Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Facility Review: Dillon's Russian Steam Bath, Chelsea MA

I've mostly frequented Korean Spas before, like Spa Castle and King Spa. But know what? THERE IS NO KOREAN MEGA-SPA IN THE BOSTON AREA. Wtf? Business opportunity, someone!! Fortunately, North of Boston, and conveniently on my train line, there is a Russian spa. Or, a "bath," actually. I knew some guys who had been (no women), and I had tried in vain to get girlfriends to go with me, so I finally gave up and went by myself.

Good things to know:
  1. This place has been here since 1885. !!! I love New England.
  2. It's not big enough to have separate areas for men and women, so they have "Ladies' Night" every Monday where no men are allowed, and the rest of the time it's men only.
I'd never technically been to a Russian Bath before, but I had been to bath houses in Budapest, so, close enough?

After work last Monday I made my way to Dillon's. It's not a glamorous neighborhood/walk from the train, and the building facade is no different. If I were a random passer-by I might think it looked sketchy, but I was not. I was a steam-seeker.

So I find the building no problem and can't figure out which door is the entrance. (Are we noticing a theme, here?) So I called the number on the sign and explained my predicament and a nice lady told me which door to go to. For anyone following in my footsteps: in the parking lot with the doors, it's the door on your LEFT with the doorbell and the handle, not the door on your right or the door upstairs.

Since I had made so clear that it was my first time, the receptionist, whose name was Madeleine, explained everything to me. I paid something like $17 for entry and $8 for a platza (more on that later) and recieved a towel, shoes, and locker key. Oh--and I asked Madeleine whether most people went naked or wore bikinis (I had brought one just in case), and she said: naked, but you should do what made you comfortable.

She was right--the entire night I think I saw all of 1 person in a bikini bottom. Everyone else was some variation of towel or nothing. Oh, and don't expect to hear a lot of Russian here--the majority of voices I heard were layered in a thick Boston accent.

I was a bit of an early comer, so I got to look around in peace. There was a pretty large lounge area with a big TV and snacks, a locker room area ("room" is a generous term--it was more of a locker corner), a steam room, a dry sauna, and a shower area.

The steam room was great--when it was hot, it was HOT. It was so hot that there was a cold shower IN the steam room. That was a new feature to me, and very neat. No need to kill your buzz by leaving the room when you're getting too warm!

The sauna is where people would sit and chat. It was also pretty hot, but tolerable. The sauna is also where the platza service was.

So, the platza, which they pronounced "plah-tsee" or "play-tsee," is a treatment where you're brushed and beaten with a thick cluster of soapy oak leaves. I had heard that it was pretty nice, and I figured it was just the sort of thing to try, like when am I gonna have a chance to be beaten by oak leaves again?

I indicated to Paula, the platza lady, when I was ready, and we went into the sauna where she showed me a raised table to lay down on. So here's the thing--it's right out in front of EVERYBODY! Like, it's not like a normal spa where they take you to a partitioned-off area. The sauna is full of people and they're basically sitting facing you while you're laying naked on the table. Not for the shy!!

So the platza lady asked if I wanted the table cooled off with cold water before she started, and I said no, but once she started the water from the leaf bunch was like burning my butt for some reason, so she had to douse the table under my butt off with water and then I was fine after that. They put a damp washcloth over your eyes (she kept pointing out that it was scented with lavender essential oil but I couldn't really smell it) so you don't get soap in your eyes. Then they brush up and down your body with the leaves, which have been dunked in soap water. The bushel kind of looks like a giant kabuki brush--short thick handle (needs to be held by both hands) and big wide poof of leaves. So after they brush you down, then they basically hit you with it. Then you roll over on your stomach and the process repeats. Then they throw a bucket of cold water over you. Even though I knew that was part of the treatment, it basically came with no warning, so it was pretty hilarious. And it was the best part, because you're so hot at that point.

The table was littered with fragments of oak leaves, and so was my skin. I kept finding them trailing off me as I walked around and I tried to make a joke about how I was "LITERALLY exfoliating" but nobody got it. :(

A couple other people got platzas after me--a regular and her visiting friend, who were the only people I was able to really get into conversation with. (The friend was from Idaho and told me that when I go I HAVE to go to "The Lavas" hot springs and I'm like, done!)

It was really cute because almost everyone there is a regular and they had like boxes of toiletries and products--like, facial masks, body oils, all that nice girlie stuff--and I think they just kept their stuff there. That makes it seem really fun, like not just go for a sweat but have a whole beauty day of it. 'Cause really, who has time to do that stuff at home?

I hung out for a few hours because of the awkward train schedule. I probably could have left an hour, half hour earlier, but I made the best of it, reading in the lounge when I was tired of being hot.

Anyways, they kept trying to get me to become a regular, and I don't think I would dedicate a whole night a week to relaxing, but I'd go back if I were sore from training or if friends wanted to go. They have facials, massage, waxing... I dunno, the oak leaves thing might have been a one-time experiment for me. But it was pretty nice; don't knock it 'til you've tried it!

Dillon's Russian Steam Bath, Chelsea, MA
Amenities: Steam room, dry sauna, locker room, showers, lounge. Platza, massages, and waxing available at extra cost.
Drop-in Price: I believe it was $17 for ladies' night, though the site says $23 which must be for men.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Studio Review: Esh Aerial Arts, Cambridge MA

Esh. Trevor on the floor, students milling about.
I've done silks for many years, but on a sporadic, on-and-off basis. Most recently I had my own rig at my last place in Chicagoland, but since I moved to MA I haven't found a place to set up (nor really had time, as I was both working and studying full-time this past year). So I really hadn't been on the silks since last summer. There's not really a circus school that's conveniently-enough located to me without a car (I'll get one eventually...), so I wasn't about to start frequenting anywhere locally. And I wanted a chance to review my skills (after the better part of the year off) before showing up for open training somewhere.

The perfect opportunity presented itself in the form of a silks workshop focusing on drops. I hadn't had room to do drops at my place in Chicago (just saltos and the wimpiest slack drops you've ever seen), so it was material I needed a review on anyways. And the only prerequisite was being able to do a "star drop," or a 3/4 side rotational drop as I knew it from my beginnings at Firefly/NYCAA/Circus Warehouse, so I figured it wouldn't matter that I was rusty. Either there would be some new material I'd never learned, or it would be all review and I'd just be a rockstar.

I was confused in registering because I never got a confirmation email--Esh doesn't use Mindbody but something called Zenplanner that I've never heard of? Anyone else use this? So I wasn't totally convinced that my registration went through (long story but I once registered for a marathon and got a confirmation screen but never the emails and found out like a week before the race that my registration hadn't gone through and I was SO MAD AND SAD and had to scramble to find another race in another city to expend my 4 months of training on, the upside being that Lisbon was lovely), but I checked my bank account the night before and the $50 had been deducted from my account, so I figured all was well.

The class was yesterday afternoon, and I arrived somewhat flustered because I hadn't been able to find the entrance to the school. There was no sign, I found the address but the door was unmarked so I thought I must have the wrong entrance, and there were buzzers but only 2 were marked and none said Esh. Pacing up and down the block, I went on their website in hopes of calling the front desk for directions, but neither their website nor google listed a phone number. Fortunately a lady at another local business told me which entrance to use and the door turned out not to be locked, and I was able to finagle my way to the studio's room. It wasn't obvious though, so leave extra time!

Being used to bigger spaces like the Brooklyn Lyceum and STREB, I was surprised how small Esh was. It was 2 rooms that were pretty average-sized, but with ceilings just high enough to do big drops from. One of the rooms had a boisterous class of people doing some sort of acro-balance and laughing like they were having the time of their lives, and the other was quiet and mostly empty with a pair or two of silks released from the ceiling. I was greeted by someone who was one of the studio managers or owners or something, and by the time I finished getting dressed the other workshop participants were starting to straggle in and stretch on the floor. Everyone was quiet and not talking and I felt disappointed that the atmosphere wasn't friendlier (like pole studios, circus spaces are intimidating to visit for the first time), but things warmed up quickly once we got to introductions.
The instructor was Trevor, who had trained at New York Circus Arts Academy around the same time as me, but had gone on to the pro track at NECCA while I went on to focus on my poling. So we knew a lot of the same people and drops, and fortunately for me he was able to translate terminology into something I would understand (circus move names are even more nebulous than pole move names).

Trevor gave us a handout of the moves we may or may not have been learning (we had a list of possibilities and chose from it based on our levels and what people wanted to learn) so that we could take notes, but of course I didn't because I suck about taking notes and I think I lost the handout anyways. There were 6 participants and we released one set of silks for each, but the rule was that only 3 people could do a move at a time so that the instructor could keep an eye out. Also, the ceiling was higher on one end of the room, so for bigger drops we could only use the silks on that side anyways. So while we had 6 silks open, only 3 were usually active past warmup climbs.

Trevor's teaching template was to fully explain a move, then demo it, then answer questions about it, then let us try. We also had to check in with him before throwing a drop, and like everywhere I made him say "3-2-1" before every throw so I wouldn't chicken out.

There was a good mix of drops I knew and drops I didn't. I even volunteered to demonstrate one that he called a "New York slack drop" because of what a staple it is in the NYC circus school scene. I found the other students (who had mostly been studying a couple years) to be supportive and eager to try new things, even when they were complicated or scary-looking.

Despite being small, Esh was still a fun place to spend a weekend afternoon, and I was able to leave feeling accomplished, happy, and just the right amount of sore and tired. However, the class ended at 4:30, and the train schedules being what they are I didn't get home until after 8. Sure, that gave me some quality shopping time at Downtown Crossings while awaiting the next commuter rail, but don't expect to see me there too often.

Oh, and because I know my readership is mostly pole people: Esh sometimes has classes in swinging pole. No, I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but sounds intriguing, huh?


Esh Aerial Arts
Equipment: Didn't count everything--there were at least 6 sets of silks, some trapezes and stuff, a swinging pole...
Amenities: 2 rooms, 2 bathrooms, changing stall, some sort of changing room-type situation
Drop-in price: $30 for aerial stuff, $20 for ground stuff (the workshop was $50 for 2 hours)