fitness · Guest Post · tennis

Loving Serena (Guest Post)

by Lori Watson

            Many of us were rooting hard for Serena last week, and many of us have been rooting for her on and off the court for over two decades now.   Her loss to Naomi Osaka was heartbreaking and hard to watch; it never seemed like she hit her Serena-stride.   Were she to lose at playing her best, it would be easier to accept, I think.  After the match, the reporters at her press conference and many subsequent opiners immediately zeroed in on whether she would or should retire, interpreting her gestures at the end of the match as a secret signal that she would never play at the Australian Open again. This may be it, they said.  In her presser, they hounded and hounded her for a statement about retirement.   So much so, she shut down the interview, declared “I am done,” and left the room appearing tearful.  That moment and the further speculation in the press got me, one super-sized Serena fan, super-sized pissed off.

I began to reflect on the narrative framing the last few years of Serena’s career—the race to 24, beat Margaret Court—the homophobic villain in the story—the can she do it as a mom, can she have it all, be it all, is the G.O.A.T?   Few humans could survive under that pressure, let along thrive.  Meanwhile, she has played four grand-slam finals since her return from maternity leave, two semis and one quarterfinal—in four years!  Few players on the tour will ever achieve even that much less is her standing ever likely to be touched, the 23 grand slam titles, the doubles-titles, the gold medals, the 73 WTA titles, and on and on and on.  And, yet she and we, her fans, feel the pain of the one elusive, so far, accolade: the 24th.  Of course, that accolade is false, premised on a false narrative—Margaret Court played prior to the Open era, so what that she won 24 under much less competitive circumstances?  Serena need not account for herself to any of us—not the media, not her fans, not the 24ers.  She is still playing unbelievable tennis.  If she were anyone other than Serena, the talk of retirement would be laughable in the face of her achievements in just the last four years.  A player that consistently makes it to the finals, semis, quarterfinals, wins other WTA tournaments on the regular is a super-star on that basis alone. 

Our need for a hero, projected onto Serena, through the false narrative of 24 (ride or die), needs to end.  Of course, we want to see her silence any critic once and for all.  Of course, the power of her will to win, her spirit, inspires us to believe that if you just want it bad enough, anything can happen.  But, Serena has nothing left to prove—to herself, to you, to me, to the world.  She is the greatest of all time, about that there can be no doubt.  But, like any hero, the tension between wanting them to prove it again and waiting for them to fall to the Earth drives the criticism.  Were she to take that 24th, then the march to 25 begins, or the could she have surpassed it only if… she didn’t become a mom, she played more when younger (she and Venus took time away from tennis to cultivate other aspects of their lives and were roundly criticized for it), and on and on.  We live to love our heroes; we live to take them down.  But, not this hero, not this time.  Serena can play just as much or as little as she likes, and I am gonna’ watch, grateful for every moment she lets us witness her.

Serena Williams, Getty Images

Lori Watson is a Professor of Philosophy at Washington University in St Louis. She’s also a Serena Williams super fan.

Guest Post · winter

You can fit fitness into almost anything (Guest post)

by Diane Harper

I belong to an experimental archaeology group that focuses on the early Middle Ages in Northern Europe. What does this have to do with fitness? Surprisingly, it is a great way to move our bodies and test our strength. When you work the blacksmith’s bellows for hours, or gather wood for cooking and chop it by hand, you work muscles in ways you never do at your office job. A friend and I have been working on some additional fitness-related experiments. She made a replica of a “backpack”, and I have been testing out theories on how bone skates were used. 

Bone skates have been found in various places including the Viking site in York, England. They don’t have blades, so they don’t work like modern skates; rather, they were strapped onto the feet, probably with leather thongs, and the skaters may have used with poles to propel themselves along. We know this because there is a woodcut from 1555 showing skaters using a single pole. Last weekend, my friend and I headed to the nearby lake to test our our equipment. We had a lovely walk through the woods (leather-soled shoes can be quite chilly), and at the lake I strapped on my skates and “skated” up and down a section of cleared ice. The motion that I find most efficient is very similar to classic cross-country skiing. I have two wooden poles tipped with pointy pieces of pig bone. They give me a little bit of grip on the ice to improve my forward momentum, but they definitely aren’t as good as proper ski poles with a metal point.

Here is a closeup of my feet, wearing homemade leather shoes, strapped to a pair of  flattened cow bones. 

The advantage of the bone skates is that some snow or slush doesn’t hinder progress as much as it does for modern skates. The disadvantage is that I am rarely able to get a good glide; mostly I just shuffle along. This is largely an equipment problem. My skates are still rough on the bottom, even through they are becoming smoother with repeated use. I need to smooth them more, and may even try waxing them to reduce the friction. Still, I stay nice and warm, and I get to look fabulous in a dress and fur-trimmed hat. Wool may take longer to dry than modern microfibres, but it stays warm even when wet. Even my feet were warm on the skates, because the bone kept them up off the ice. We were out for almost two hours on a cold, blustery day.

Image – two masked women in medieval clothing, walking in the woods.

Diane Harper loves to experiment with historical cooking and crafts.

fitness · Guest Post · menopause

Hit Play, not Pause (Guest Post)

by Michele A.

Two years ago, when I was 49, I broke my ankle while I was out riding on local trails. I wasn’t being a daredevil and the fall was unremarkable; I just fell in exactly the wrong way. When sharing my story with various people, I was taken aback by the reaction I got from several women who all told me that I was too old to be doing such things and I should stop.

One of these women (I’ll refer to her as Nancy) was a colleague I respect and admire who I have known for over 20 years. She has mentored many women in our organization to successfully navigate their careers and has provided solid advice to countless mothers on how to effectively balance a career and a family. Nancy has both daughters and granddaughters All these factors made me especially surprised and hurt to hear this comment from her.

Shortly after I had my fall there were three other women close to my age in my office who sustained injuries. One acquired a tear her shoulder after slipping in a neighbor’s driveway after having had several drinks at a party. The second missed a bottom step while carrying a laundry basket and fractured her foot. The third broke her ankle from losing her balance and lurching forward while she was a passenger on a speedboat outing on a lake in Italy.

It made me wonder, did anyone tell them they were too old to be drinking at parties or doing laundry or boating in a foreign country? I doubt it. Would Nancy or the other women who told me I was too old to be riding a bike have said the same thing to a man my age? Perhaps, but I doubt that too.

After stewing about this for some time and then reflecting upon it further, I concluded that Nancy and the other women weren’t intentionally being sexist or ageist, but they just didn’t get it. They had never taken part in this kind of adventure sport and didn’t know other women their age that did. Because, let’s face it, there aren’t that many of us. By “us” I mean women over 45 who are fitness-focused, competitive and/or performance minded.

We are women who are out adventuring and using their bodies to do things like get themselves across many miles of various kinds of terrain, over hills and through bodies of water. Many of us are there, or have been there, or are looking to be there again, following injury or disability or other life adjustment (or, perhaps ,a global pandemic…)

Recently I discovered the podcast “Hit Play Not Pause” and am so glad I did. It’s for “active, performance-minded women who aren’t willing to put their best years behind them.” I’m certainly not willing to give up doing the things I love now that I’m over 50, and I hope to continue doing them for many years to come.

This podcast is a godsend because I’ve been experiencing unpleasant and frustrating things with my body in the past few years that I don’t understand. Short of comparing notes with friends, information about being active in menopausal years is hard to come by. Not much research has been done on active women in this age group.

I’ve gotten lots of practical advice listening to the podcast: herbal remedies that can reduce hot flashes; ways to keep my lady parts from getting dry; eating and exercising approaches that can help with weight gain brought on by changing hormones. Specifically, I’ve learned that while we may tend to gravitate towards long, slow endurance workouts, we also need to include some high intensity work, like Plyometrics, to replace in our muscles what we’ve lost from reduced estrogen. (Listen to episode 1 for the science behind this.)  

I also found out that we’re never too old to be doing Kegel exercises! It can help with incontinence.  (Tune into episode 4 to find out more.) These were all useful tips, but the most important things I’ve gotten out of listening to the podcast are a mindset and a community.

If you don’t have much time to listen to podcasts, there’s one particular episode I’d highly recommend – “Joy Goals with Kristen Dieffenbach”. There’s so much good coaching in it about how to manage your own self-image and how to think about your goals amidst a body that is inevitably going to change whether you like it or not.

I walked away from this episode inspired and also with a powerful realization. We – the over-45 women need to be the role models for the generation behind us. Our own role models for being active over 45 are few and far between. Instead of worrying aloud about the weight gain or critically eyeing the crepe-like skin below the leg of your bike shorts, appreciate all that your body has done for you. Show younger women what is possible because of strength and determination. And show them that you can keep doing it for many, many years. Let’s pave the path for them and show them how it’s done, shall we?

fitness · Guest Post · swimming

Adapting (Guest Post)

by Diane Harper

This year has been full of adaptions and adjustments, not least to our fitness routines. Some adaptations have been relatively small; when the pools closed in March, it was no big deal to move outdoors once it got a bit warmer, because I swim outdoors year-round. When the roads to our favourite swim spot became impossible because everyone else suddenly discovered the lake, my group pivoted quickly to staying at the river spot we normally use in spring and fall, and we figured out longer swims to get some distance in. When I didn’t need to cycle to work every day because I was working from home, I developed after work walking routines and even took up cycling to buy groceries.

Other adaptations have been more challenging. Ballet class in my living room means no more big movements across a huge studio floor. For months my barre was the back of a chair. Most jumping and pirouettes are gone – partly so we don’t crash into furniture, and partly because it’s hard for a teacher on Zoom to give individual corrections to people in tiny squares, all moving at slightly different times because of lags in the music.

So far in 2021, adaptations to my routine have become more important than ever. Like many I started January with Yoga With Adriene 30 days series on YouTube. I can’t do crow. I couldn’t do crow last year, either, and I gave up on the series because the failure intimidated me so much. Despite last year’s failure, I dipped in and out of yoga practice throughout the year, and joined a lunch-hour chair yoga series offered through my work this fall. That instructor offers lots of adaptations for people who might not be up to doing certain stretches. I was intrigued to hear her reminding us, twice a week, that we could switch things up in ways that were more suited to how we were feeling that day. That acknowledgement of alternate possibilities has been really helpful. This year, despite that dreaded crow pose showing up around day 19, I kept right on going with Adriene. I simply decided that crouching with my hands on the floor is a good alternative to crow (just getting to a crouch was plenty for me). Similarly, her happy hop to the front of the mat for forward fold, and graceful moves to lunge then plank are all ungainly scrambles for me, but just fine because I’m still showing up and having fun.

Some of the adaptations are dictated by our physical abilities. I started a  dryland training program with a local swim club in January; it is an hour of HIIT led by an athletic youngster. I had never done a HIIT workout before the Christmas break, so I am learning to take advantage of every adaptation she offers in order to make it through the hour without collapsing in a puddle. Other adaptations are more mental. Due to the latest lockdowns in Ontario, I get a two hour window to ride my horse just once a week (she lives at a horse boarding facility on the edge of town).  For several weeks in a row, Fancy didn’t want to be caught, so I spent an hour or more circling the haybale trying to get close enough to put her halter on. I couldn’t ride, so I counted steps instead. It wasn’t the workout I had planned, but I was outside and moving in the fresh air.

Has COVID forced you to adapt your fitness routines too? What have you changed and how has it worked for you?

Image: Diane in a colourful face mask, with Fancy, a bay horse wearing a blue halter.

Diane Harper is an aging athlete in Ottawa, who is slowly reconciling herself to the fact that she may never be able to do all the things.

cycling · Guest Post

Coming Back to Fitness (Guest Post)

by Shannon Dea

I am a late blooming, on-again-off-again exerciser. In September, I flicked the switch back to the “on” position.

For many years, I was convinced that exercise and sport weren’t for me. I was born with club feet and for the first five or six years of my life wore casts and then leg braces. During this period, I had very limited mobility; so, I spent most of my time with books and paper. When I started to walk – comparatively late in childhood – I was awkward, ungainly and slow.

I also had an eye condition that left me stereoblind (that is, without depth perception – or at least, not much). So, in addition to having legs that didn’t quite move in the usual way and a general lack of fitness from spending more time reading than playing outside, I also had a tendency to walk into lampposts and fall up (yes – up!) stairs. 

I gained the reputation for being good at school and bad at gym. And I bought it. It was so much a part of my identity that I was a klutzy weakling that it never even occurred to me that practice might help. Year after year, I got A’s in school and the consolation pin in Participaction.

It was pregnancy that changed all of that for me – in particular, a pre-natal yoga class. Having avoided all forms of exercise up until that point, I don’t remember what inspired me to sign up. But I suspect that the fact that it was geared for pregnant people made it feel less like fitness to me. It was a gentle yoga class with slow movements and deep breathing, and I found it super boring, but I liked the teacher. So, I continued taking classes with her even after the baby was born. 

When Maya stopped offering gentle classes and started offering Ashtanga (power yoga), I remember being afraid of making the switch, but I trusted Maya and she encouraged me to give it a try. Compared to the classes I had taken before, Ashtanga was fast, hot and high energy. It was hard work. But unlike the pre-natal classes, it wasn’t boring; it was thrilling. I started to do Ashtanga daily and for the first time in my life I became fit. I was strong, muscular and flexible, something I had never experienced before. I became passionate about Ashtanga and took teacher training with some of the top Ashtanga teachers in the world. When Maya moved to another town, I took over as the local Ashtanga teacher. That was my jam during my late 20s and early 30s.

And then I went to grad school. Between grad school and raising my kid, somehow my yoga practices became less and less frequent until eventually I was quite sedentary again. You might wonder how someone could revel in their newfound fitness as much as I did and then become sedentary again. I don’t really know how that works – whether it’s because my default for so many years had been not exercising or whether it happens to everyone. 

In any case, I was professionally busy but physically sedentary for about six years, until a colleague at my new job invited me to join a departmental fun run team. That invitation sparked the second period of fitness in my life. Running was terrible at first, but for some reason I stuck it out until I was a fast, strong runner, who I learned to my own great surprise loved the second hour of running even more than the first. How was that even possible? 

During those years (my early 40s), my fitness was fueled both by my love of the endorphins I experienced during exercise and by the mutual support from the friends I exercised with. We ran, we cycled, we swam, we kayaked, we did aerobics classes. And races! We did 5 ks, 10 ks, triathlons, and eventually a half marathon. I was fit and strong and super excited about exercise. And then I sustained a knee injury that revealed some pretty substantial arthritic degeneration in both knees. No more running. I was so bummed not to be able to run that I stopped doing everything else too. It was a kind of mourning period, I guess, but I never really snapped out of it.

In the years since I stopped running (and doing much else, fitness-wise), I have often felt shame and grief over becoming sedentary again, and in a bunch of ways, that seemed to make it harder to recommit to fitness. Brains are weird.

I’m 51 now, and in September I started a demanding new job in a new city and province. I decided that all of that change makes this the perfect time to turn over a new leaf. But we’re in the middle of a pandemic and the winters here are hard. I knew I wasn’t going to go to the gym or reliably exercise outdoors year round. So I bought a fancy exercise bike and since the fall I’ve been religiously working out on it three times a week for about an hour at a time. At first, it was boring and the time on the bike really dragged. (Has it really only been 5 seconds since the last time I checked? Ugh!) 

But after only a couple of sessions, I started to get strong again, and started to experience those lovely endorphins again. I am panting and sweating again for the first time since I stopped running, and I’m loving it. With each workout, I get stronger and faster. I’m still at that stage where every workout is a new PR. When I’m not working out, I’m stronger, calmer and more energized.

Will I lose momentum again like I did with yoga and running? Maybe. Probably. But that’s ok. People change, bodies change, schedules change. There are worse things than being an on-again-off-again exerciser, and I have enough stress without adding that worry to the pile. For now, I feel great. And every time I get fit again, it lays down a memory for my future self that I can always get back on the proverbial (and in this case, literal) bike.  

Shannon in a red helmet in front of the University of Regina entrance

Shannon is a Philosophy professor, a Dean, and a recovering desk potato. She philosophizes, deans, and exercises on Treaty 4 territory.

fitness · Guest Post

Better balance through horseback riding (Guest post)

by Diane Harper

Woman in a black helmet riding a dark brown horse in an arena.

I started riding as a survival mechanism when my daughter was young and I had to sit in an unheated arena watching her lessons. By January of the first year, I decided it had to be warmer on a horse, so I started taking lessons with her. It turned out to be a wonderful mother-daughter bonding time. We rode together in various classes for years. She loved (and continues to love) jumping, while I adored dressage. We made friends we still keep in touch with – former classmates, coaches, and people we met while volunteering at events. I learned to ride a variety of horses, each one of whom taught me new things. Horses, just like people, have stronger and weaker sides, are more or less flexible, and have good and bad days. I learned to be aware of how each horse was different – every single day – and how to adjust in order to get as much as possible from every ride.

As my daughter grew up, she struggled with some mental health challenges; horses provided a place where she could get exercise, fresh air, be responsible for a large non-judgemental animal who relied on her, and build confidence as she used her relatively tiny body to guide a 2,000 lb animal with its own ideas. This was a form of balance I had never previously considered. All those sappy books and movies about young girls and their horses suddenly made sense. But teenaged girls aren’t the only ones who et something from being around horses. Kids and adults with physical and mental disabilities, as well as parolees and people dealing with addictions all benefit from equine therapy.

Eventually, my daughter’s love of horses led to us acquiring Fancy. She did all the research, took me to see horses for sale throughout the Ottawa Valley and Western Quebec, and even to southern Ontario. We settled on an off-the-track thoroughbred who knew her paces, but was a bit older than we wanted, needed some TLC, and turned out to hate being indoors for more than the time it takes to groom and saddle her. She does remarkably well living outdoors year-round at a boarding farm where she has her own little her of mares, a large shelter, and people who feed her grain every day and ensure she has constant access to water and hay or pasture. It makes horse ownership manageable since we live in the city and can’t get out to ride or visit every single day.

Fancy has been healthy, but she is now almost 19 years old and has a bit of arthritis in her hind legs. I am fat and I need a much stronger core. I have had foot surgery and a broken arm, both of which kept me out of the saddle for months. Even after being cleared to ride, I had old injuries and tight muscles so I constantly struggle to find the centre of my saddle, keep my weight evenly distributed in my stirrups, and have my spine and shoulders straight but flexible. Fancy is a very honest horse; if I don’t get things right, she adjusts her body to compensate. Her head up, tiny steps, or crooked body and neck are all signs I need to correct my position. When she races or refuses to listen, I know it is time to engage my core muscles so I can use my seat more effectively to tell her what I want her to do.  When I get the adjustment right, I can see (or feel) an immediate change. She will stretch her neck down to engage her back muscles, step more freely with a bit of sway in her bum, and bend or go perfectly straight, as required. My daughter and I balance our time and Fancy’s training. She jumps and canters during her rides; I do circles, loops and other bending exercises to ensure Fancy is as flexible and balanced as possible, focusing on walk and trot. It turns out that horses also have a preference for one side. Fancy’s strongest and least flexible side is the same as my weakest side, so I really need to work my weak muscles to get her to bend.

With the arrival of COVID, lessons with my coach were cancelled, and have been put on hold again with the latest lockdown. I’m really happy that I have finally reached a level in my own fitness and understanding that I am comfortable riding Fancy on my own and know how to adjust my riding based on what she is telling me. I will never be a brilliant dressage rider, but I being confident, safe, and able to use my imagination as I pretend to be in the Grand Prix ring feels pretty good.

Back view of a woman in a brown coat leading a brown horse towards a blue barn.

Diane Harper works for the federal government in Ottawa. She loves to break the stereotype of the stodgy bureaucrat by trying new things and pushing limits as often as possible.

cycling · fitness · Guest Post · motivation

Like An Athlete—2021 Theme Song (Guest Post)

Here’s a song of happiness to start your 2021.

May it inspire you as you start your day of whatever activity brings you joy.   Como un atleta (“like an athlete”) was the theme song for the 2020 Vuelta a España, the professional cycling race around Spain last November. The song played as the pro cyclists gathered for the start, during the global television broadcast, and on every official video highlight.

Did I think I would get sick of this song I heard at least 100 times while obsessively watching the Vuelta?


Did I?


I loved it!

It’s bouncy and inspired me to tap my feet, dance around my living room, and go ride my bike.

Written and performed by Venezuelan artist Carlos Baute, the video shows silhouettes of various athletes with Spanish lyrics written on the screen.

Here’s the start of the song, a great motivation to start your day: (my loose translation of  Spanish lyrics into English):

“Today, I get up in the morning,

with the dream of changing the world.

I drink a small coffee (cafecito)

I feel the sun that tells me everything can change.

My eyes that sing, my voice that dances”

Baute’s lyrics also convey the pain of the COVID-19 pandemic:

“These months have seemed without time and unending

Sometimes you have to rise to it like an athlete

For those that leave you

You are forever hurt

It is not so easy to put on my shoes

But in this life you have to

continue fighting and pedaling”

For me, the song perfectly encapsulates this moment: we are hurting, we are sad, some of us are exhausted, some of us are devastated.  But we must rise to the challenge of this moment like an athlete rises to her challenges.

Start by simply getting up in the morning (me levantando). Keep moving, keep on keeping on.

I love when international athletic events have theme songs. Here’s a good one from 2008 EuroCup (soccer/football) “Feel the Rush,” by Shaggy from Jamaica:

Finally, you may be familiar with another great Vuelta a España theme song from 1987: Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine’s “Conga”:

Here’s the whole Vuelta theme song list with videos:

I hope you find a happy theme song for 2021.

If you have any recommendations, let us know!

cycling · Guest Post

Low-tech cycling in my basement (Guest post)

By Diane Harper

FIFI bloggers often post about their cycling adventures and I read them all with a sense of awe. To me, cycling is a purely utilitarian thing, a way to commute around the city. That attitude developed as a kid living in France and then Germany, where older folks wearing suits or dresses, riding their one-speed bicycles loaded down with groceries, passed me regularly. I don’t even feel a little bit bad about that; high school friends had hilarious stories about biking trips in the Swiss Alps, where they were barely able to move their fancy bikes uphill, only to have some old fellow on his farmer bike go sailing by.

I work relatively close to home, so my second-hand bicycle and flowing dresses are adequate; in fact, the dresses are deliberate camouflage to tell drivers on the busy streets that I am not one of “those speed-obsessed guys in spandex” that so many people blame for accidents. The blue floral child’s helmet adds to the faintly ridiculous look that I hope makes me look like less of a threat and keeps cars well away (the mixed blessing of having such a small head I can’t find an adult helmet that fits).

This is me at my one-and-only try a triathlon a decade ago on my retro commuter bike, complete with panniers.

Grimacing woman in shorts and a tank top, riding a bicycle with a canal in the background.

Clearly, I am not the target market for Zwift and the makers of fancy indoor trainers. However, with the arrival of COVID 19, I started to think about riding my bike indoors this winter, since some of my winter fitness options had disappeared. Someone in my neighbourhood posted a trainer for sale during the summer, so I jumped on it. A few weeks ago, I set it up, along with a television so I could watch something while pedaling.

Blue and white bicycle on a trainer, with a bookshelf in the background.

I’m pretty happy with how it works. I don’t do great distances or long times, though I couldn’t tell you how much I do accomplish as I haven’t gotten around to setting up the little computer thingy yet. I certainly don’t work up much of a sweat! But I am able to cycle for the length of a television show a few times a week. And I can do so without too much hamstring or quad discomfort, which means I will be much more likely to keep it up.

As my office is also in the basement, I particularly enjoy hopping on for 15 minutes between calls, to get some blood circulating when I am cold from sitting too long. From time to time, I will speed up just a little and pretend I’m in one of those Zwift races I read so much about, but mostly I imagine myself one the way home from the grocery store, with some veggies and a baguette in my basket. It fits well with my goal of staying fit so that I can be active and independent for many more years, just like those European cyclists from my youth.

Diane Harper works for the federal government in Ottawa. She loves to break the stereotype of the stodgy bureaucrat by trying new things and pushing limits as often as possible.

burlesque · Dancing · Guest Post

Building Confidence Through Burlesque (Guest Post)

by Diane Harper

I love to dance, and this year I have been exploring various dance forms as a way to keep myself entertained during COVID restrictions. Thanks to the internet, I have been able to join weekly Zumba classes, try Afro-Cuban dances, and learn basic steps during weekly powwow workouts. Last week I spotted an Introduction to Burlesque dance class on Facebook, so I signed up. I was rather shy about it though. After all, I’m pushing 60 and I grew up believing that anything resembling burlesque was either inappropriate or degrading to women. I only told a couple of friends, after the fact.

My attitude has been shifting, though. I have gone to a couple of burlesque shows with the above-mentioned friends, and discovered a place filled with proud women (and a few men) of various sizes, ages, abilities and ethnicities performing for supportive families and friends. I was fascinated by the range of acts. Some were highly comic, while others, such as those using a suspended hoop, involve incredible balance and core strength. 

More recently, I read this great article about the history of burlesque by Dita von Teese, one of the art’s superstars. In her introduction to the class, our teacher spoke about this history, and the fact that burlesque can be both sexy and outrageous, mocking conventions and exaggerating for effect. She had been a dancer on the burlesque scene in Toronto for six years before moving to Ottawa, where she now teaches at a local dance studio.

With that, we began practicing: struts, toe drags, poses, turns, dips/bends, covering and uncovering our face, breasts, pelvis and butt (by turning away or using sharp or smooth movements to show them off). The instructor also taught us about the two main styles to use for character development:  dancing like no-one is watching, or knowing that someone is watching and playing to it. I had a lot of fun strutting around my living room, feeling remarkably confident in my sweatpants and comfy slippers. I didn’t need a corset, high heels or feather boa – just my chin up high and some swagger and imagination. Figuring out how to do poses gracefully was harder, but some things, such as chest thrusts and rolls were easy as I had learned to do them in bellydance classes.

In some ways, the best part was the end of the class, when we all took the time to see each other in the little Zoom gallery. There were young women, slender women, big women and women older than me. Some couldn’t wait to show off new skills for their husbands. Some just enjoyed the feeling of empowerment that came with being uninhibited for 45 minutes. Burlesque didn’t provide the level of cardio workout that I like from a dance class, so I won’t sign up for the full course, but it was definitely a lot of fun, and I would happily look for YouTube videos to practice on my own occasionally.

Woman wearing stiletto heels and a short pink dress with a black maxi skirt on top, showing off one leg. Photo by Khaled Ghareeb, courtesy of Unsplash.

Diane Harper works for the federal government in Ottawa. She loves to break the stereotype of the stodgy bureaucrat by trying new things and pushing limits as often as possible.

Guest Post · snow · swimming · temperature and exercise · winter

Cold water swimming (Guest post)

Sam is contemplating cold water swimming. I’m one of the people whose facebook posts have her intrigued!

I started this spring. Swimming last year was so much fun I couldn’t wait to start this year (I live in a coastal village). I read a bit; I listened to some podcasts. I found one of my climbing friends is an experienced freshwater swimmer; I asked her lots of questions. COVID-19 was on so I was looking for excitement close to home this spring.

In late April, I started getting in and out of the water. I had a good few months of swimming through the summer and as late as October (the ocean stays warm longer than lakes do). I went back to dipping in and out of the water in November, and now (mid-December) I’ve even resorted to a wetsuit.


I remember swimming in lakes in Saskatchewan as a kid–the water was cold enough to produce blue lips in August. But here, in the North Atlantic ocean, I’ve been learning about whole new levels of cold. There’s ankle-aching cold (coldest); there’s shooting-nerve-pains-in-the-hands cold (a little less cold—that’s an existing vulnerability); and there’s a neck-cramp cold (almost swimmable). Above the neck cramp temperature, I can stay in the water and swim.

These are all November – December photos. Mind you, it’s Nova Scotia (not Saskatchewan), so November – December can still mean +9C.

That doesn’t sound like much of an advertisement, does it? The thing is, it’s a very satisfying experience. Hugely refreshing. A mood lifter. It makes an enormous difference if you tell yourself on the way to the water: ‘I’m really looking forward to an ice bath.’ (You don’t have to believe it when you say it.) It also helps to refer to swimming in lakes and the ocean the way the British do–as “wild swimming.” (Doesn’t that sound wonderful?)

There are safety concerns. I understand it’s best to walk in instead of dive or jump. Monitor your breathing. When your body wants to gasp and you halt your breath, that’s an involuntary response to the cold. If you’re going slowly, you can re-establish your breathing before you continue. If you’ve jumped in over your head and you do this, you could drown when you gasp and take in water. Make it your initial goal just to get in and out. Only gradually start to extend the amount of time you spend in the water. When you start to do that, you should do some of your own research to learn about what’s safe and what to pay attention to in your body. Your body temperature will continue to drop for some time after you get out of the water (20 minutes, I believe)–you have to plan to get somewhere warm, get the wet clothes off, maybe even take a hot shower.

(I won’t go into the sauna options, but I have to admit I first got into water this cold in April in Geneva, at the Bains des Pâquis, where there are three kinds of heat–sauna, hammam, and turkish bath–on offer when you get out.)

I have gone in one day when there was snow on the ground, but I’m nowhere near going in when there’s ice on the water, unlike Cath Pendleton.

Here’s more about Cath Pendleton:

Cath Pendleton, from the Outdoor Swimmer website.