My cherished amigo, it’s time to share a body aspect of mine about which I experience great discomfort. Usually people figure it out after 5 minutes of hanging around me while doing anything more athletic than sitting on the couch and watching cat videos. I sweat, almost immediately upon beginning exercise, to a level that would cause most people to seek medical help. I am like a one man Biblical grade deluge, sent to wipe out the non-believers. I will sweat entirely through my clothing in under 45 minutes to the point where no dry spots remain. In push-up position, sweat will bead and fall from my nose and brow to the floor at a 1-drop-per-second rate. I travel with towels if I know I am going to be doing anything aerobic.
In Jazzercise class, there are 6 floor-standing oscillating fans positioned around the room, usually left unplugged until someone enlists their service. This means that, in order for me to survive a class and not coat the entire room around me with sweat like a slobbering St Bernard shaking off, I need to claim of one of those fans and have it blasting directly on me on the whole time. So that I don’t seem like a “fan hog”, I have found this spot in the back portion of the room that has become my go-to spot.
Reasons why my spot is optimal:
It’s in the back of the room. I’m 6’5” and I don’t want to block people’s view of the instructor on stage, so I stand in the back. I’m trying to be considerate.
It has its own fan, which I completely commandeer.
It’s away from the door, so when people walk in they won’t accidentally get blindsided by my flailing limbs
When there are 6 fans, and most of them are not ever plugged in and used by classmates, I feel like it is in my full right to set mine to “not oscillate” and point it directly at me. Last week, a woman came up to me in mid class, after I already looked like I had taken the ice bucket challenge, and asked if I could set the fan on oscillate. I took a full couple of seconds to consider what this meant for me, before I said “sure”. Then, in my haste, I accidentally turned the fan completely off rather than to what she wanted. I only noticed that the fan was off after the next song began and ended. I must have looked like a crazy person. “If I can’t have the fan to myself, then nobody gets the fan!” She likely thought that I was thinking “eff you, lady! I will burn this fan before I share it with you”, and won’t attempt asking to do that again lest I pick it up and throw it at her.
This is my plastic oscillating fan. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
My fan, without me, is useless. Without my fan, I am waterlogged. I must aim my fan true.
My dearest reader, I think we’ve become close during this time spent together. I feel a level of intimate propinquity, just by the nature of the somewhat embarrassing data I’ve shared so far regarding my health endeavors. I may list your full name, if ever called on, under the heading “trusted confidant”, merely based on your attentiveness during my awkward tales, with never so much as a derisive snicker. You’re doing me a solid, brah.
Now then. Since I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’d like to share some of the difficulties of being the only male at Jazzercise. It will be like a little therapy session between us, where I can unburden myself of some of these worrisome, often heavy emotional topics that plague a man’s consciousness during the early hours of the morning and keep him from restful sleep. On some level, the only respite I have is that I know these are deep, existential quandaries that most of us face when we stop to ponder life’s mysteries; ones that Prophets and Holy Men have prayed for without response, and the great philosophers of the ages have grappled with for millenia to no conclusion.
Jazzercise Problem #1: How much should I commit to a Booty Pop?
Jazzercise is a fully choreographed experience, with each song having a series of dance moves that go with it that you learn and eventually perfect. Some songs are comprised of a lot of jumping from foot to foot, weight transfers, and heavy plyometric moves that use your body weight for resistance. Other songs, notably Latin sounding ones, have a lot of hip / pelvis movement and salsa-style dancing. My favorite ones are the more kick-boxing oriented, usually done to techno music, with powerful jabs and punches and elbows throws in rapid succession.
The problematic ones I really don’t know how to handle, as a man, are the ones that are obviously written to show off movements we would consider very feminine, and vaguely sexual. For example, the “Booty Pop” is a move that resembles the hands-on-knees, butt stuck out, squatting, Betty Boop signature pose. There’s also moves like Shoulder Shimmies, where you shake your boobs from side to side, if one is lucky enough to be a woman sporting some, or unlucky enough to be a man sporting some. I feel I will never master this move, like I’ve been robbed of the very means of execution, and just limply twitch my torso about until the move is over like some palsied eunuch. There’s other ones, too, that come up maybe once or twice during a set if I have an instructor who likes girly songs. (Between us, the Meghan Trainor tunes like “your lips are moving” and “all about the bass” are just a menagerie of these choreographed feminine moves in rapid succession that make me wonder if I should just run in place during them, lest I look like a teenage girl in a summer camp talent show.)
How much should I really try to “sell” the Booty Pop and commit to perfecting the movement before I just look like a creepy weirdo? Its’s one of those issues i’m just going to have to put a pin in and report back on later, as my feelings mature on it.
One day in late January I trudged through the snow of the office building parking lot that houses the Jazzercise center I go to, removed my street shoes, and pushed inside. There, hanging on the wall by the front desk, was a glorious article of clothing – the prize one could win if the February fitness challenge goals were met. It was a teal blue, lacy tank top with a yellow silkscreened Jazzercise logo on it. The back portion, across the shoulders, was bound together in that way that women’s workout tops are; to reveal more of the bare shoulders and be less hot overall. It was stunning, and seemed to take on an angelic, radiant glow one could possibly read a book by if the power went out. I could see the hungry look in every woman’s eyes as they darted from classmate to classmate, sizing up their competition. This would be something they would strive for, win, and then wear to class to prove their superior piety. I, too, stared at it, transfixed, imagining my chest hair poking out from the holes in the lace front that would probably make me look like a dirty pool filter, removed for cleaning.
The problem was this: the fitness challenge was terribly difficult.
Jazzercise doesn’t measure you or your fitness progress in any real way, by pounds of weight or inches of waistband. They don’t track the grace of your Chasse across the room, give a congratulatory handshake for how few of your fellow classmates you kicked in the jaw with an errant Arabesque, or give away a trophy for “Most Improved Booty-Pop Technique”. You sign up, and they track attendance, and that’s it. Therefore, it’s the only real metric they can incent you to improve on.
Instructors would excitedly announce the details of the fitness challenge during each class, interrupting the sound of Bruno Mars’ feminine voice, to an anxious crowd. But the following difficulty of Lacy Tank Top attainment would elicit groans from the sweaty room. In order to win it, you needed to attend 30 classes in 35 days. “That tank top was as good as mine!!!”, I had initially thought. This was something I could readily do, because I regularly go to two 60 minute classes a day, back-to-back, in the evenings. But there was one catch that proved our undoing: only one class per day could count against this. You literally had to go 6 out of 7 days a week for 35 straight days.
Moreover, the computer system that tracked your attendance was not used to manage an event this momentous. This one went down to paper and pen – signed and dated forms showing your progress, presumably so that nobody could duplicitously conspire to log a friend into the digital system and cheat in order to win the prize. Why they did not require a notary witness, I never asked.
To our chagrin, this niggling facet ruled both my wife and I out of the running, since we were taking a week-long vacation to the Dominican Republic right in the middle of the challenge. Still, around 24 women at my center ( far more than was expected, and so more tank-tops had to be ordered) showed up every day and eventually won their prize, which were distributed with some fanfare during classes in early March. That said, I have not yet seen someone wear one to class. I’ve heard stories of women who win all of the various small Jazzercise-branded prizes from these challenges, for years on end, and keep them all in some Tupperware container in the attic.
There is no currently running challenge, and bare wall where that lacy item used to hang and inspire us all, already like some distant winter memory as the spring begins to break.
Hello, my internet friend. We have a lot of catching up to do, but I will do my best to give you the back story quickly so as to bring you up to speed.
Let me ask you a question: Have you considered inviting Jazzercise into your heart? No? Well, surely you’re aware that Jazzercise didn’t just end in the 1980’s, in a desperate, languished flurry of spandex leotards and legwarmers. Contrary to urban legend, the last person wearing sparkly Keds didn’t give a sad nod of realization, pause the Rick Springfield cassette, towel off their furrowed brow, and turn out the lights for good. The zealots kept it going, refusing to call each sassy hip walk their last. Indeed – they moved it underground, away from public scrutiny, slowly burgeoning in determination and strength of numbers. In rented halls and dark church basements, the penitent toned and shaped, while, above ground, fitness fads and gimmicks came and went with the passage of decades.
It was dabbling in one of these latest-fitness-craze apostasies that started my wife, Melissa, down a path towards true belief, and which would inevitably cause my eventual transition as well. This was a massive surprise to me at the time because Melissa had remarked only weeks before that “Working out was for suckers”. She had, for years, deemed herself a “non-exercise person” with a level of fierce resolution so as to be understood by those around her as a core tenant of her being. It was to my complete surprise that one day my 34 year old younger sister, and my 37 year old spouse began to go to Zumba class together, casually. It was being offered at the community center on a somewhat loose schedule due to the instructor frequently cancelling last minute. Melissa enjoyed it, initially, but began to want to have more consistency to her workout schedule than the instructor’s availability allowed. Alternatives were sought. There was a full blown Jazzercise center around the block from our house that offered 40 classes a week, and a $40 flat monthly fee to go to as many as you want.
Cautiously, Melissa began to attend, first by herself, and then with my sister. They eventually abandoned the path of Zumba altogether, and committed themselves to learn the moves and routines of the new order. Months passed.
Melissa was never overweight by any visual measure, but after months of diligent exercise she began showing a real change in her shape. “TOUCH MY ABS!” she would demand, lifting her shirt up and pointing, as I ate a huge hoagie on the couch. “FEEL HOW TIGHT MY QUADS ARE!”, yelled at me in the early hours of the morning while I slept; my arm pulled by the wrist from the warm covers, my limp finger thrust into taught leg tissue. It felt as if my hands started to callous from having to check my wife’s musculature with such regularity.
Around the house, slowly, the conversational topics were shifting away from our usual fare. I would find myself left out of discussions between Melissa and sister, Beth, debating which Pitbull song had the best choreography or which instructor gave the hardest workout; inducing more post-exercise soreness, and seen as a badge of progress. Weekends consisted of trips to LuluLemon, eschewing the Target brand workout uniforms that had sufficed until only recently, tossed away and replaced with expensive name brands boasting upgraded fit, feel and style. “Sassy Pants” – LuluLemon leggings with wild and dramatic color patterns that were celebrated in class, became a term used with some frequency around the converted. Discontinued models of Nike trainers which my wife preferred, but were otherwise unavailable on the retail market, were sourced on ebay and stacked like cord-wood in spare bedroom closets, waiting for their turn to be called into active duty.
Those who attend regular classes are always under the watchful eye of the instructors, scanning movements and behavior, gauging level of interest, until such point as they are asked to join the ranks and become instructors themselves. After months of training, movement screening, CPR certification, and memorizing a full hour of routines, Melissa was judged and deemed worthy by the council of Jazzercise Elders one fateful day.
This began a new chapter in her life, and in mine. Her former sewing room was cleared of its furniture, and a giant mirror hung on the wall with routines scribbled out on it with a dry erase marker. Each morning I am woken up at 5:30am by the bass lines of Ricky Martin and other Top40s artists seeping through the wall that splits us. This is layered with the sound of Melissa’s cheery voice calling out the moves to her class of our 3 attending Chihuahuas, ignoring their lack of interest in following along with the moves in practice repetition. Stacks of printed out spreadsheets of routines, teaching schedules with highlighted names, and DVDs full of choreographed songs litter the floor of her Jazzercise Dojo.
With such radical environmental changes in my household, it was only a matter of time until I, too, was pulled in to its clutches. This blog will serve as the journal of my experiences as a 37 year old male convert. Indeed, the ONLY male who is a Jazzercise regular at our local center besides an Pakistani senior citizen who comes on days opposite his country line dancing classes. I call it “Mazzercise: How I learned to stop worrying and love Rond de Jambes”.