No first rule for Fed. Hill fight club

Friday, March 14, 2008

Cecily Dubusker wore a pointy red party hat as she taught proper workout posture to a handful of female twenty-somethings. She over-arched her spine (“this is what not to do”) and then collapsed into a slouch (“neither is this”) before settling into a “flat-back” position somewhere between the two. Then, lowering herself into a half-squat, she mimed two dumbbells with her fists and lifted them up to her chest.

Islay Taylor scrunched up her face and shot Dubusker a cynical look. “Cecily, you look like a dinosaur.”

A loud roar erupted from Dubusker, who stomped around the cement-floored studio and clawed fruitlessly at Taylor with Tyrannosaur arms as she kicked off another meeting of the Coed Fight Club for Girls.

Self-styled as “a ragtag assemblage of Providence’s most motivated exercisers,” CFCFG is a group of fitness freaks and performance artists – “a Curves for the post-irony crowd,” Dubusker said.

Neither coed nor a fight club, the group is certainly for girls, about 10 of whom show up to semiweekly meetings at the club’s de facto headquarters, a converted Federal Hill auto garage. Mostly artists and students in their mid-to-late 20s, the girls don booty shorts, brightly colored spandex and Flashdance-style leg warmers and take guidance from Dubusker, the club’s founder.

‘Absolutely sinister’

“Tonight is special,” said co-founder Rebecca Zuch. “We’re working our backs.”

“Let’s grab some clubs!” Dubusker said as she handed out bowling pin-shaped weights borrowed from the Brown women’s tennis team, where Dubusker is an assistant coach.

The girls paid close attention to the 27-year-old, a former tennis standout at Drake University. She confidently swung the hefty clubs across her body in a “baseball-throw-like motion” as she offered instruction to exercisers with skills as eclectic as their outfits. “You know, like, a charity baseball league?” Dubusker said. “Throw the way they throw.”

A sardonic Taylor again provided the color commentary, this time clutching the heaviest set of clubs and swinging her arms in wide circles: “I wonder if this is how the rock lobster swims.”

It wasn’t always like this. A year and a half ago, Dubusker and Zuch were looking for a way to stay fit in the winter months and decided to form a workout group with their more active friends. Adapting the exercise regimen of the tennis team, Dubusker introduced the group to “cardiovascular weightlifting,” a hybrid of the two styles meant to cherry pick the best of both.

“CFCFG has very humble origins,” Dubusker said. “It used to be just four of us working out in our living room.”

But interest in the group increased steadily, and soon the girls outgrew their modest Broadway Street apartment. “Plus, the chandelier started shaking,” Zuch said.

So the group packed up their weights and moved a few blocks south to the spacious Washington Street art studio of painter and group member Josie Morway. Along the way, the group acquired a MySpace page and its misleading moniker.

By this time, word of the group had spread around the city’s trendier circles. But CFCFG’s formal introduction to the Providence scene came this past January, when the group’s Taylor-led public relations arm landed the girls a guest bartending gig at E+O Tap, a popular bar down the street from Morway’s studio. Holding liquor in one hand and dumbbells in the other, the girls served drinks to surprised but excited patrons while dancing to pump-up music.

Bar co-owner Mike Kelly liked the theatrics – and the draw – enough to invite the girls over for a second night, expecting much of the same. But what he didn’t expect were the newly minted uniforms – green, blue or red booty shorts with a cursive CFCFG logo and white tank tops with a cartoonish print of an intoxicated strongwoman crushing a horse.

“It was absolutely sinister,” Kelly said. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

This time, the girls opted for a “feats of strength” theme and arm wrestled, weight lifted and piggybacked their way to another successful night, topping off more than a few glasses in the process.

“Cecily goes out there lifting huge guys and I lock it down on the register,” Taylor said. “I say things like, ‘Darling would you like another drink?’ and they say, ‘Two,’ ’cause you called them ‘darling’ and there’s tits and ass all over the place.”

Call on them

With two bartending gigs under their stretchable waistbands, CFCFG is looking ahead to bigger and better projects, and they’re wasting little time. In addition to being “back muscle day,” last Thursday was also the first rehearsal for the club’s next and most audacious undertaking – a move-for-move recreation of Eric Prydz’ “Call on Me” music video, to be shot next month.

Set in a dance studio, the original music video features eight women in peak shape and revealing clothing performing sexually suggestive and often challenging workout moves.

The girls have their work cut out for them, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at their faces. Zuch has taken the logistical lead on the project and typed up a chronological list of all the video’s steps. She stood at the front of the studio and called out moves like “Inhalation Star” – reaching above your head and lowering your arms to the side with spirit fingers – and “Towel Solo” – a titillating, one-woman sequence with a sweaty cloth. The girls responded enthusiastically, making up for a lack of coordination with an excess of effort.

“I’ve been growing my hair out for eight months to make this happen,” said Dubusker, whose brown locks are nearing shoulder length. “My hair has never been as long in my life as it is now.”

And though they’ll be sure to perform in full CFCFG attire – “we are Providence’s largest buyers of American Apparel,” laughed Dubusker – the girls haven’t settled on a location.

“We could shoot it at WaterFire,” Dubusker said.

“That’s more than WaterFire deserves,” shot back Emily Walter.

A sisterhood

Underneath the booty shorts and leg warmers, CFCFG is still the workout club it was more than a year ago, if a little more glamorous. The girls are serious about fitness, and they certainly break a sweat.

Dubusker leads a fast-paced, high-rep workout, pushing her club-mates to curl, jump and squat their way into shape. She combines leg lifts with crunches and introduces obscure exercises like “the complex,” which lives up to its name and combines explosive jumps with butt-firming squats.

“No one’s ever barfed,” Zuch said, “but we will have a commemorative trophy when someone does.”

“More like a commemorative bib,” quipped Dubusker.

But for the club founder, the camaraderie and sisterhood of the group has made CFCFG especially meaningful.

“People realize they’re stronger for being in the group than they would be on their own,” Dubusker said. “With the tennis team, it’s like there’s a higher power we’re working for, and it’s the same idea here – we’re all sort of riding on each other’s motivation.”

“It’s sort of an interesting mirror in my life,” she added. “I get to do the exercises with the team and then with my friends.”

But for all her philosophizing, the athletic extravagance of her club is what truly drives Dubusker – after all, it’s in her blood.

“My mom went white-water rafting when she was eight months pregnant with me,” Dubusker said. “When she told me, she was like, ‘I was the only one who didn’t get tossed!'”

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