With growing popularity of freestyle calisthenics, Dallas group hoping to get a legit exercise park in DFW

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DALLAS -- Elise Longley loves to workout and had survived CrossFit, but she didn't know what to think the first time she saw Dallasthenics at White Rock Lake Park last October.

"I came for two weeks and just watched them," she says.  "I didn't actually come up and talk to anyone because it was so intimidating to me at first."

The workout group started three years ago as three friends wanting to learn freestyle calisthenics, which mixes gymnastics with weight training that uses only your body weight; think of it as the X-Games of exercise.  But while the experts can do some amazing things, co-founder Luis Castro says you don't have to be super-fit to get started.

"We have great people here that are really good at it and that are more than willing to teach it, and it's free!"

Longley is now living proof of that promise.

"I started at a complete zero," she recalls.  "I was terrified, and they talked me through all of it.  Now I come in and I do handstands and all that stuff everyday."

Castro says the group has outgrown the workout area at White Rock Lake Park, which is outdated to begin with; for example, wood chips cover the ground instead of a rubber mat.  Through fundraising, lobbying, and doing community-awareness events with organizations like the Dallas Police Department and local schools and rec centers, he hopes Dallas will build a more appropriate space in a more visible area so more people can be exposed to it, similar to the famous Muscle Beach in California but with a more approachable feel.

"[We're reaching] out to the city and saying, 'Hey look, we've got something special here.  We have a tool to get people to come out and use their local parks, we just need the park to do it.'"

In the meantime, the Dallasthenics gang will continue to have a good time wherever they meet (most of the time it's at White Rock Lake Park on Sundays starting at 10 a.m.).  Because it's not just about building muscles, it's also about building a community.

"I can bring my family; I can bring my kids," says Longley.  "It's this whole very friendly great atmosphere."

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