I Tried the Barbie Dance Workout From the ’90s, and It Turned Out To Be the Ultimate Dopamine Hit

Photo: Getty Images/nensuria
As we count down to the July 21 release of Greta Gerwig’s live-action Barbie film, something wild has happened. Many of us have gotten swept up in a giddy flurry. Women in their 20s and 30s are channeling their inner child in videos on social media, reflecting on their favorite Barbie movie from the 2000s (The Twelve Dancing Princesses ftw) or playing up to the ‘Barbiecore’ fashion trend by donning the girliest, glitteriest outfit in their wardrobe.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I myself have been counting down to the release like a kid in the lead-up to Christmas. Now more than ever, I’m drunk on all things Barbie. My wardrobe is a sea of pink, and Aqua’s Barbie Girl has become the anthem of my summer. The only thing yet to be Barbie-fied is my workout routine.

So, what better time to dig into the archives and give the Barbie dance workout from the early ‘90s a try? Mattel released the Dance! Workout With Barbie in 1992, and even though I never did it as a kid, my newfound excitement for all-things-Barbie convinced me to give it a go.

The video opens with a grainy pink disclaimer: I’m about to partake in “a safe, enjoyable 25-minute routine of light dance aerobics intended for kids ages 5 and up.” This should be a walk in the park, right?

The camera pans to Barbie’s dressing room, where we find the doll perched in front of her mirror. Straight off the bat, I’m extremely jealous of her outfit: Hot pink leggings paired with a black and white polka dot two-piece and matching leg-warmers! In comparison, I feel a little underdressed in my oversized sleep shirt covered in coffee stains.

However, as Barbie turns to address me, I realize that something about her feels a little…off. Her head jolts back and forth like a disjointed ventriloquist dummy, and her frozen, blank features look like they’ve been molded out of Play-Doh. This rudimentary version of Barbie is a world away from the modern images we see today; the Barbie of yore is, well, slightly creepy.

Fortunately, this malfunctioning puppet Barbie hands over the reins to Kim, a real-life instructor. Kim is standing center-stage in a studio that looks exactly how I imagined the gym in Barbie’s Dreamhouse to look, surrounded by some much younger back-up dancers. I suddenly feel like Jennifer Garner in 13 Going On 30; I have a good 20 years on all the other participants on-screen.

Kim wastes no time and launches straight into the warmup with some high-leg marches on the spot. The moves at this stage are pretty basic—mostly stepping from side-to-side, with some cheerleader-inspired arm movements sprinkled in. I look embarrassingly similar to how I do dancing in the club when the margaritas haven’t quite kicked in yet: Playing it safe with an awkward, predictable two-step. However, as warmups go, it’s a pretty entertaining one. My heart rate is rising and I’m loosening up with some full-body stretching, all the while being spurred on by classic ‘90s electro-pop.

This feels like a piece of cake…but I’m abruptly jolted out of my comfort zone when the actual workout begins. Kim starts by walking us through the first official move in this dance routine: The Barbie Basic. The camera cuts to Barbie, who explains that we’ll be leaning a lot on this move because “it lets you catch your breath.” Now, maybe it’s just me and my lack of dance skills, but I found The Barbie Basic to be anything but. I became a blur of flailing limbs in the process of trying to figure it out.

This rocky start sets the tone for the next 10 minutes or so, which, to be honest, I spend in a state of utter chaos and confusion. Kim is a fiery ball of energy who puts even the most motivated of SoulCycle instructors to shame. She whizzes through each move at the speed of light with limited explanation.

As each new sequence is introduced, I become disoriented, begin sweating bullets and repeatedly smash into every piece of furniture within a five-meter radius. There’s no two ways about it: This routine is far more technically complex than I could’ve imagined.

This routine is far more technically complex than I could've imagined.

I’m beginning to suspect that the little girls behind Kim are professionally-trained dancers who have been practicing this Broadway-standard choreography for months. (I discover later on that one of them is actually none other than the Jennifer Love Hewitt!) They’re all doing a fantastic job of showing me up, that’s for sure.

I can distinctly picture my 10-year-old self sobbing in frustration while attempting to master the intricate footwork behind The Attitude or The Bunny Flop. It’s easy to see how this workout could quickly descend into tears and tantrums for the average pre-teen—even I’m struggling to keep my cool.

However, after a few faltering fumbles as each new sequence is introduced, I gradually get the hang of it. Once I’ve accepted that I need to rewind the tape a few times to learn a new move, I’m Hot Stepping and Street Tapping along with the rest of them in no time.

At the halfway point, I’ve finally found my groove. I’ve thrown any trace of perfectionism out the window, and now I’m dancing along with reckless abandon. I’m giving my all, performing my favorite sequence so far: The running man (or rather, “The Jammin’ Jogger”). A wave of pure serotonin washes over me, as I begin to chant “Fashion Statement!” along with the music.

As someone who typically dreads cardio, I found this workout to be a refreshing change to the usual. You break a decent sweat without even noticing because you’re too busy perfecting your moves and keeping up with Kim. The high energy and nostalgic vibes are so palpable that they practically emanate from the screen.

You break a decent sweat without even noticing because you're too busy perfecting your moves and keeping up.

The workout closes with a freestyle section, at which point the girls on screen break out of formation with a series of pirouettes, jumps, and kicks. If the workout had opened with this, I would’ve switched off my TV then and there. But now, having left all inhibitions behind, I have no issue matching Kim’s feral energy. I’m dancing like nobody’s watching, and it’s gloriously liberating.

I have to admit, the Dance! Workout with Barbie turned out to be quite the emotional rollercoaster. It was far more physically (and mentally) taxing than I expected, especially for a routine intended for those “ages five and up.” But I suppose it teaches kids—and fully grown adults like me—an important lesson: It’s okay to trip up and make mistakes, as long as you can give it your all and laugh at yourself along the way.

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