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Raise Your (He)art Rate With A Workout At The Met

Monica Bill Barnes (left) and Anna Bass are offering literally breathtaking tours of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Paula Lobo
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Monica Bill Barnes (left) and Anna Bass are offering literally breathtaking tours of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Seeing a great work of art might quicken your pulse, but now New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art is hoping you'll break a sweat, too. The Met is currently offering a "Museum Workout" — part performance, part workout, part art tour.

On a recent morning, 15 of us gather in The Great Hall before the museum opens. We line up behind two tour guide dancers — both wearing sparkly cocktail dresses and sneakers. A guy with a portable speaker stands nearby.

He presses play, and with disco propelling us forward, we power walk, we punch the air, we daintily jog through the otherwise empty Met at 9 in the morning. There's a lot of light, a lot of antiquity ... and some stink eye. Museum security looks like they've never seen anything like this.

"We were approached by the Metropolitan Museum to make a dance," explains Monica Bill Barnes, one of the workout leaders. "We counteroffered, and asked to make a led tour that's a workout."

Barnes' dance company wanted to get people moving in the Met — and jumping jacks and yoga poses seemed a lot easier than teaching amateurs a complicated dance routine.

"It's one of the most expansive spaces in New York City," Barnes says. "And to be able to move through all the different galleries, and the rooms and the spaces that they've created felt like such an incredible opportunity."

We power through a hall of busts — some with heads, some headless — in the fastest tour of a museum you'll ever take. Most of the workout is spent jogging past priceless, important artwork, but we do slow down a few times.

We pause to do squats in front of John Singer Sargent's Madame X,a portrait of a beautiful, pale woman in a long black gown — and I can't help but laugh.

Barnes absolves me, though. "We're sort of purposefully combining things that you don't naturally put together," she explains. Laughter is part of what she's going for. After all, when you laugh, she says, that "opens you up to experience things differently."

Speaking of "different," it took Monica Bill Barnes & Company more than two years to get the Met on board with this idea.

"It's really, 'How many inches are you from that work?'" Barnes says with a laugh. "That's where we had to do a lot of good, careful conversations."

The patience and planning paid off; four weeks of the workouts sold out immediately. And I caught a few museum guards dancing along with us. Turns out, a little music and movement really can make you see things differently.

Copyright 2021 WNYC Radio. To see more, visit WNYC Radio.

Sean Rameswaram