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The Class Takes Working Out to New Heights

By Alexis CheungJun 24 2021
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Is there anything more New York than dancing to “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys while admiring Manhattan’s southern skyline? Not on the sidewalk either, but 70 stories up while sweating and, yes, screaming on Rockefeller Center’s Top of the Rock?

On a recent Saturday morning in June, you’d be hard pressed to find one of the 50 participants in The Class—Taryn Toomey’s workout with a cult following—give any other answer than “no” to that question, especially after 15 months of working out primarily at home.

“Welcome to The Class—The Class in the clouds,” says CJ Frogozo, the instructor for the 7:30 am class. “I don’t know if I can call it that,” she adds, laughing, “but that’s what I’ve been calling it.”

Since the pandemic started, The Class has been exclusively online. The “Summer Series” marks its first foray back to in-person workouts; the signature 60-minute class will be held at exclusive outdoor locations, including Rockefeller Center in New York, the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles County, and the Sacred Space Miami. When June tickets for the Summer Series classes became available to the public, they sold out in four minutes.

At this hour, the city that supposedly never sleeps is still slumbering. The streets are quiet and the only action is around Rockefeller Center. (It’s Record Store Day, and people have lined up early, snaking from Radio City Music Hall on Sixth Avenue all the way around 49th Street, to buy vinyl at Rough Trade.)

At the Top of the Rock entrance at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, there’s palpable excitement, if a little apprehension about attending an event after months of staying at home due to Covid-19—although there is a strict mask-on policy within the building—where all attendees are greeted, checked in, and given Boxed Water and a branded hand towel. We then climb the winding stairs into the famous Art Deco building to an elevator where a friendly man greets us. “Enjoy your dancing, screaming class,” he tells us as we shuffle inside.

If The Class was already an experience, the Top of the Rock location brings it to literal new heights. At the observation deck, we’re greeted by the skyline: jagged and expansive, only now at eye level. The sky is hazy and cool. Immediately we’re directed to place our mats in between the gold dots. The energy is buzzing as everyone sets themselves up.

The Class, which is beloved for making crying and screaming among strangers acceptable, would have been emotional in any setting. But this session was particularly affecting—not only because it was the first in-person workout many had attended since the pandemic started but, for some, it was also the first The Class they had experienced live.

“I started in quarantine living in Paris and came back to my parents’ in America because of quarantine,” explains Eve Taylor, a tech worker, who stood in the front row. She described the digital studio membership as her “coping mechanism.”

Since 2013, The Class has combined yoga, dance, HIIT, meditation, and psychological affirmations. It’s this marriage of mind and body that makes The Class a cathartic workout—especially now, as New Yorkers emerge from the pandemic, grieve the loss of normalcy, and attempt the most mundane things, like seeing friends, eating at restaurants, and visiting families.

“As we practice in The Class, when you're too close to something (a thought, a memory, a feeling, a worry), you lose your perspective on it. In very tangible ways, we've all experienced that kind of [too-close] proximity this past year,” explains Natalie Kuhn, VP of programming and founding teacher. “It feels only fitting that we celebrate the reopening of in-person Classes and of New York by practicing at a location with a physical and felt sense of perspective. The view from Top of the Rock reminds us of what awe feels like, of what possibility looks like, and just how much broader our perspective could be.”

At Top of the Rock, many pent-up emotions were present. While teaching the session, Frogozo, who is a cancer survivor with compromised immunity, even teared up. “We drove by the Pfizer building, and I was like, thank you for making this moment possible,” she told everyone, her voice shaking. (She also flew her mom and dad out to celebrate the occasion.)

Instead of dwelling in that energy, she pushes everyone to channel it. Specifically into Drake’s “Nice for What” with a squat sequence. “Get your head out of the movements,” Frogozo tells us as our glutes start to burn. With each drop someone drops something: a deep exhale, a primal grunt, an enthusiastic squeal. We’re encouraged to scream. “Come on, you can do better than that,” she goads. And people rise to the occasion: screaming louder, breathing harder, letting any self-consciousness go. Throughout the hour, Frogozo cycles us through jumping jacks, donkey kicks, mountain climbers, burpees, and skaters. “Head toward Brooklyn, feet to New Jersey,” she says to orient us.

Between each song we pause. “Place your hands on your chest,” she instructs. We close our eyes. “Thank you for being here, thank you for showing up,” she says, affirming our choices. In The Class, gratitude is everything—and no feeling is too big or off limits.

This sense of permission hooks people into The Class. “When we practice together, there’s a group energy that is larger than any of us individually. There’s a nonverbal sense of permission that comes from witnessing the person next to you try, pause, move, stop, dance, breathe, cry, laugh, and feel,” says Kuhn about the workout. “The pandemic created a sense of intimacy with this practice and the re-emergence reminds us of the power of togetherness.”

After months apart, the group’s energy is inimitable. “This was my first live class since quarantine and the energy was amazing,” says Jennifer Goldberg, founder of Venus 8. “Nothing beats the live class; you can’t match the energy—or the dancing or screaming—through the screen.”

The view alone is worth the $50 ticket. “It’s like a two-for-one deal,” says Kristen Chang, a recruiter, who has been a devotee of The Class from the beginning. “We got to experience [Top of the Rock] without tourists or anything,” she says, adding it was her first time visiting the observation deck. “We’re signing up again,” she explains, referring to the Summer Session July and August classes.

The Class “Summer Series” returns to Top of the Rock in July and August. Tickets for both months will be available for purchase here on June 24, 12pm ET, and July 29, 12pm ET.

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