More and more people gather in front of the gates of the Baltimore Zoo. It’s 7:45, and the zoo won’t open to the public until 10. It’s mostly women in groups of two to three. There are a few stragglers who awkwardly stare at phone screens and yawn as they wait for the gates to open. There are two or three men in the whole ensemble, one of whom seems to be the father of a family that came to practice together. As the clock moves closer to 8, more and more people arrive.
At about 8:05, Baltimore Zoo staff open the gates and usher the crowd of about forty people into the park. The sun is brilliant when they arrive to their destination: the zoo’s Penguin Pavilion. People walk towards the open space and place their mats on the concrete. There are large speakers set up around the area, and a woman right at the front of the penguin enclosure speaks:
“Hi, everyone! Welcome to Yoga at the Zoo! We’ll get started soon.”
Yoga at the Zoo has become a twice monthly event at the Baltimore Zoo. The event consists of a hour-long Vinyasa flow class open to all skill levels. Occurring before the zoo opens for regular operations, the practice takes place outdoors by the zoo’s penguin enclosures. Yoga at the Zoo is still a relatively new event, only having been started this year.
“It started with a test date back in the spring,” says Jane Ballentine, Director of Public Relations at the Baltimore Zoo.
“I think there were about sixty people that decided it was going to be a fun thing to do, and they loved it so much that the Event Department decided, ‘well, let’s make a series out of it, and do it over the summer, and see how it goes.’ And people liked it so much and it was selling out that they decided to extend it into the fall.”
“Since [April] we’ve added two classes a month, and we’re going to do two classes a month through December, and then we’ll announce the new classes for the next year,” says Steve Rosenfeld, Assistant Vice President of Institutional Advancement at the Zoo.
“It’s been a really really popular event. Throughout the summer most of the classes have been sold out. So it’s been really popular; people seem to really respond to it,” says Kate Rosenfeld, who taught the class.
Yoga at the Zoo started as somewhat of a personal project for zoo event officials. It was actually Steve Rosenfeld’s wife who inspired the project. “His wife got into yoga a few years ago, and during just random discussions of the zoo, looking for something new, something different to do, somebody suggested ‘Well, why don’t we do yoga,’ ” says Jane Ballentine. “It was like, ‘no, how’s that gonna work? It seems kind of silly, no one is going to want to come here,’ then he actually started talking to his wife, and some of her colleagues that she does yoga with and they were like, ‘We should give this a try! We’ll test it out.’ ”
The class costs ten dollars for zoo members, and 20 dollars for non-members. Aside from the class, purchasers also receive a full day pass for the zoo and a complimentary drink from event sponsor Truly Spiked & Sparkling (only for participants 21+ with valid ID). Also, after the practice, zoo-goers can meet an official Penguin Ambassador (a penguin trained to take photos with zoo-goers). “It’s 19 dollars to get into the zoo already. So it’s only an extra dollar to take a yoga class and spend a day at the zoo,” Steve Rosenfeld emphasizes.
After the practice, many participants seem energetic. Several rush to take pictures with the Penguin Ambassador that is brought out, some rush to the beverages while chatting about the heat. Many groups talk about what enclosures they want to go see first.
“I enjoyed it a lot. It’s the second time I’ve came. Very relaxing, I like it,” says Lisa Brunsinski, who came with a co-worker.
“It’s actually my birthday tomorrow, and my boyfriend bought tickets for it,” says Jackie Deworth. “It was a fun event, and it was a really great practice.”
There are some concerns about the seasonal nature of the event, however. The class occurs on one of the viewing platforms near the penguin enclosure, and so far, cold weather plans haven’t had a chance to be fully tested. “It will be different once it’s colder out, because right now you can do it outside. Although there’s always a rain plan to move into the Penguin Education Center, which is a great space, [though] it’s not as large as this and it’s a little broken up,” says Ballentine. “It won’t be the same experience, but it will still be really cool. And the penguins swim by as you’re doing it, ‘cause it has underwater viewing. So it will still be a fun experience.”