The Fine Art of Movement

Museums across the country are hosting dancers and yogis.
Brooklyn Museum photograph by JongHeon Martin Kim

by Michele Shapiro

Although the idea of sweating through asanas in a space reserved for fine art initially seems counterintuitive, more and more museums, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC to the Aspen Art Museum and the USC Fisher Museum of Art in LA are making wellness-themed events a priority. “People visit museums for a lot of reasons—they come to recharge by having a contemplative or restorative experience,” says Lauren Argentina Zelaya, assistant curator of Public Programs at the Brooklyn Museum, home to the wellness program Art & Yoga, a new partnership with Adidas that launched in November 2017. “Aside from being great exercise, yoga can be seen as an expressive art form in and of itself.”

The Met raised some eyebrows last year when it offered a workout billed as an “interactive tour,” in which a dancer and choreographer led participants through the galleries while upping their heart rates with cardio combinations that included running, skipping and marching—all to the beat of a raucous soundtrack.

As art therapists have long known, the act of viewing paintings or sculptures can be therapeutic. “Research has shown that simply looking at art activates the parasympathetic nervous system,” says Kerry Jessup, an art therapist and yoga instructor living in Brooklyn. “As we begin the mindful act of viewing and observing art, our heart rate slows, mood is enhanced, and emotions regulate.”

But don’t expect your favorite museum to start offering gym memberships anytime soon. Keisha Bolden teaches a free drop-in class on Friday mornings at the Fisher Museum, located on the USC campus. Bolden’s class, open to students, administrators and the public, is enhanced by the pristine, well-lit environment as well as the works of art. “Right now, the Improvisational Gestures sculpture exhibit is based on the human body,” Bolden explains. “It’s very feminine and strong, and it’s an interesting exhibit to have with movement and yoga.”

Of course, there is some risk involved with holding such events amid priceless works of art. (“Oh no! I just fell out of my crow pose into a Picasso!”) The Brooklyn Museum mitigates that by holding classes in its Beaux-Arts Court. And Mary Angela Buffo, owner of the Ananda Wellness and Yoga Center in Southampton, has taught on the deck at the Parrish Art Museum during the summer months and, more recently, on the lawn outside the Southampton ArtsCenter. Buffo feels strongly that yoga and art complement each other perfectly. “Not only are you learning how to be creative by sculpting your own body, but it creates more of an understanding and awareness of art.”