Liesl Schillinger on Manhattan's fencing fad
On Sundays, New Yorkers like to leave behind the toil and bustle of the workaday week and devote themselves to metaphysical questions, such as: can they reach bodily perfection if they worship regularly at the Chelsea Piers Sports Center? The Chelsea Piers (basic membership: $1,200), only a year old, are a fleet of buildings about the size of Venice, which occupy scores of chlorine-and-floorwax smelling acres along the Hudson, containing everything from a New Age spa to a football pitch. Naturally, the cream of Chelsea make an appearance here daily, but Sundays permit more protracted devotions; of which the chief one lately has been cardio-vascular fencing, aka "Cardio Fence".

The teacher of Cardio Fence is a quietly fierce young woman named Sharone Huey, who was born in the Caribbean and grew up in Brooklyn. "Everyone thinks of Zorro, but fencing is not only violent, it is graceful and elegant," she says as she partakes of a gourmet snack at a Sports Center cafe table before class.

Cardio Fence has an equal number of male and female participants, some of them athletic instructors or trainers by day, others of them restaurateurs, attorneys, film producers and businessmen. During a typical session, eight men and women stand in formation behind Huey, legs apart and taut, right arms grasping the pommels of their skinny swords, left arms raised as if for a backwards Discobulus series. "Always attack!" Huey commands. Tensely, the students await further instruction. "Extend! Lunge! Recover! Advance!"

Huey learned to fence in college. "I think it has made me a little more aggressive in life," she smilingly concedes, her dangling silver earrings flickering mildly. Last autumn, she persuaded the Sports Center to allow her to introduce fencing as a form of cardio-pulmonary exercise, and the Cardio Fence class was born. It has become one of the Sports Center's main attractions, along with the boot-camp class (basic training minus the screaming army commandant) and family rock climbing.

On this day, the spectators gathered along the wall of windows outside the studio include a television news crew, two young men wearing matching waistcoats who stand side by side, watching raptly, and assorted children. Inside, the students don beekeeping helmets and pair off. The clanking and flashing of foils begins. "Beat! Extend! Beat! Touch!" she chants. Screams of "Touche" pierce the room when Huey takes on the most advanced student, a wiry woman who executive-produced a film called Towers Of Terror (about the World Trade Center bombing). Huey's thrust goes straight to its mark. The woman yelps, then gasps, "I'm fine, I'm fine". The parrying begins again, with an unspoken hike in intensity. The woman, Madelon Rosenfeld, loses the bout with good grace and shakes hands with Huey. "Fencing helps me when I deal with Hollywood," she rationalises. "Always attack." In any case, in an hour of fencing she has used 400 calories - a far more vital score in this sort of fencing than a blow to the heart could be.