By Christie Melhorn, October 6, 2017 —
When I took up West African dance in high school, I was met with a lot of intrigue, confusion and ignorance. Friends, family and even strangers would ask, “What is that?”, “Why would you want to do that?” and the very misinformed “But you’re white?”. My socioethnic status and experience level has never excluded me from Calgary’s dance and athletic community. In contrast, the community’s desire to enrich others through different cultural traditions and training styles has been welcoming.
On Sept. 29, UNDRCARD Boxing Studio proved to share this initiative with its pilot run of “Bruk Out Boxing” — a boxing class fused with reggae and dancehall. The class was designed and led by studio co-founder Joanna ‘Magik’ Majcherkiewicz and Decidedly Jazz Danceworks and Pulse Studios instructor Sabrina Naz.
Majcherkiewicz’s extensive athletic background includes professional snowboarding and downhill mountain biking. She even DJs, making her no stranger to how music can profoundly affect mood and movement. She says Bruk Out Boxing was inspired by the rhythmicality of reggae and dancehall — music genres originating from Jamaica characterized by a thick, indulgent bass and smooth tempos serrated by offbeats.
“Boxing has a lot of rhythm — flow and timing are all important,” she said. “If you’re tense all the time, you don’t fight as well and waste energy. Dancehall and reggae are very complementary to boxing. I wanted to incorporate the music here but also include the moves.”
As an experienced afro-caribbean dance teacher, choreographer and performer, Naz was Majcherkiewicz’s first pick to collaborate with.
“We have structured UNDRCARD to break down the barriers to boxing,” Majcherkiewicz said. “We want to make it really unintimidating and culturally inspiring — not just inspiring through what instructors say and how you feel after a great workout but also through art and visuals. Sabrina is an amazing dancer who gets UNDRCARD’s vibe.”
Majcherkiewicz’s value of quality sensory engagement is evident in UNDRCARD’s bright and open layout. The studio’s white and black walls are energized by pops of yellow and light hardwood furnishing. Natural light generously filters in from sprawling windows at the front, illuminating the in-studio cafe, Yo Adrian, which is open to the public.
Bruk Out Boxing took place in the group class studio — a dark spacious room fitted with 34 punching bags. Naz and Majcherkiewicz designed the class to provide a dynamic, intense workout and introduce new types of movement to attendees.
“The goal was to provide a place where people could enjoy their workout but also have that party-fun element — to let the words fun and work amalgamate,” Naz said. “This kind of event opens [boxing] up to a totally different demographic. Dancing takes a lot of mental and physical strength and vulnerability. There is strength in art and in sports — both of those together is really beautiful.”
“Boxing is a full body workout — cardio and strength. It works every muscle and your coordination. It also takes discipline not to gas out easy,” Majcherkiewicz added. “My goal is to make it unintimidating, fun and for people to want to make [being physically active] a lifestyle.”
Enjoyment resonated in the studio before the sold-out session even started. Yo Adrian was bustling and anticipation electrified the air. The staff remained kind and efficient despite the busyness. Since it was only my third time boxing, Majcherkiewicz ensured an UNDRCARD member helped me with tying my hand wraps, making me feel welcome and supported.
The studio’s energy only amplified as class began. Our cardio warm-up was followed by a rotation of boxing combos, freestyle hits, dancehall choreography and isolated exercises, such as planks. Cued by song changes, Majcherkiewicz and Naz traded off instructing but remained engaged throughout the session, running and jumping through the room and shouting words of encouragement — which I appreciated since my arms felt like they were going to fall off.
The dim room was illuminated by flashes of different colourful lights that synced nicely with the mood and pace of specific songs and types of activity. As dancehall music and dance emerged out of Jamaican club environments, the nightclub-inspired setting and opportunity to freestyle echoed the genre’s improvisational nature.
At one point, Majcherkiewicz flicked the lights to a golden yellow and warm red to mimic a sunset. Coupled with the room’s humidity, the atmosphere felt reminiscent of clubs I visited in Trinidad and Tobago while on a dance and culture study with the University of Calgary. Fond memories rose to the surface, further rooting me in the moment.
But the most memorable part of the class occurred after it ended. A dance party emerged between a few of us who lingered in the room, including Naz and Majcherkiewicz. Maneuvering around the bags, we freestyled and dutty wined — a traditional afro-caribbean step that involves circulating the hips. People came sprinting back from the locker room to join in. The sense of community and elation was incredible and carried over into the rest of my evening.
As someone with experience in afro-caribbean dance, my positive experience in Bruk Out Boxing may be biased. But UNDRCARD’s uplifting vibe transformed my vulnerability as a novice boxer into motivation and enjoyment. I not only had a killer workout but bonded with a room of people who, with the exception of Naz, I had never met before.
Bruk Out Boxing elegantly merged different cultural traditions and forms of exercise to nurture the mind, body and spirit. My only criticism of the night was that the class didn’t feel long enough! However, the class’s success will surely inspire more sessions. In the meantime, you can learn more about UNDRCARD Boxing Studio by clicking here or by visiting their Instagram account.