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Step, tap, work it out

January 7, 2010

I am slightly ashamed to admit that as part of my off-season training program, I’ve been working out to aerobics videos. Netflix is pretty great for this; there is a large selection of videos available on Watch It Now that I can watch on my TV via my Roku. That thing is one of the best investments I’ve ever made, and they are not paying me to say that, I promise. I watch more on Watch It Now than I do via DVDs, and even canceled my cable package as a result. It’s a life-changing little gadget.

I put a lot of exercise videos on my queue; things like pilates, yoga, and several cardio workouts. I’ve since discovered that I am not very flexible, and a real pilates class would kick my ass. I’ve also made some dismaying discoveries about cardio videos:

  1. Aerobics instructors are annoying. I know, DUH.  I’ve known this for most of my life. Both my parents were devotees of local Boulder celebrity fitness instructor Linda Kennoy, and they dragged me along to several aerobics classes during my childhood. Nice lady, but get her in front of a room full of sweaty middle-aged aerobicizers, and she’ll do jumping jacks on your last nerve. Perky till the end. I have little patience for such people.
  2. There’s always the token “fat” person in the video. Usually they’re situated near the back of the group. There are lots of shots of them getting down during the dance breakdowns, almost as if the producers are saying, “Look! Even a fat person can do this! How inspirational!”
  3. There’s almost always the token male. He’s near the back too. Ninety-nine percent of the time, he looks ridiculous. You never realize how gendered the dance routines are until you see some guy doing the “sunshine hips” move and trying to maintain his dignity at the same time. At some point, you know the instructor will yell back, “Hey Matt, how ya doin’? Feeling it yet?” in a patronizing voice (much like she’ll do for the fat person). Matt will respond as if he is having the time of his life. You know he’s counting the minutes until he gets his paycheck.
  4. Token black girls–check. They always have the funkiest dance moves, yet you can see them cringe whenever the whiter-than-white instructor yells something like, “Get down wit’ yo’ bad self, girl! Booty pop! Booty pop!”
  5. Instructors are racist.* I nearly turned off a video because the instructor felt the need to change her accent to match the dance she taught. In an “island mix” she affected a Jamaican accent. “It’s de islands, mon!” For the salsa portion, she said, “OK my leetle Latinas! Yahyahyahyahyaaaaaaaaaah!” In the “hip-hop diva” dance, she started talking like a black girl from Harlem. Or the best she could, which was very, very painful. I kept watching because I was curious to see just how offensive she could get. Answer: VERY. Unfortunately, this is not unusual. Any hip-hop dance will lure the instructor into her version of jive talk and Latin dances will instantly induce a faux Spanish accent. IT NEVER FAILS.
  6. You would never be caught dead busting out these moves in a club. I don’t really know what the kids are doing nowadays, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the grapevine-side tap combo that these chicks taught me.
  7. The outfits are cringeworthy. I don’t do aerobics classes at gyms too often, but last time I went nobody was wearing baggy camos with one leg cut out, fishnet armwarmers, and a newsboy cap. I’m in my living room in my tshirt and shorts laughing at the ridiculousness of the outfits and hair of the people in the video. Who are these stylists? Fire them. The dancers might as well be wearing shirts with blinking neon signs that say “POSER”.

OK, so we’ve got sizism, sexism, racism, and generally annoying people teaching embarrassing dance moves in embarrassing outfits. It’s a perfect storm of everything I despise. Yet I still follow along with a variety of these 3 or 4 times a week. Why? I tell myself it’s good to supplement my weightlifting with some cardio, lest I return to skating in a month with zero endurance. And the dance steps provide a good way to practice footwork and coordination, which is really helpful for on-skates agility. They’re cheaper than a gym membership, let me work out at home, and are more entertaining than running, which is free but boring (and it’s too cold for that now, anyway). And I hate to admit it, but it’s really, really satisfying when I finally get a certain combination and can work it out with the precision of the dancers in the video. It’s a private, tiny victory, but satisfying nonetheless.

Who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll be up in the club and feel the need to bust out that awesome kickball-change step-tap cha-cha-cha in my strategically ripped sweatpants and halter top and everyone will be impressed as hell. JUST YOU WAIT. It’ll happen.

*Edit 1/10/10: Obviously, I am neither the first nor last person to notice this. This post from Sociological Images discusses race in a Pilates video.

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