Volume 20, Number 113, February/March 2017 Learning to Dance at 65 by Anne J. Fotheringham
We stand at the gate leading into the pool, a group of middleaged people decked out in all kinds of bathing suits, from the simple and sober to the fanciful and slightly cheeky. We are waiting for the music to begin. It’s time for my aquafit class and we’re a tough bunch of men and women.
Many of us have various arthritic and other health problems, but we are totally committed to our thriceweekly class. As we file through the gate, we smile and welcome each other. We take turns getting into the pool, patiently waiting while those who have difficulty climbing down the ladder and struggle into the water. We politely smile at the splash made by the woman recovering from a stroke who steps off the side and drops into the pool. She has no choice - going down the ladder does not work for her.
The boom boom beat of the music begins - what will it be - 60s or 70s music, some oldies but goodies, or perhaps like today the teeny weeny polka dot bikini song which I remember seeing performed on TV as a child. We jog to our favourite positions, chest high in the water and get ready for our workout.
Our instructors are a cheerful group of aerobic teachers who each take one class with us a week. They have their favourite routines - one loves to end the session doing exercises with pool noodles - those of us who have trouble controlling noodles in the water due to arthritis, etc. politely leave class early on those days. Another likes to make us do a kind of watery line dance, moving up and down the pool doing various strides or leaps and arm movements. We stop and do a set of exercises, then it is back down the length of the pool. And let me tell you walking in water is no easy feat. The third one favours a gruelling set of leg exercises that have us groaning inwardly.
Some of us are pretty good at the exercises, others have difficulty, but as most physiotherapists will tell you, water movement is good for our joints so we soldier on.
Everyone has their own style - one woman adds artistic flourishes to her hand movements, another frowns as she concentrates on following the instructor’s lead. One woman has been dubbed the “bouncy betty” though I doubt she knows it since we are too polite to tell her. You can pick her out easily enough - we give her a wide berth - she’s the one with lots of empty pool around her as she seems to think pool aerobics mean that you have to leap and splash like a demented sea lion. To date she has splashed the stroke lady, almost swamped me, bumped into various people and soaked a few others with her watery kicks. As I said, we’re polite, so instead of saying, “Hey you, keep it down or get your own pool,” we’ve silently elected to leave as much space around her as we can as a defensive measure.
Many of us have bad memories about high school gym class where mean teachers rampaged about giving you demerit points for not leaping high enough, not being able to do a somersault, for failing miserably at vaulting and tumbling and, yes, even for not being able to climb that damn rope. Obviously I am speaking from experience.
In this class, there are no demerit points. Heck, you get to give yourself a bunch of gold stars for signing up and turning up for as many times as possible. No miserable self-important gymnastics teacher is checking out if you do the exercises her way or even whether you are doing them at all. If you can’t flip your legs sideways, you just do a light jog. If you can’t leap, bobbing is perfectly permissible. The idea is to keep moving and move we do. It is hard not to as the music is so inviting.
I’ve been attending this class for over a year now. I just signed up for the summer session which is held at 8 a.m. - yes 8 in the morning. And there’s quite a gang of us turning up for the early morning class. Bouncing, bobbing, jogging and bending, we get our summer day off to a great start and come out of the pool raring to go. The summer sun wakes you up early so why not get exercise in before the day gets hot and hazy and all you want to do is retreat to air conditioned homes and malls?
When I began aquafit, I was amazed at all the different body types in the class - skinny ones courting osteoporosis, obese persons courting heart attacks, people like me with arthritis and some extra pounds to lose, trying to keep my joints flexible so I can be active into my twilight years, men with beer bellies and women with great hairdos who never seem to get a strand wet despite all their activity. One day, when we were all waiting for class to begin, some of us discussed the idea that if each of us donated a functioning body part we could perhaps come up with a perfect person. We had a good laugh about that as we climbed into the water and began to jog.
One thing that did make me feel “so old” as my youngest son says when he teases me is that our class is part of the 3F group at the Pointe Claire pool. It stands for “fun and fitness after fifty”. I did point out to the lady at the registration desk that this 3F was somewhat pejorative. After all, if you were 4F in wartime, it meant you were unfit for military duty - it was kind of an embarrassing classification. Being 3F meant to me that I was considered almost ready for the trash heap. I really didn’t like going to the front desk and asking for the schedule for the 3F group or having the lady at the desk say, “Oh, are you 3F?” Perhaps it is just me, but it wasn’t comfortable.
But, as they say, out of the mouths of babes, etc. and one small child has changed my attitude. This past spring as we filed into the water, we noticed a mother and her small son watching us from outside the pool gate. They had obviously just come from a lesson in the kids training pool. The mother took the child’s hand and tried to lead him away. He shouted, “No, mummy. I want to stay and watch the dancing?” Dancing? Several of us looked at each other non-plussed. Just then the music started and we began bopping along with the beat following the instructor’s lead. And those of us nearest to the gate end of the pool heard the boy say, “See mummy, now they are dancing. I want to watch please.”
Me dancing. Hmm. To me that has always conjured up images of my failed attempt at ballet, a horribly flawed attempt by my grade 10 gym teacher to teach us the Zorba dance and my exhusband dancing with every woman in the room except me because he said I had cement feet. Now, at 65, I am considered a dancer because of the combination of pool exercises and music.
As I drove home after class, I thought more about what is dancing moving to the beat of the music, using a set of movements, expressing yourself with your hands, arms, legs and all of your body. So, in that small child’s eyes, I wasn’t doing aquafit - I was dancing - finally me, old cement feet, was dancing. How great is that? And I now find that when I play music at home, I happily “dance” my own version of dancing, when in the past I would sit quietly and dream of dancing to the music.
In the past weeks, we’ve noticed the boy and his mother have often been joined by other children and their parents watching us. I guess the music attracts them and then they see us exercising - er, dancing. Adults sometimes stop by and watch and I haven’t seen anyone of them smirking or making fun of us. And they’d better not because all this dancing is making us stronger - deride us and we may make you join the dance yourself - be warned!
Meanwhile back to the beat, the “steps” (exercises) and the fun - and in retrospect I guess we are having fun, getting fit and we are after all over 50 - just how over is really none of your business. Excuse me, I think I hear the music starting and it’s time to climb into the water and begin to dance.