Beside the giant blue rooster (“Hahn/Cock,” the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s de facto mascot), we strutted our stuff, step aerobics as mating display. We pumped our arms, kicked our legs and preened.
Taking part in the Walker Art Center’s new Dance Workout felt cathartic and subversive, a little cocky even. Most art you aren’t allowed to touch, much less do burpees under.
The workout is part dance-infused exercise class, part Sculpture Garden tour led by choreographers Abigail Whitmore and Annika Hansen. Inspired by a workout series at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the duo decided that sashaying between sculptures in an outdoor garden seemed less strange than lunging through museum galleries.
The first Dance Workout, in June, drew mostly millennials along with a few seniors and kids. The routine’s stretches, steps, jumping jacks and crunches are meant to get the heart rate up without being overly strenuous. We followed Whitmore and Hansen to each sculpture (walking while doing arm circles, or some other athletic activity), where they paused to demonstrate the next exercise while retaining enough breath to share tidbits about the artwork.
After jogging up to the silo-shaped “Black Vessel for a Saint,” for example, we learned that the piece is made from recycled bricks; the statue contained within is the patron saint of libraries. At “Wind Chime (After ‘Dream’),” a cluster of aluminum tubes suspended from a tree, we were told that each pipe represents a note in an avant-garde piano work, and the dancing chimes spontaneously recompose the piece. It was the perfect spot for the workout’s one brief rest, taking a few deep breaths with our eyes closed, a standing savasana.
Whitmore and Hansen often chose movements that matched a work’s spirit. At “Reclining Mother and Child,” a bronze abstract suggesting a pelvic bone, we circled our hips. Beside the clapper-less bell “For Whom …,” we raised our arms to the sky and, hinged at the waist, swung our torsos to the ground in a full-body “toll.”
Compared with the typical gym’s beige, windowless workout studio, the Sculpture Garden offers a far more appealing aesthetic. (I, for one, would rather look at sculpture than my sweaty self reflected in a mirror.) But the renovated garden can feel a little exposed, now that so many of its mature trees were removed. And the traffic noise detracted from the experience, muting the rendition of “Disco Inferno” that Whitmore and Hansen played on their portable speaker.
Mimicking our leaders’ boxer-style footwork, we hustled around one of the giant bronze heads of “September Room (Room With Two Reclining Figures and Composition With Long Verticals)” as Whitmore shouted: “Notice the art! Notice the art!”
I wasn’t so much studying the artwork as stealing periodic glances while concentrating on Hansen’s feet. Still, it was fun to be part of the exercise group, each of us our own kinetic sculpture.