During EAST, private tours let you see art and be art

We often hear that the best way to travel the East Austin Studio Tour, which starts this weekend, is by bicycle. But people who say that probably don’t know you can get a private studio tour that comes with a built-in aerobics workout by Erica Nix.

For the studio tour last year, Nix partnered with Museum of Human Achievement’s Zac Traeger as part of the Coalition Exhibition Expedition. She borrowed the unofficial MOHA vehicle, a spray-bombed black van with the roof chopped off, and careened about the east side from venue to venue putting her own mark on the tour.

Nix started making workout videos years ago as an art project but got such an enthusiastic response that she turned to a serious (well, mostly serious) workout business, with a goal of being deliberately inclusive and queer-friendly.

“It actually was ironic,” Nix says, but after rounding up enough friends to be in her videos, “people wanted to do it.” She started to study physical training and found out that the Jane Fonda-style ’80s workouts were now seen as a little dangerous. “I felt responsible for them, you know?”

These days she runs classes from her Transform studios off Berkman Drive.

“It started out as an F-you to physical culture, and now we’re a part of physical culture,” Nix says.

Not that she’s fallen quite into the mainstream. Nix’s workout and yoga classes have names like “Queerdalini,” “Big Boi Yoga,” and “YAAAAAASERCIZE!”

Big Boi Yoga, she explains, “is kind of marketed for big boy, bears and gay guys — for people of larger sizes.” This is one style of workout she wasn’t taught in school.

During EAST, each expedition tour is led by a different guide who has total creative control. Nix says that last year, artist Sean Ripple met a group at MOHA, but instead of taking the van, they started a walking tour. “I have no idea if they even looked at any art,” she says

These tours cost $20 and are limited this year to a handful of passengers. They range from more conventional to more Yaaaaaasercize-y; guides include members of the “Free Beer” contemporary Austin arts podcast, “donkey enthusiast” and occasional sad clown Emily Lowe, and Gretchen Phillips leading a photograph scavenger hunt.

Though the tours have a life of their own, they do fill a niche for EAST. MOHA’s Traeger says they often get asked, “Is this where EAST is?” His answer is, well, no, not exactly. So the guided tours might be a good introduction for first-timers.

And they all provide a unique experience. Whoever participates in Phillips’ scavenger hunt should bring a camera, preferably one that shoots film. And, of course, Nix is reprising her aerobic tour, so you might consider what you wear.

“Last year felt pretty epic because we had this van that was cut in half,” she says. It provided maximum visibility for the six to eight audaciously dressed queer-positive aerobic performers.

“My tour is definitely more interactive,” Nix says.

At each stop, Nix and her tour-mates, should they so wish, break out a mobile PA system from the van and do an aerobics performance that anyone is encouraged to join. “I have, like, men in a G-string and top hat, shaking their asses.”

A couple of dance-shy people stayed in the van last year, she says, but Nix says they were still an integral part of the tour as observers. And they no doubt observed quite a show.

“We got to the bigger places and see as much of the art at once, and since it’s a performance, we want to perform for as many people as possible,” Nix says. And she’s responsive to the group. If she sees a lot of families, she often plays the chicken dance.

Some of the venues Nix visited seemed to surprise even her. Lowe (“she’s just the wittiest person you’ve ever met,” Nix says) is giving a tour this year. But last year she was a stop for Nix’s group, where Nix did a performance piece with Lowe as a sad clown. “They play super-weird clown music. It definitely felt like you were going into a weird space,” Nix says. The clown cries the entire time.

This year may be microscopically toned down, as the chopped black half-van has been traded in for a safer yet more generic maroon Ford Econoline.

“Most of the places are really happy with (the tours). The Art Alliance had a fancy brunch, so we crashed that. I think people were glad we were there, but there was definitely a different scene, it was like fancy,” Nix says.

They danced to a song from “Dirty Dancing.” “We crawled on the floor, like sexy Patrick Swayze … thankfully the grass was pretty nice,” she says

It would definitely, Nix decides aloud, be more expensive to Uber this kind of entertainment.

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