Let’s Phase This Out: Part 1

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Jane Fonda’s newly minted workout VHS tape graced our home the year my brother was born in 1982. There was a book too, and I’d sit in the living room leafing through; Jane in tights, belted leotard and leg warmers, her body arranged in the shapely balletic V forever seared in my mind as the picture of fitness. Our mothers bought mini-trampolines and exercise bikes and nordic tracks. Wildly ebullient Richard Simmons made it ok to be fat and scared to move. Esprit and Benetton ran edgy ads featuring groups of beautiful multi-colored people and we coveted reebok high tops, hair mousse, fruit roll-ups and fancy granola bars because these things were novel. We’d also heard about this thing called aerobics; you wore special clothes and carried a water bottle and towel with you to the gym. We tried it at home in between roller skating, enacting Charlie’s Angels and singing Annie ballads in each other’s basement rec rooms.

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The group fitness phenomenon and I came of age together and when I started paying attention to it again some twenty years later there was Nia and Zumba, mat Pilates, step-aerobics, Hip Hop and yoga. I watched when Rodney Yee appeared on Oprah, leading hundreds of live viewers through a simple Iyengar style class replete with breathing and shivasava and the gravitas of Oprah’s testimonial; her life enriched by what was still something a few people with armpit hair did in their living rooms. Peggy Cappy’s classes were boradcast on PBS, offering older adults and folks with severe arthritis a stretching routine with chairs and props that showcased therapeutic accessibility; yoga for the rest of us.

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In 1998, we drove by the newly painted window for Baron Baptiste’s Power Yoga studio on Mass Ave in Cambridge; it was edgy and daring, a brand for educated urbanites sporting Prana pants and giggling when bandana-clad Baron suggested to the whole class that we go out for a post-class beer. He brought in dudes by the droves and people of all types and sizes crammed together for demystified, democratized large-group sweating vinyasa in a room thick with nag champa and Krishna Das.

Erin Jade