hours she worked on Capitol Hill, she would sneak away for some exercise.
“Especially during these crazy periods, stressful votes, what really saved me was being able … to get in my car and go to [an exercise] class in the middle of the day,” she said.
In May, Brodsky and partner Katie Fouts opened Biker Barre, a spinning and barre class studio located near Seventh and G streets SE in Barracks Row. Brodsky isn’t alone in leaving Capitol Hill to focus on fitness; that same month, former lobbyist Sarah Spear Sands also got out of politics to open a dance studio.
All are counting on harried congressional aides — much like Brodsky used to be — to be attracted to their studios’ uniqueness and location.
Biker Barre offers morning, afternoon and evening classes that focus on either indoor cycling or barre classes, which involve ballet-like movements.
Fouts, a former marketing executive, hopes locals will fall in love with the indoor cycling exercise routine that helped her shed nearly 50 pounds.
For Brodsky, finding barre classes several years ago wasn’t just a gateway to a new career, but a significant boon to her health.
The avid athlete had played tennis since childhood, but a diagnosis of osteoarthritis in her leg sidelined her in 2009. Brodsky turned to Pilates — an exercise routine focused on core strengthening and flexibility — but wasn’t seeing the results she wanted.
“I started doing Pilates just because I needed to do something,” she said. “I was used to being active.”
A friend then introduced her to barre class.
“It changed my life,” Brodsky said. “Three months after starting that, I went to the doctor and, they said, ‘You’ve strengthened your leg to the point where you don’t need to have knee surgery.’ ”
Brodsky began attending barre classes up to six times a week while balancing her job in Congress. When she met Fouts last year through mutual friends, the two knew it was time to embark on a new adventure.
The decision to locate Biker Barre in Barracks Row was easy; Brodsky had spent a lot of time in the neighborhood during her tenure on Capitol Hill.
“It’s a great part of town — there’s so much going on,” she said, noting that staffers can take class during lunch hour. “It’s great for people who work on the Hill because it’s a really difficult workout that you can feel like you did your workout for the day, but you’re not drenched when you leave.”
Those unfamiliar with the ballet-based workout will find that it’s low-impact but rigorous. Every muscle group is targeted as participants are taken through arm, core and leg workouts using hand weights, exercise balls and a handrail that stretches around the room.
“It’s movement that you’re not used to,” Brodsky said. “It doesn’t ever get easy, but it’s fun, it’s challenging, and the results are amazing.”
When asked how starting and maintaining a new business compared with her time working in politics, Brodsky laughed.
“I came from a campaign background, and this sort of reminds me of the first campaign I worked on, because we’re constantly tired, but it’s so exciting,” she said. “People who work in politics on the Hill are really used to change. If it’s every two years or four years or six years, you’re used to thinking on your feet and adapting. So those are really good skills.”
As for Sands, last month she opened Dance Trance, a studio focused on fitness through dance and choreography. Located inside Balance Gym at 14th and L streets NW in Thomas Circle, it offers morning, night and weekend classes to accommodate participants who can’t sneak away from work during the day.
For Sands, putting in long hours as a lobbyist at the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting left her feeling depleted. She also knew her passions lay elsewhere, and her husband, a career consultant, helped her determine her next steps away from Capitol Hill.
“I have a goal sheet kind of posted up on my refrigerator, and at the end of five years it said ‘start a company,’ ” she said. “I always knew I wanted to start a company, but I never quite knew what to do.”
After discovering Dance Trance classes during law school in Florida, Sands became hooked and would perform the routines in her living room. She got tired of waiting for a location to open in Washington, so she decided it was time to launch one on her own.
Dance Trance classes involve choreography set to different types of music, ranging from Katy Perry to Led Zeppelin, Sands said. Ranging in levels of difficulty, workouts are available for all ages and fitness levels.
“The choreography is really easy to pick up,” she said. “You just get in there and you dance, and you burn a ton of calories, and you get out and feel great.”
But most importantly for Sands, Dance Trance also offers a social component that few other exercise plans provide.
“It’s a fitness class first, but it’s like going to a club with your girlfriends,” she said, adding that it’s a healthy alternative to the ever-popular happy hour.
“Folks are in full-swing campaign mode, they’ve got primaries, they’ve got elections coming up. I have so many friends on the Hill that feel like they get sucked into a black hole where you are spending every single waking minute campaigning and working for your boss,” she said. “And when you do have time to workout, it’s usually not with your friends.
“So Dance Trance kind of fills that need as I see it,” Sands added. “Take a class with your friends, stay healthy, stay in shape, keep your mind healthy as well.”
While she offers an outlet from the daily grind of politics, Sands also acknowledges how beneficial that experience was in helping her branch out.
“The pressures are new and unique as a small-business owner,” she said. But “in many respects, the type of work is similar in that I’m putting in long [hours] and talking to people and trying to get them excited about something.”
738 7th St. SE
Washington, D.C. 20003
Price: $22 per class
Balance Gym D.C.
1111 14th St., NW
Washington, D.C. 20005
Price: $20 per class