Sunday, August 31, 2014

After Spandex

I'm no more adept at exercise now than when this was published by the Milwaukee Journal Magazine 23 years ago. Unfortunately.

I was in trouble. Electronic music crashed off the walls while fiercely determined women charged into place. Never had I seen so much Spandex. And bodies, bodies everywhere, in neon flashes and waves and zebra stripes, with matching ankle weights.

I was feeling awfully dowdy in my husband's baggy gray sweat suit.

When my friend Kelly invited me to this fitness class, I had a feeling it was a mistake. In high school, gym classes and gang showers had scarred me for life. Clearly some girls thrilled to the sight of softballs and tumbling mats, but I was never among them. I was the one forever slinking to the end of the line, praying never to be summoned to climb the rope dangling from the ceiling.

Foolishly, I thought an adult exercise class would be worlds removed from the cement-block gymnasium that so long ago had stolen my self-confidence and frizzed my hair each Tuesday and Thursday at 9:10 a.m.


The evening instructor, Juta, a no-nonsense Germanic woman resplendent in black and silver, flew across the front of the room, arms pummeling the air.

"Kelly!" I shrieked, dashing to my left, "I feel like I'm auditioning for the Rockettes!"

"I know. It's great!" she said, beaming as she nimbly executed jazz squares and tried not to notice my stumbling feet.

Suddenly Kelly and I knew why she had always been picked to be captain of whatever team sport was on the gym teacher's agenda, and why I had always been the last chosen.

And here I was--surrounded by women who had always fit in. They had been student council officers in high school, and now they were executives, directors, consultants. They had been born competent. They had been born able to do push-ups.

I was out of my league. I could see it in their sneering sweatbands. They knew I couldn't even get elected as a student council alternate.

I decided to try a morning class. Surely housewives would be a less aggressive bunch and more casually attired.


Once again the look was beyond me. They were into cute. Their leotards were pink, lavender, yellow. They had matching warm-ups appliqued with ducks and bunnies. I knew they had all shopped together for these ensembles, probably lunching on salads.

Yes, in high school they had been cheerleaders or pep-club members, straining through rhythm-keeping hands and feet to have access to the glory on the playing field.

These were the perfectly petite girls who had skipped naked through those gang showers while I struggled to vanish behind a skimpy white towel.

Admittedly, the choreography in this class was less tricky. We hopped around to early Beatles' music. But despite the less aggressive movement, there was an energetic flip to each step that would never come naturally to my joints. Theirs was a perky spring developed over years of jumping and twirling before a cheering audience, always hoping to catch the eye of the quarterback.

In my plain sweats on the last row, I was quickly spotted for what I had been: a National Honor Society member, school newspaper editor, gym-class klutz--someone who had faithfully turned in her homework on time, someone who only went to prom once.

They had no intention of returning my weary smile.

I checked the exercise class lists again. Only one more choice was left: "Forever Young." I joined it the following day.

No flash. No squealing. No loud music frightens us into submission. No one preens in designer outfits. When we get tired, we stop. And we smile a lot.

Our instructor, who must be 30 years my senior, can touch her toes 100 times in rapid succession without bending her knees.

When I start wobbling, she winks at me encouragingly.

No one much cares what happened in high school. And no one has ever heard of Spandex.

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  1. Standing in my sweats right next to you. :-)

    1. At least we'd have a great time laughing at ourselves. Thanks for keeping me company.

  2. Right on, Karen. I am just like you then and now.

    1. I do my best at walking in the neighborhood, maybe because it doesn't require synchronized group movement or fashion.