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February 03, 2008

Revisiting Group Exercise

Kelly's column appears here with permission from The Bay Area News Group.

It’d been a good ten years since someone told me to “grapevine left.” In fact, the last time I was barked at to do a Triple Knee Repeater or a ‘Round The World, the only woman in America who had a headset mic was Madonna. I don’t exercise often and when I do, I try not to sweat too much, so last weekend at the Y, when I saw on the Group Fitness Schedule that Tina’s Basic Step class was “suitable for all levels,” I peaked in. Just about everyone in there was 10-20 pounds overweight. There were no fancy racer back tanks or chafe-free lycra pants. While I was sizing it all up, Tina herself waved me in and so, the next thing I knew, I was over at the equipment wall deciding how many risers to put under my step.

There is, as any honest person will admit, a hierarchy to women’s exercise. The truly fit (and centered) do yoga, Chi Gung, pilates or the Dailey Method. These women are lean and muscular and flexible, and I have always suspected that they were born this way. They like green tea, which they seep in reusable metal strainers, and can confidently pronounce their teachers names: Tuam, Karuna, Shotoa. Many of them are extremely attractive and consider a touch of Burt’s Bees on their lips to be fully made up. They know not the cottage cheese dimple.

Next are the spinners. Atop their stationery cycles, they are slightly less feminine and generally talk and walk louder and faster than the wispy, barefoot yoga-types. The spin class girls are competitive and bring lots of towels to class. They can tell you their heart rate at any moment. They read magazines about fitness, Women’s Health or something, while guzzling Gatorade and doing Kegels. If they’re running late and all the bikes are spoken for, they’ll slip into the back of a Body Sculpt class. They always do the advanced moves and the extra sets. When the instructor offers a low impact option, they just laugh, adrenaline flooding their system.

At my gym, in Berkeley, there is yet a third class of exercisers: the mind/body folks. Think Feldenkrais, Aikido, Karate. These people will probably save the world and at the very least, never yell at their kids, and for these reasons, are beyond my reproach.

Then, there are the people, often middle aged, who just love to move. I have a soft spot for this merry bunch. They do Merengue on Mondays, World Hip Hop on Tuesdays, Belly Dance Basics on Wednesdays, Salsa Fusion on Thursdays and then wind up the week with some TransDance, which integrates tribal motion, freestyle jamming and moving meditation. A woman named Tranquilla teaches this class. People hug on the way out.

Later, after time marches all over your back and drips cement in your joints, there is low impact senior aerobics (using metal folding chairs) and water aerobics with aqua barbells and something “New!” called The Noodle Workout. Perry Como is big in these classes, as is Liza Minelli. Afterwards, participants peel off their webbed gloves, dry off their hands and head over to an afternoon of oversized origami.

Then there’s me, in Tina’s Basic Step class, secretly laughing at my classmates—their funny pumpkin butts, their awkward clapping, their outdated scrunchies. I was yawning through the warm up, Basic Right, Basic Left, and held my own during the steroid version of Justin Timberlake’s Sexy Back, but three songs into things, I started to feel dizzy. Nauseous. By the time we got to “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” my vision was blurred. Pumpkin Butt next to me was fine, even thriving—this was her song! Silver Scrunchie was also high on endorphins—she seemed to love the Charleston/T-Step/Hamstring Curl combo we were doing. Was I going to have to stop? Take out my risers? I drank some water, eliminated any extraneous motion and, after twenty humiliating minutes, I heard the sweet tones of Enya. It was over.

So that’s where I fit into the hierarchy, right there at the very bottom—eating low-cal humble pie and passing out towels to my new role models in Basic Step and wondering if I could ever reach the great heights of TriYoga Flow III.


Hey, if you're still with me, and if you know anyone in NYC, could I ask you help me get the word out about an upcoming event? On Monday February 18 (which is President's Day), I am doing a double bill with an old friend of my husband's who is a killer musician--a cross between Jack Johnson and Stevie Wonder (if you can get your head around that). It is a dream come true for me to "perform" with him and I think will be a very special night.