Updated: Jan 24, 2020
The last two summers we've hosted a Movement Brooklyn pool party and barbecue at Alexa's folk's house in Westchester. Students, morning and evening crews, and their families all gather to play in the pool and eat some delicious food. I look forward to this event each year as we all get to chat and chill outside of the class setting. During the party this past summer I was speaking to a couple of students, and the conversation led to their trouble explaining what movement class is when asked by their friends or family. One of them said that his friends always think it's CrossFit, and another said, "My girlfriend thinks I'm in a dance cult." It's a common challenge for those who practice movement. What is this thing? How do I tell people about it? I have found that the challenge lies in that most peoples knowledge and understanding is limited to their physical experiences. So, the best they can do is associate the words they're hearing with a piece of this limited experience. I go through the same issue with my friends and family. On January 2nd of this year I received a text message from a family member saying, "Happy personal trainer day!". At first I was annoyed, but then realized his knowledge is limited to fitness and without experience he can't comprehend what I do. At the end of the day he just wanted to reach out and connect.
Two days after the pool party, Alexa and I were on the Metro North train headed back to New York City. We talked about how this one conversation about movement replays itself over and over again. In her experience, people are either completely bewildered or overly confident that they understand when they clearly have no clue. She then started describing a vision for a comedy sketch of this scene playing out: One person just finished movement class; another person asks what it is; the first person explains; the second person says, "Oh it's like _____!"; the first person says "No..." and explains more; the second person repeats "Oh it's like _____!". And, this pattern repeats over and over with the second person's assumptions growing more and more absurd. For example, "...it's like yoga!" to "...it's like that fake boxing class where they drink White Claw after!". We spent most of the train ride crafting lines for the second person. Alexa is the funniest non-comedian person I know, and, frankly, funnier than most people who identify as comedians, so we had a laundry list of funny lines. We agreed that we could shoot the sketch using the talent and resources within our community.
Prior to opening Movement Brooklyn, working at a CrossFit gym, practicing movement, personal training, and teaching bootcamp classes, I did stand-up comedy. I touched on this briefly in past blogs and discussed it in more depth on a podcast last year. I was a stand up comedian for about 9 years, from 2003-2012 (I'll save that story for another blog at another time). However, near the end of my time in stand-up I began collaborating with a fellow comic, Dan Hirshon, on some short videos and sketches. Dan would shoot and edit, I would direct, and we would both write and develop an idea. Our most successful piece was called Jump. It didn't go "viral" with millions of views, but it received a write up from the Huffington Post, and made some small ripples on the internet and in the comedy world. To this day, I look back on the entire process and success of that video as one of my proudest achievements.
In my mind Jump was a success on more than one occasion. It was a success when we had the idea because we enjoyed simply talking it out. It was a success the day we shot it because it was wonderful spending a day creating and laughing with talented friends. It was a success every time Dan and I sat down to edit because the creative process always left me inspired. It was a success when Dan and I watched the completed film for the first time because we'd finished a project that we'd committed to. It was a success when we showed it to everyone in the film because they laughed and we proud to be a part of it. And, it was a success when it received positive attention from an audience. I look back on the entire event, from beginning to end, whether it had been well received or not, as a success. Each step in the process was as valuable as the achievement.
Before these collaborations, Dan and I were just acquaintances from the comedy scene. But, during this time working together; hours and hours behind cameras, in front of monitors, and exchanging emails, texts, and phone calls, Dan became a cherished friend. Dan has a superb sense of humor that goes beyond stand up. He has the unusual talent of distilling it into his filming, editing, and animating. We both left stand-up around the same time. Dan focussed his life and career on filming and editing, and I began exploring the world of fitness and then movement. We spoke very little during the first couple of years of reentry into society. Not because we didn't want to, but because it was a period of change and resettling. We reconnected in 2015, and began talking regularly. Dan was at our wedding, as well as at the opening of Movement Brooklyn. I suggested he should try class and eventually he became a staple of the 6am crew, commuting every morning from Harlem to Brooklyn! For those not in NYC, this is about an hour train ride door-to-door, filled with the daily frustrations of delayed or never-arriving subway trains.
I told Dan about Alexa's idea, and he felt inspired as filmmaker, funny person, and movement student. He suggested we all get together to talk it out some more, so we went to breakfast after class one day, and Alexa shared her vision for the video. Dan said he'd like to shoot and edit it. I felt comfortable directing it. And, Dan said Alexa should star in it. She hadn't considered being in the video, but was quickly sold on the idea. We also agreed we should ask our mutual friend Lance Weiss to play the second role. Lance is still a warrior in the comedy trenches. We met at an open mic in 2006 and he's been one of my best friends ever since. Lance is one of the funniest and most fearless people I know (so much so that we asked him to officiate our wedding). He's such a loyal friend that he agreed to do the video before I could even explain what it was.
We all gathered in mid-November to shoot the entire video in one day after our morning class at Movement Brooklyn. Thankfully, two students, Tilly Taylor and Matt Stillman hung around for another hour after class to be extras. With that, we began shooting. Dan was full of ideas for shots, camera angles, and transitions. Alexa, having no experience in front of a camera, couldn't have put on a better performance. Lance, showed up excited and eager to participate, despite not knowing exactly what the video would be. And, I made an effort to organize everyone in a way to best capture Alexa's vision. It was a productive, inspiring, and hilarious day with some of my favorite people. If this had been the extent of the experience, similar to Jump, it would have been a success.
Dan sent his first cut just a couple of weeks after shooting, and I was shocked. It was beautiful, crisp, smooth, coherent, and 100% funny. Alexa was blown away to see her idea come to life. Only one or two very small changes were made from the first cut to the final product. Dan delivered another success, and, again, if it had ended there it would have been enough.
The video was titled What's This Movement Thing? and posted to the Movement Brooklyn Instagram and Facebook. We'd set out to create an educational video about what movement is, while making the movement community laugh with an inside joke. Both were accomplished, and the video was a bigger hit than I imagined. It didn't go "viral" with trillions of views. However, both movers and non-movers commented, messaged, and shared. Movement gyms and practitioners from around the world, Boulder to Seoul, reposted it. Family, friends, acquaintances, mentors, and teachers had praise for it. Many said they finally had something to show when someone asked, "What's this movement thing?" And, Lance finally knew what the video was about. It felt like the day we posted Jump.
However, this reception was just the cherry on top. Each step on the path had been a wonderful success. And, the goal had always been the journey.