Some Kansas Citians sweat with purpose.

Exercises in Utility 

Some Kansas Citians sweat with purpose.

Each morning, a crowd huddles around an elevator, waiting to push into a claustrophobic container that gives the phrase "upward mobility" a second meaning. Nearby, a door leads to another option: a stairway. Nobody opens that door.

But later that evening, at a gym, these same people wait for their turns on Stairmasters. Where do these stairs go? Nowhere, and fast.

To some people, such a scene sounds like fodder for an Alanis Morissette song -- the only difference is that using a Stairmaster after taking the elevator several times a day is ironic, but rain on a person's wedding day is not. And though many people are heading back to the gym to fulfill their New Year's resolutions, sweating for its own sake is not everyone's idea of a good time. Some people like to sweat only as a byproduct of some other activity.

Dancing, for example. Jennifer Pool has been swing dancing for two years now. As a University of Kansas student, she began attending the Bottleneck's now-defunct weekly swing nights because her roommate dragged her there. "It was probably the nicest group of people I'd ever met," she recalls. "It was good clean fun. And you have such a good time dancing that you don't realize you're working out. It's not like ballroom dancing," she adds. "It's pretty athletic."

So this Friday, Pool and her partner Ed Schlittenhadt kick off their weekly swing night at the Westport Presbyterian Church in Kansas City. Their plan is to teach beginning lessons from 7:30 to 8 p.m., advanced lessons from 8 to 9 and social dancing from 9 to 10 -- at which point Pool and Schlittenhadt will have had the best workout of anyone present. Pool encourages people to arrive dressed in vintage clothing, but says, "They can also come in jeans of they want. It's pretty informal."

Zach Brunner's boxing sessions can also be social events -- though there's not much talking when mouthguards are in place. Brunner started sparring with a friend a few years ago. When a third person stepped in the ring after seeing the movie Fight Club, Brunner discovered that he enjoyed showing other people how to box. He now works with about five students at a time. Brunner is looking for a space in the City Market (which may up his monthly fee from $20 to $35), but for now he holds practices at Loose Park's west shelter, by the tennis courts.

The boxers do hit each other. "Everyone's reluctant at first," Brunner says, emphasizing that he never forces people to spar. "What happens is, they start to learn something, and they think, 'You know, I want to try this out.'"

And he notices that a change comes over women when they realize "they can stay in the ring with a 200-pound opponent. They see they're really able to keep from getting hit, and that does something to their thinking."

Which sounds like as good a reason as any to come out swinging at the start of a new year.

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