No matter how dark my mood, a visit to my exercise studio always transforms both my body and spirit. There, I am immersed in the present tense of boxing drills and weight classes, each session different, driven by the particular group of women assembled and by our teacher’s capricious plans.
Recently, I attended a weight class, which is the most unpredictable; my limbs are guaranteed to be aching by the time the hour is over, but I never know what equipment will be used – it’s rarely barbells. On this morning, I shuffled in and felt my interest piqued by the bright array of large and small hula hoops staggered on the ground. Immediately, I reverted to my nine year old self.
In the olden days before iphones and Uggs, personal status at school was very much a physical affair. Girls judged each other on the ability to skip rope, “Double-Dutch” being rated as the highest accomplishment. I didn’t often join the skippers; clumsiness relegated me to “End”, meaning I turned the rope for others, usually for the entire recess. There was another game called “Yogi” – no meditation involved, just a long white elastic cord stretched tight by two people while the third attempted to gracefully jump over ascending levels of height. If you reached the end-holders’ armpit level, you were a star. Jumping over the elastic at head level however, guaranteed a place in the annals of “Yogi” history and possibly a free pack of Sweet Tarts from an adoring fan. I usually made it to knee level and then, well, it was back to the “End” for me.
I bought my own candy.
During fifth grade, I discovered a hidden talent for flinging the cards that came in packs with bubble gum. The object of the game was to land your card as close to the wall as you could and then you’d win them all. It seemed that I had supple wrists which would, five years later, garner me the role of Timpanist in my high school band. Meanwhile, I convinced my mother to purchase a few packs of the cards as long as I promised to toss out the bubblegum because she thought it would break all my teeth. During recess, I flicked mostly baseball cards, in which I had no interest, against the school walls with the boys and soon earned their respect – and most of their collections. I would have much rather played with my own gender, but they were busy skipping. I remember wishing that my school would allow hula-hoops on the playground. I could hula for hours, but the vice-principal decided that renegade hoops posed too great a danger to the soft craniums of the students.
Forty-something years later, I stood in the exercise studio grinning wildly at the hula hoop collection. Today, we were joining the circus and finally, I would have the opportunity to showcase my skills. Our fearless teacher, J, scooped up a small hoop and began rotating it on her straightened left arm. Once that circle spun recurrently, she lifted another hoop and spun it on her right arm. Completely entranced, I quickly computed the benefits for my triceps; I could feel my residual flab evaporating, the tautness of knotty muscle taking over. And then, I picked up the hoops.
Almost immediately, the thought flashed that I should have worn my bicycle helmet or at least a wide-brimmed chapeau. My co-klutzes and I could not keep the hoops on our arms, but repeatedly sent them airborne, crashing into heads, arms and backs. “Sorry” rang out again and again amidst nervous giggles and heartfelt yelps of pain. I turned to the group and proudly declared us, “Circque de Oi Vay”. We all laughed and continued. The only sure fast rule at my exercise studio is NO GIVING UP — EVER.
Soon, the hoops learned to stay on our arms, and I was hurting, the good pain of a new exercise initiated into muscle memory.
J. ended the drill and stepped into one of the larger rings, positioning it around her waist. “This is excellent exercise for your core, your abs, your cardio. Don’t think about it, just do it,” she said, hula-ing as if she’d been born with a hoop attached to her midriff.
I stood gamely amongst a group of my peers, finally poised to experience triumph as queen of the playground. I positioned the ring and began moving my hips, but illogically, my hoop clattered to the floor. I just need to warm up, I thought.
“Remember, this isn’t going to be as easy as it was when you were children,” said J.
Now she tells us. I picked up my ring and tried again. I did it ten times, attempting to break my one-second record, but to no avail.
“You’re strong and you’re warriors. Keep going!” said J, gyrating with the ease of a belly-dancer bobblehead.
I wanted to squash her.
By the twentieth try, I faced the hard truth that my window for hula hoop gold had permanently closed. No one could appreciate the skill I possessed because it was, along with my training bra, long gone. I felt disappointed and ungainly, a combination that usually sends me deep into the nearest bag of chips. Then, J. instructed us to hula hoop in the opposite direction – counter-clockwise. I picked up my rainbow ring and threw to the left. Surprisingly, the hoop kept spinning! It fell after ten rotations but I knew I had found my sweet-spot by moving in the less popular direction. This is my life.
J. offered a free pair of hand wraps to the person who could hula the longest. Though not the last woman standing, I held my own and cheerfully applauded the winner. Hand wraps are for Double-Dutchers, I thought. I’m different.