Susan and Cate have very different experiences of a retro 80s/90s workout

Last Saturday, the magnificent Alex did a “fun” version of our usual Saturday virtual conditioning class, dressing in a spandex leotard and fanny pack and time-traveling us through Jane Fonda stretches, toe taps, grapevines, tae bo and a Richards Simmons inspired dance number. Alex wasn’t even born in the era of VCR workouts — but she fully committed to the moment, beginning with Don’t You Want Me and ending with Maniac. Cate loved it. Susan did not. Here, we’re going to have a dialogue about why.

Even though I did the Jane Fonda workout in high school with the aid of a book and a vinyl record, I never wore shiny spandex (Cate)

Cate: I have to confess, this was my idea. We were doing kickboxing or something a few weeks ago, and I was complaining about it as I always do, and said I wished we could do some 80s or 90s style aerobics. I even asked for some grapevine. And it struck young Alex’ imagination. And I’ll admit it — I really, really enjoyed it flinging my body around without weights or much attention to form. But you expressed trepidation about it even before we started. What was that about, do you think?

Susan: First of all, I forgive you for having this idea. How could you know what it would do to me? How could I know really? I did have an inkling though, as soon as you said the workout was 80’s themed, I believe I said, “We aren’t going to be doing aerobics are we?” You were kind and didn’t say, “Hell, yes!”, although I know understand you may have felt very much like saying that. There is nothing at all that I enjoy about flinging myself around in space without regard to form as a form of exercise. Dancing? Love it. Toe tapping, grape vining, bending and reaching quickly in sets of eight? Hard no. Something terrible happens inside me when I have to keep up to a beat for the purpose of exercise. I feel frozen, unbalanced and I want to run away. Form, precision and a mindful pace are my safe zones.

Alex in her 80s workout cosplay

Cate: That’s impressive self-awareness. I did have a deep moment of joy during the class when I realized I MISS the simple movement of toe tapping and turns — and I was trying to get underneath *why* I enjoyed it so much. It’s because it echoes the moment in 1995 when I moved from being a sedentary, unfit, unhappy smoker in 1995 to a person who could start to see herself in the fitness world. Going to my first aerobics class at the age of 30, at the athletic centre at U of T, was actually a profound act of empowerment for me. I was scared and anxious — so much imposter syndrome and fear that I’d be seen as a “fat girl” who couldn’t keep up. I’d had comments like that from total strangers while hiking.

But then I found my body could do these silly movements — and that no one really cared if I was off the beat. And I enjoyed sweating and moving my body for the first time, really, since high school gym. When I reflect on it, it was a much gentler transition into movement than going to a 2019 bootcamp class would have been. If I’d been dragged to a 2020 conditioning class in 1995, I’d have been completely intimidated and felt like a complete failure. But a little marching in place? That I could do. And it was empowering. I think that’s part of what I was channeling on Saturday — my inner courageous self who started a fitness path at 30. But you greeted a different version of your past self.

Susan: Totally different version! As a young person, I had terrible experiences of gym class and anything to do with organized sport. In retrospect, I realize that my body was actually in pain during those classes with my Arthritis just underneath the surface, but not bad enough for me to acknowledge. I internalized I was just bad at fitness, most especially group fitness. I was good at skiing and horseback riding, where I could be alone and figure things out in my own time. My introduction to more formal fitness was Pilates and that is the epitome of slow and precise. I found out that I already had a strong core from flinging babies and toddlers around for a few years and my Arthritis was under control. I excelled at it and, because it is also inherently rehabilitative, it made me feel so good. I started to add a little yoga here and there and at around 35, felt brave enough to try to run. At that time, I was also surrounded with people, including my partner at the time, who valued fitness more than my family or my husband had. That community kept drawing me in further and further but always things that I had total control over (running, biking, horses, pilates, starting to play with weights).

Cate: That all makes sense. It really underlines how deeply our past relationships with movement haunt us — and how so many of us get excluded from seeing ourselves as « people who can occupy fitness space « because our entry points are so disempowering. Or actively traumatizing.

Susan: I like this image of our past relationship to exercise “haunting” us. It is like a ghost in my body. You were joking with me in text mid work out “Face your fears! Work it through!” or something like that. I suppose it is possible but I don’t know if I want to or have to work that hard in a pandemic right now! I can choose to do other things as they please me and there’s so much that does please me. For instance, like my current growing love for a Yin Yoga, where there are 6 poses in an hour and I just breathe endlessly into all of them, marvelling at how my body shifts. I love that so much!!! I have a feeling some of the other bloggers on here would rather poke their eyes out with a fork than spend an hour of yoga like that. This all comes back to find something you like, don’t do something you hate unless there is a really really good reason (health, a performance goal that is important, your partner begging you to just try it once). Thanks for thinking this through with me :).

Susan and Cate snowshoeing a couple of weeks ago, no spandex in sight

Cate: I get it! I would nope out of any team sport in a nanosecond. I do not ever need to re-engage with the part of me that always disappoints my team because I can’t do anything that involves a projectile or a stick. But I secretly will admit that I could do that arm flailing Maniac routine every day. Even though Karyn broke her toe on her yoga mat doing it.

I’m going off to scroll youtube for the Jane Fonda workout now.

5 thoughts on “Susan and Cate have very different experiences of a retro 80s/90s workout

  1. I have so many thoughts and feelings I might have to write my own blog post in response for Monday! I’m somewhere in the middle in terms of responses to that kind of workout.

  2. Great post! It brought back memories of hamming it up with friends, doing the “Maniac”Jennifer Beals stompy/head-swinging thing from Flashdance (which I totally loved and watched many times on VHS!)

    What I remember about aerobics is mainly feeling first, scorn (so suburban! so unhip! so non-punk!), and then a little embarrassment when I was huffing and puffing in an actual class.

    Now I feel admiration and pride for all of us– those who worked at it in the back of the room, those who preened in front of the mirror, and those of us who found other ways to move that fed us. It’s not easy, being a woman who wants and needs to move. Not then, not now. I’m proud of all of us.

  3. I never liked aerobics (undiagnosed exercise induced asthma), but it was the one fitness activity my mom truly seemed to enjoy. Pretty sure the community and friendships she built being a ‘regular’ had a lot to do with it.

  4. As someone who also HATED team sports and still do, I don’t hate aerobics. I am not naturally coordinated and so I don’t go out of my way to do more choreographed stuff. But, gym was a bad experience for me, as for many of us, and the one bright spot I remember from Grade 9 (the last year I was required to take it) was the aerobics section. I felt like I could participate and not worry about the dreaded team sports, etc. Plus, I will admit, it was co-ed and I enjoyed watching some of the guys workout…
    I also remember attempting to do the “20 minute workout” on my lunch breaks etc. when I was in junior high. I remember, even then, making fun of the overly sexualized performance, but I still found it fun.
    I think I’m “just” young enough that Jane Fonda workouts were more a thing my parents did and never did her workouts but I did similar ones now and then.
    I think I would fall into the Cate camp here and enjoy a nostalgic workout. Also, because of the music.
    Susan – while I find some slower yoga frustrating sometimes, depending on the state I am in at the time, I have really enjoyed Yin yoga now and then!

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