Jabs, crosses, uppercuts, body hooks: training for "The Sweet Science of Bruising"

Rebecca Bailey, Hop Publicity Coordinator/Writer

Fitness trainer Jennifer Karr tells us how she helped prepare six Dartmouth undergraduates for an upcoming Dartmouth theater production.

Never sat ringside at a prize fight? You will at the Dartmouth Department of Theater's production of The Sweet Science of Bruising, February 21 through March 1. Seating will be on the Moore Stage, at three sides of the playing area, placing us at close range as four women boxers in Victorian England - yes, you heard me - attempt to clean each others' clocks and become the Lady Boxing Champion of the World.

To help make those closely observed matches believable, the theater department called on Jennifer Karr, a fitness professional for more than 20 years with a background in competitive team sports, triathlons, marathon running and swimming. A Master Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Leader and spinning program director at Lebanon's River Valley Club, Jen also teaches BodyCombat, which combines Taekwondo, karate, boxing and a multitude of strength and conditioning principles.  

Jen conducted several training sessions with cast members of The Sweet Science of Bruising to teach them the fundamentals of boxing form and moves, which they then drew on in working with the production's fight choreographer, Paul West. She sat down (rare!) for an email interview about the experience.

HopNews: How did you come to be involved in this production?

Jen Karr: Carol Dunne and Peter Hacket are fellow fitness enthusiasts and loyal members of RVC where I teach and train.  Knowing this production was coming to Dartmouth, they thought I'd be the perfect match to teach the actors basic boxing skills and conditioning to endure some arduous rehearsals and fight coordinating with the acting coaches. I sing with the Handel Society at Dartmouth, have a background performing in local community theater and put on a performance daily with my job.  I jumped at the opportunity and am so grateful to spend time at the HOP and further explore my artistic side.

HN: What got you into boxing, and what do you feel it can do for women?

JK: I have been teaching boxing, kickboxing and martial arts as fitness for 25 years.  I have several certifications in these disciplines for instructing skills and group exercise settings and pack the house with my Les Mills BodyCombat classes at the River Valley Club and have taught several classes over the years including boxing, kickboxing, Taekwondo and Spinning.  

I tell my classes each time to focus on how EMPOWERING it is to know how to kick and punch effectively to defend, and also to attack.  The skills we teach promote muscle memory, so these movements become organic and a woman (or anyone) seeking to become more assertive, safe, powerful or strong can achieve success.  This feeling of comaraderie and euphoria is incredibly thrilling to feel and watch.  

HN: What has it been like to work with the cast?

I first met these actors at callbacks for for auditions and was asked to get a feel for their body movement to ascertain if they could be taught these skills and move like boxers.  I am quite confident I can teach anyone anything, so happily took on the challenge to teach the basics to this group of six fine actors, most of whom had never done any formal boxing.  

I am incredibly impressed with how quickly they have caught on and getting the basic jabs, crosses, uppercuts, body hooks into their bodies.  They were not expecting to get such a workout and to feel sore after (they never are ;)), but they adapted quickly as we worked on conditioning, mobility, flexibility and prepping their bodies for long rehearsals staying low in guard [a defensive stance in boxing].  I am confident they are now officially fighters and now the magic happens!