Thursday, November 1, 2012

Kick Up Your Heels and Dance!

In the midst of the biblical blackout gifted to us folks in the Northeast, I’m fortunate to sit at my computer and compose another blog post. Since everyone and their fourth cousin once-removed are probably blogging (and posting when they can) about Hurricane Sandy and her aftermath, I won’t. Suffice it to say, being without electricity is not a pleasurable experience, but certainly an enlightening one. When will we have to go out and forage for our food? Will this be like The Road by Cormac McCarthy? As a friend of mine from London said, “This is America, not some third world country!” She’s right, but when the power goes, we get a little taste of what those so much less fortunate than us deal with on a daily basis. We can handle it for a few days, but we’re spoiled. Once this is over, so many of us will go back to leaving the lights and television on when we’re not even in the room! But, I said I wouldn’t write about the power outages, so I’ll stop here. I just want to say that my family is having a special bonding time throughout all this. We’re hanging out at my son and daughter-in-law’s house along with her parents and her sister’s family, since they’ve got power. We’re pooling our food as our refrigerators warm and freezers defrost. Not all in-laws are as fortunate as we are. We’re cooking together and enjoying the time, not only because we’re keeping warm. There’s another warmth emanating from the kitchen, and that’s family togetherness. OK. I could go off on that topic for pages, so I’ll stop here and get to the real point of this blog-post.

There was an article in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times, Oct 21, 2012, entitled “Mastering the Elusive Nod” by Philip Galanes. I particularly was caught by these phrases in the article that dealt with exercise classes: “Classes are like an hour at sleep-away camp…” You get involved with a community of people, and suddenly you’re not alone.” If you’ve ever taken an exercise class on a regular basis, I believe you would understand and agree with what Galanes wrote.

I started teaching exercise classes in 1981, aerobic dance à la Jackie Sorensen, but I franchised from Jeannie’s Aerobic Classes Inc. not Jackie’s. In ’84 I dropped that franchise, hired my own choreographer, for a year, until I was comfortable with designing my own dances and then soared. Over the years I added Step when it was in fashion, but always incorporated strength, balance, and flexibility into my classes. I ignored Slide when gyms had people sliding left and right on special mats to increase their stamina. I tried it once and after my thighs started screaming, I decided it wasn’t for my women – or me. I added aquacise, children’s fitness classes and birthday parties, senior fitness, and then in 1997 I got my certification as a Medical Exercise Specialist which brought me to personal training. Grapevine, hopscotch, rocking horse, core, and neutral spine have all are common words in my vocabulary. 

As Galanes article explains, when you go to an exercise class on a regular basis, not only do you get in shape, you make friends. These are the people you see 3x a week, every week of the year, or most every week. I’ll agree, we don’t all go every single week. Even I go on vacation!  You see these people without mascara and blush( unless you’re young and at a gym looking for a guy, but that’s not the kind of classes I’ve taught) and in  nothing but workout clothes, or a bathing suit (aquacise). When you run into them in the supermarket, for a moment you’re not sure where you know them from. How many times have I heard, “Oh, I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on.” As another shopper lifts her brows, eyes as big as saucers, wondering just what that comment is supposed to mean, I laugh it off. I understand. These exercise class friends often become a family of sorts. In my classes, I’ve spent more morning hours with them than with my own husband. Being together so often, we “celebrated” birthdays, our kids’ birthdays and bar mitzvahs, weddings, and anniversaries together. We hugged and held each other when sadness prevailed. I remember my father’s funeral when women from my class walked into the funeral parlor. Tears filled my eyes and caught my throat. Other mourners I expected, but not these ladies. They weren’t family or close friends, but I suppose, as I’ve already said, they were a sort of family. And, many times, sadly too many, a woman cames back to class after losing a husband and said, “I needed to get back here.  This is the best therapy.”

Exercise classes have more benefits than strengthening your cardiovascular system and core. If you’re one of the lucky ones who’ve joined a class and made new friends, whether you only see them at 9AM or 7PM three times a week, you know what I’m talking about. The camaraderie, the music, along with the extra oxygen running through your system is the best therapy for stress release (and who doesn’t have some of that?). And, on that note of extra oxygen, exercise also helps keep your mind sharp as you age. It helps memory, better than doing crossword puzzles. When you do a puzzle, most likely you’re alone and sitting still. Now that’s not doing anything for socialization or oxygen uptake, all of which benefit our memories. So, try to find an exercise class near you and go regularly, for the emotional health benefits.  

Okay, maybe you’ve tried and just can’t seem to find the type of class I’m describing.  Or, you used to go to one in the '80s and '90s, but it's been cancelled. What I’m going to suggest here won’t bring you the “family” Galanes article infers, but it will enhance your mood and help you release stress: 
 Turn on some music and dance!! Even if Sandy has stripped your home of electricity, you can do this - and it will certainly help release some of that stress from not having any lights or heat. Dance to the music on your smart phone. Pull out that old battery operated radio. Find that old Walkman. Dance! Move! Kick up your heels! Let that oxygen flow…

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