Of late, a funny thing has happened to the parks of Toronto. Once a haven for the mellow, the reflective, the Frisbee-tossers and the lovers, these leafy oases have been invaded by squadrons of grunting women militarily executing squats, planks and push-ups. Thanks to a proliferating trend in the exercise community known as Booty Camp - an outdoor boot-camp style workout "for women only" - a dog out for a stroll is as equally likely to sniff a sweaty, Spandexed rear as the posterior of a wheezing pug.
Booty Camp, spearheaded in 2007 by a then 22-year-old, Sammie Kennedy, has grown from two locations in Toronto to roughly 100 camps across Canada. In Toronto alone there are 14, dotted everywhere from Lawrence Park to Harbourfront.
Jam-packed with old-school calisthenics, the class is hardly an effortless or trendsetting way to get in shape. Still, Toronto women - from book-club klatches to the Twitter-savvy troops - are immersed in this newer, softer culture of tough love. The company says it has over 17,326 members on its waiting list. Heck, even self-proclaimed feminists, who in the nineties may have considered exercise a swear word, are buzzing about it.
One may venture a guess that its current success is somehow owed to the way the camp manages to combine the infamous "burn" of aerobics (which fell by the wayside some years ago as women's group-fitness activity of choice) with the affirmations (as well as the cool-down) offered by contemporary darling yoga, giving it all an Oprah-esque rosy hue - at least partly in the form of a pink camouflage tee that all the "Elite Drill Instructors" don. Other militaristic trappings include the way "if you miss a workout, you know your instructor or recruits will drill you about where you've been," says Ms. Kennedy.
Originally inspired by fitness "boot camps," Ms. Kennedy's business was launched because she saw a niche for a women-only version, which, she says, didn't exist at the time. The original boot camps were male-oriented and designed to "even try to make their recruits vomit," says Ms. Kennedy, who envisioned a kinder, gentler butt-kicking. The explosive success of her brand has led to a proliferation of no-frills, no-hugs spinoffs that may cater to women but may not have the appeal that Booty Camp does.
"I think the camps are popular because they give women a sense that their bodies are perfectible," says feminist blogger and Booty Camp recruit Miriam Verburg. "The format of the class is also important. Booty Camps are set up like a project, except the project is your own body, so there are clear goals, and you work together in a group, which is motivating."
Though Booty Camp's CEO started the program to illuminate other women on her ability to transform her body from a "size 6 to a size 2" - a challenge she conquered with a push from her boyfriend - her clever brand management has led its participants to believe they are part of something larger than trying to get small. "You get a workbook [branded The Ultimate Girl's Guide]at the beginning of the class and the idea is to be journaling and keeping track of your progress," explains Ms. Verburg. In addition to the journal proviso upon "enlistment," feminist jargon - words like "support," "journey" and "power" - is all over the Camp-aign.
It seems Booty Camp has grown from bottom to top by couching itself in an Oprah-generation version of female empowerment. But say what one will about the potentially passing fad, it's certainly better for womyn (and their butts) than sitting on the couch.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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