Bursting with energy, bedecked with tattoos, guns (as in biceps) loaded, Bee Smith is not your ordinary physical trainer. It’s not just the extreme mohawk, multi-colored hair, or rusty-hinge of a voice.
It’s that the Exerciser in Chief at FUSE Fitness for Women in South Redondo Beach believes in making fitness as fun and silly as possible.
Whether it’s slip-sliding across her studio floor in a kind of rollerless roller derby, or teaching a crew of faithful students to flash mob dance to Jingle Bell Rock, the dynamic Bee is something to behold.
“When I retired, I decided I would only do fun fitness,” said Smith, 49, a professional athlete who began her career in gymnastics as an adolescent. “Fitness shouldn’t be punishment.”
If a workout is safe and fun, she said, it releases endorphins similar to those of falling in love. “That’s why Zumba is so popular," she explained. "You’re in here for an hour, and you burn between 600 and 1,000 calories, and it’s so much fun, you don’t realize until it’s over that it’s exercise.”
Smith, who refers to her studio as her “pre/post menopausal clubhouse,” caters to women from 16 to 86 who want to work out in a friendly, welcoming atmosphere: “We are loud, silly, and base fitness on fun things like the hula hoop, boxing, tons of dance styles, from hip hop to disco, and all types of Zumba dances.”
It all takes place at Smith’s itty-bitty studio at the corner of Torrance Boulevard and Prospect Avenue, right next to a psychic shop. With an interior painted red, black and blinding fluorescent yellow, the one-room gym is stocked with everything from exercise balls to punching bags. Don’t look for anything in the way of lockers, saunas or standard exercise machines, however.
“It’s not fancy, but it’s functional,” said Smith, who modifies programs for every fitness level, every age and condition. “It’s an hour to forget you’re a grownup.”
But if someone is recovering from hip surgery or breast cancer, they may resist racing around the studio in shoe-cover derby races. In that case, they can become Sneer Leaders. “They sneer at us instead of cheer!” the trainer said, flashing her opulent smile.
Shoe-cover skating, Smith’s take on roller derby minus the roller skates, includes adopting nasty Derby names, like Wicked Wahine, Sweetie Slaughter, Genteal Poverty and Iron Maiden Form, the latter because the FUSE client "has the best bra in the whole studio that doesn’t create bounce,” Smith said.
Smith goes by Miffy Mass Murder, plus the number 999Homicide, because that's her official handle as a skater with the Beach Cities Roller Derby.
'I can't be normal'
You begin to see why FUSE—which Smith defines as “fusing together dance, workouts, fun and friends"—is not your ordinary gym. For one thing, everyone leaves judgmental attitudes at the door.
“I know what it’s like to feel like an outsider,” Smith said, referring to her punk rock appearance with the buff biceps, crazy mohawk and tattooed “sleeves,” as she calls her decorated arms.
“Because of the way I look, sometimes people have a hard time getting past that,” she said. They assume she belongs to a gang, lacks a higher education, or represses her feminine side—none of which could be further from the truth.
“I’m super girly and silly, and love to perform in tutus and tights,” said the 5-foot, 120-pound Smith, who holds a certificate in criminal justice and a degree in nursing. And as far as the gang tattoos? How about mermaids, Hello Kitty, cupcakes, unicorns and roller skates, sweet images that tell Smith’s story.
Take cupcakes: “I’ve got all this good information (on nutrition), and I’m a crack head on sugar.” Or the saying, “I love everything about you that hurtz” that relates to commiserating with her dad before he died of lung and prostate cancer in 2009.
She spelled “hurts” with a “z,” she explained, “because it’s original, and because I can’t be normal.”
The youngest of three Air Force brats (all girls) born in Savannah, Ga. to a career military officer and his accountant wife, Brenda Smith was “bouncing off the walls” from the start, she said.
“At the age of 4, my parents took me to the doctor because I had too much energy,” she said. Since no one medicated for hyper-active kids back then, the doctor recommended sports—“so they put me in gymnastics.”
Gymnastics led to dance, ballet and jazz—all Smith knew until age 16, when she started lifting weights. Due to gymnastics (she participated in three Junior Olympics), “I was just freakishly strong in my chest.”
At 17, she got a scholarship to Louisiana Tech in power lifting and set records: “I could bench press at 205 at a weight of 115.”
Married at 18 and living in Louisiana, Smith continued exhibition gymnastics until she got pregnant. “We have a picture of me on a diving board at six months pregnant and I’m doing a handstand,” Smith said. “My mom said, ‘Oh, that’s just bad parenting.’”
Soon divorced, she supported herself and her daughter, Aubrey, by teaching aerobics. “I was one of the first to get certified by the Aerobics and Fitness Federation of America (AFAA),” she said. As she participated in competitive body building, Smith earned her nursing degree.
Working as a rape nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital, she studied criminal justice “because I wanted to be able to do rape exams,” she said. She acted as an expert witness at trials and ultimately became the coordinator for Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault (LFASA).
One case she worked involved a serial rapist. “The victims were 65 and older, and they were raped in their homes in front of their grandchildren,” she said. The perpetrator was eventually caught through DNA evidence.
During that manhunt, Smith started holding self-defense classes for women 65 and older. “People of that age don’t realize how well equipped they are, no matter what their fitness level, to protect themselves,” she said.
Self-defense is one of the things Smith continued to teach in the South Bay, where she and her daughter, now a DJ in Hollywood, moved in 2004. In California, which Smith calls the “fitness capital” of the country, she realized she “could actually make a living as a personal trainer.”
Living in Manhattan Beach, she worked with actors and production company personnel—often at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood—and taught classes for the city of Torrance.
When the economy went south in 2009 and the Hollywood clients bailed, she realized she needed her own studio as a way to combine personal training and group teaching. She founded the Redondo Beach studio, which opened exactly one year ago, and moved to a place within walking distance.
Stand-up Paddle Derby, dances, and flash mobs—oh, my!
Because the studio is small, Smith often extends her teaching to the beach and elsewhere. Stand-up Paddle Derby, for example, “a non impact way to have a fun time,” is a sport she developed and copyrighted.
Then there are the dances, in full costume, mind you, for three local senior homes each month; numerous charitable events, especially for the fight against cancer, and “we are doing a Secret Santa dance for dogs and cats on the 23rd to collect bedding for local shelters.”
The Redondo Beach Pier Association has invited Smith to conduct a flash mob dance for the “Second Annual Holiday Concert & Santa on The Pier” on Saturday from 3-5 p.m. “I will have a rainbow tutu on with lights in it,” she said. “There will probably be about 20 or 25 of my girls.”
One of her "girls is a retired school teacher, Sara Ford, 64, of Redondo Beach. “I had come across Bee at another studio and loved her so much that I followed her here,” Ford said as she prepared to practice the flash mob routine on Friday. “The classes are challenging, but they’re fun. The time goes by quickly.”
More importantly, perhaps, the workouts have also revitalized Ford’s fitness “a lot,” she said. “My cholesterol is down and I’m no longer pre-diabetic. Nothing else ever worked. When I came to Bee, changes just started to happen.”
A monthly membership at FUSE runs about $99 (unlimited classes), but Smith is always offering specials, such as a two-hour Zumba class for $10 on Jan. 12. Her staff includes Terri Durish (Kick 'n Tone), Elgeen Naples (Zumba), Nahid Mohammidifar (Zumbelly), Kaylee Cannon (Kaylees Kidz Dance), Athena Kozel (Core), Jan Schlesinger (Zumba), and Marleen Wiener (Pilates).
FUSE is located at 910 Torrance Blvd. in South Redondo Beach. For additional information on classes, events or prices, visit the website fusefitnessforwomen.com or call 310-999-8255