minute I grasp the drumsticks — the percussion variety, not turkey — I am hooked. My inner rock star springs to life and I’m tapping everything in sight. I am not alone; everyone is tapping right along with me. And the class hasn’t even started. When it does, this band of strangers morphs into a rhythmic ensemble worthy of a spot in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Cindy, our instructor, shouts rapid-fire orders like a drill sergeant: “Tap to the left! To the right! Front! Behind! On the floor! Overhead!”
We follow her lead and pound the sticks on our drums. Well, they’re not really drums. Our instruments are large exercise balls anchored to stands so they won’t budge. Between thumps, we perform jumping jacks or other high-intensity cardio moves. Pulsating sounds, plenty of laughter and lots of sweat fill the hour.
Before my friend Linda and I arrived at the Lodge at Woodloch, a destination spa in Howley, Pennsylvania, we’d never heard of drumming for fitness. In fact, when we see it on the activity schedule, it gets a thumbs-down. We figure it’s a form of spiritual drumming and we want a workout. But after eavesdropping on another guest, who raves about the class, we decide to give it a shot.
Our four-day getaway is filled with pleasant surprises from the get-go. After a four-and-a-half-hour drive, we step into the lobby, where three chakra bowls displayed on a hand-carved wooden base greet us. I pick up a gong and mindlessly circle the rim of each bowl, producing tranquilizing sounds. Guests pass by — some wearing hiking boots, others spa slippers. All wear contented grins.
Our arrival time wasn’t ideal. Lunch was ending and we expected to have to settle for a cereal bar. Instead, before I utter a word, an on-the-ball receptionist says: “Don’t waste time checking in. Go have lunch.”
We devour shrimp and pasta in silence, overwhelmed by the killer views through the dining room’s floor-to-ceiling windows. We watch a lone deer munching his lunch in the dense forest and catch a glimpse of the resort’s 15-acre lake through the trees. My last visit to the Poconos 20 years ago was nothing like this. An in-room bathtub shaped like a champagne glass was the highlight. Fortunately, times — and tubs — have changed. Here I feel like I’m a guest at a friend’s private estate.
With just 57 rooms on 150 wooded acres, the setting is cozy and idyllic. Every area — whether guest room, fitness room or sitting area — boasts panoramic views. The lodge’s six fireplaces are flanked by handsome leather furniture, ideal retreats for our mid-morning and afternoon breaks. Whenever we’re in the mood to nosh, coffee, tea, fresh fruit, nuts and snacks are within reach. (That’s a benefit, since we work up a healthy appetite during back-to-back fitness adventures every morning.)
“They’re better than any aerobics class,” says a young woman, describing the ballet barre and Bollywood belly-dancing classes. She neglects to tell us how difficult they are. In ballet, I’m the clumsy Black Swan as I struggle with my demi-plies and arabesques. The best part is moving to beautiful classical music.
Belly dancing brings a change of tune — and mood. Grown women in coin-trimmed sarongs gyrate, grind and giggle. For a moment, I fear I’ll wind up on YouTube. But we all quickly release our inhibitions and get into the groove. Since the classes wake up muscles that have long been dormant, each afternoon we head to the therapeutic hydro-massage “water wall,” where cascading hot water massages our aching bodies. Later on, at the spa, our biggest decision is whether to get massaged, oiled or scrubbed. Sometimes we simply take refuge in the Whisper Lounge, where sssssssshhh is the only sound allowed.
Each night, the dining room is filled with a mix of couples on a romantic getaway, gal pals like us and singles with a book or a martini (or both). The menu choices are diverse and healthful, but the chef doesn’t get hung up on calories. The kitchen is dessert-friendly, too. Our scrumptious chocolate cake is “petite,” though the diet police would surely confiscate it.
The chef’s philosophy is: Don’t deprive. Eat less.
We leave for home two unwound women, whose cyclone stresses have shrunk to the size of small whirlpools — if only for four glorious days. But I can still be caught belly dancing around my kitchen from time to time.