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Review and interview: The Gleeks

  Tuesday 6th March 2012

Over the last two years, The Gleeks have taken the UK by storm.  A concept devised by the renowned choreographer AJ O’Neill, it doesn’t take a genius to recognise that the recent phenomenon may have something to do with the popular American musical-comedy drama Glee.

The Gleeks are, in fact, the UK’s number one Glee tribute act.  Available to hire for a variety of events and private parties, they are gaining a solid reputation as a sure-fire mean to get crowds of all ages up and off their seats, dancing to the routines from the TV show.  All professionally trained West End dancers and actors, their credits include performing to a crowd of over 10,000 people at Trafalgar Square’s West End Festival.

It isn’t hard to be impressed by AJ’s profile.  Aside from creating The Gleeks, he’s had roles in Chicago, EastEnders, The Tudors and the Hollywood movie Ella Enchanted. He also finds the time to run a Gleeks fitness class and has gained national recognition as a fitness instructor.  I went to meet him at Borough’s Soho Gym on Monday night, expecting a cosy, relaxing chat over a few cups of coffee.

I was soon corrected.  “You’re here just in time for the next class!” he said, smiling mischievously.  As the memories of my dreaded high-school gym class came flooding back, before I knew it, I was standing bare foot in the middle of the gym hall, waiting for AJ to instruct a room full of Glee enthusiasts on the first inspired dance move of the evening.

Very quickly, it became apparent that AJ is not your average gym instructor. If you’re familiar with the TV show, you’ll know that Glee is not about looking immaculate, but, ultimately, enjoying yourself and embracing your imperfections and eccentricities.  Suffice to say, AJ’s energy and charisma swiftly got everyone into high spirits.

Taking a glance around at the other people in the class, I realised that we bore an uncanny resemblance to the cast of the actual TV show.  There were people of all shapes and sizes, with different levels of ability and fitness.  While AJ undoubtedly reminded me of the Glee class teacher Will Schuester, another girl behaved exactly like Barbra Streisand wannabe Rachel Berry.

By the end of the hour-long class, I had learned an entire Glee dance routine by heart.  Exhausted, but nevertheless proud of myself, I have every intention to go back next week.

While I’m sure many people I know would jump at the chance to learn Beyoncé’s Single Ladies dance routine, there are probably just as many people who would find the idea unbearable.  In fact, you could say the The Gleeks is the marmite of fitness classes – you either love it or hate it.  However, for those who relish the opportunity to learn a funky dance routine, and look a bit silly in the process, this is a fun and calorie-burning night out.

Interview with AJ O’Neill

Hi AJ! Could you tell me more about the background of The Gleeks?

I created the tribute act two years ago.  I really enjoyed Glee and I felt that there was a great opportunity there.  Due to the popularity of the show, there was a massive resurgence in really interesting music and dance routines.  That’s what gave me the idea to start up the group.

What is the difference between the class and the performers you see on stage?

The performers on stage are all professionally trained dancers and actors.  They’ve performed in various West End shows including Mama Mia, Chicago and Hairspray. The classes are catered for regular folk who want to have a good time and get fit.  Both groups do very similar stuff.

What kind of music are they dancing to? Do you choose songs just from Glee?

We’ve pretty much covered every song from the TV show.  Beyoncé’s Single Ladies goes down a storm every time.  I’ve even tried teaching that to my fitness class.  It’s a pretty difficult routine but we managed to pull it off.  We sometimes do songs that aren’t from the show, but are in the style of Glee - happy songs that you can do silly dances to.

Dance classes seem to be very popular in the ‘gym world’.  Do you think The Gleeks class is different?

A lot of dance classes, for example Zumba, are very aerobic.  They’re very much a cardio thing.  The Gleeks class is different because it isn’t primarily about cardio and working up a sweat, but rather about having fun and not taking yourself too seriously.  People can often get self-conscious, but once you give yourself over to the idea, you will start to enjoy yourself- and get fit in the process!

When and where do the classes take place?

At Borough’s Soho Gym every Monday night at 8pm.  I look forward to seeing you next week, Connie!

Connie Viney

Photos: Keira Cullinane

Watch The Gleeks dance to Beyoncé’s Single Ladies here

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