I’ve recently started taking aqua aerobic classes at my gym.
Now, careful readers will immediately notice two odd things about that last sentence. The first will be the news that I actually go to a gym in a sufficiently regular way that allows me to use the phrase ‘my gym’. If you actually knew me at all, you’d know that I have actually considered getting myself a Segway to get around in the little shoebox apartment I live in – I’m that lazy.
The second is the fact that I’m taking part in an activity that I’ve always associated with grannies and rehabilitating war veterans. Not that I’m the only one with this one-eyed prejudice.
“Aqua aerobics?” Amanda said when I came home waving the pamphlet I’d picked up at the gym reception. “Can you even swim?”
“If money was involved, sure,” I replied. “But it says here on the thing that you don’t need to be able to swim, just tread water.”
“Isn’t aqua aerobics for aunties, though?” Amanda asked, her forehead still etched with dubious disbelief.
“Probably, but I’m so lazy and out of condition, I figure I might as well ease my way into this whole gym nonsense. My mother loved watching all those Esther Williams flicks and it looks easy enough.”
In the Technicolour movies of the 40s and 50s, Esther Williams, in full make-up, and sequined swimsuit would leap off high diving boards in full synchronicity with her troupe of aqua amazons and dance complicated routines underwater, all while smiling and gracefully waving arms and legs.
I remember a scene where she emerged from the water on a rising pedestal like a golden Venus de Milo, water droplets cascading off her toned limbs as all around her, fireworks popped and colour smoke billowed. Then, from a height of what must have been at least 50 m, she leaped off in a graceful arc and splashed into the water with barely a ripple.
“Isn’t she amazing?” I remember my mother sighing with deep pleasure. “Such courage. Such strength!”
Not that much courage nor strength is ever in evidence whenever I pass the shallow end of a swimming pool filled with aging grande dames dressed in assorted floral swimming caps and one-piece swimsuits gently swaying, their arms wind-milling in the water while keeping time with the instructor.
“It’s just like tai-chi in water,” I told Amanda. “No strain on the joints. You won’t feel like you’re ever sweating, and if it all gets too much, you could probably just float for a bit. All very relaxing, I’m sure!”
Which is the frame of mind I showed up with a few weeks ago for my first class. “Easy,” I thought to myself as I planned what I would have for lunch after. Some grey haired ladies were already in the water limbering up, by which I mean they were huddled in a loose circle gossiping.
I got into the water, smiled indulgently at all the ladies, noting that not only was I the youngest person in the class, I was the only male. I have to confess to feeling a sense of superiority.
Fifteen minutes into the class, and I knew I’d made a fatal mistake in even showing up.
It turns out that to do aqua aerobics properly, you need something called core strength, which, after Googling it, has something to do with strong stomach muscles. Core strength is how you maintain your balance in the water as you lift and kick your body in directions it has no business going. Core strength is what enables you to lift your legs out of the water while keeping your head dry and you propel yourself from one end of the pool to the other. Core strength is what you need to be able to do sit-ups and push-ups while floating on a thin Styrofoam pole.
Core strength, it turns out, is something I do not have, but that grey-haired old ladies seem to have in abundance. While I was frantically pumping my legs and arms for star-jumps while floating, the grannies around me had serene smiles on their faces as they lay on their backs, gazed up at the ceiling and chatted while gentling pulling and pushing.
“I can’t believe it. You couldn’t keep up with the grannies?” Saffy later cackled.
“Hey, you should try it! It’s not as easy at it looks! I thought I was about to drown, but everyone just seemed to be floating by with no effort at all! Every bit of my body hurts right now,” I complained.
It’s too bad Esther Williams died recently because I owe her one hell of a big apology.