My basic group cardio nightmare

The new year has brought some new group cardio classes to the gym, and I decided to try a free sample class. One of the new classes claims to be a place where you can “get lost in the music and express your unique self.” Their mission is to “express joy and live life more fully though exercise and dance.” And, “If you are looking for a FUN workout, you are in the right place.” Fun + Joy + Workout? Heck yeah, I want me some of that.

This class was my basic group cardio nightmare. If you want design a class that’s my basic group cardio nightmare, here’s what you do.

Take three people who are former professional dancers with years of formal dance training. One of them gets certified as a group fitness instructor (but isn’t specific about what kind of certification she has or what organization it’s from). These dancers choreograph a bunch of complicated dance moves, basically a mash-up of a variety of styles including ballet, jazz, hip hop, latin, ballroom, disco, and bollywood. Set these routines to a bunch of popular music. The rules for the choreography seem to follow these injunctions: don’t repeat any moves, or if you do repeat them, only repeat them it much later in the song. And for God’s sake, NEVER do the same move for 4 counts… in fact, do most of the moves for two counts, and do some of them for 3 counts just to fuck people up.

Then take your iPod to class and bust out your dance moves. When you’re teaching class, don’t teach any of the moves before hand. Just turn up the music really loud and start dancing. People might fall all over themselves trying to copy you, but you just keep smiling and keep dancing. Use NO cueing, not even directional pointing. What looks like it might be directional pointing is really just a flourish in your own personal dance style. And if you think people might get confused, just yell out a dance term: “Samba!” “Arabesque!” Because that makes it so much clearer.

Do you even know what arabesque looks like? It looks like this.


I think you’d have to be on a basketball court for 15 people to be able to throw down an arabesque all at once. But we weren’t on a basketball court, we were in a group fitness room. Let’s not pay any attention to any person’s form or whether or not there’s enough room to perform this move in this space. Let’s just all try to follow along and throw down an arabesque in the middle of “The Time (Dirty Bit)” by the Black Eyed Peas, because that song has a slow melodic bit in the middle of it.

I saw one woman kick another woman in the face throwing down the Arabesque. I’ll bet she had the time of her life.

Then when it’s over, throw in some wide leg squats and a bunch of yoga moves for the cooldown/stretch at the end of class. Because if you can arabesque, you can stretch your adductors in triangle pose to floor.


There was an older Indian woman in class wearing a sari. She tried to do the triangle pose to floor. It still hurts my back when I imagine what I saw her doing.

To be fair, I’ve never been a big fan of group cardio classes. While I’m standing there, I’m having a flashback to every bad group cardio class I’ve ever been to. I’m still the fat girl in the back who can’t do any of the moves. I spent a 50-minute cardio class just standing there, trying to do something, ANYTHING. To just move.

As class was ending, another woman turned and asked me, “Did you like it? Every time I looked at you, you were just STANDING there.” Well yeah, I was choreographing my own dance move, called Obviously Lost. It’s my personal flair.

So after class was over, I got on the treadmill. I still needed a workout.

This is my recurring group cardio nightmare. I don’t actually have the nightmare so much any more, but I have lived it in real life more times than I want to admit. There’s a new class at the gym, and I sign up to try something different. I get myself to the class, and I try my best to follow along. But I can’t do any of the moves. Other people can do the moves, but I haven’t got a hope of keeping up. I’m the fat girl standing in the back row, in the corner, trying not to be excessively frustrated or self-conscious. But I keep my eyes focused on the instructor and bumble along the best I can, because I know that if I look at myself in the mirror I will cry.



4 Comments Permalink
4 comments on “My basic group cardio nightmare
    • This might sound flippant, but I don’t mean it that way… If I’m the smartest person in class, maybe that’s the problem. I spent a whole lot of years sitting on my butt developing my brains, thinking that my body was just a vehicle that transported those brains around from one place to another. Any vehicle that isn’t well-cared-for and maintained starts to develop all kinds of weird quirks. What if my body is like an old beater car? It might still get from one place to another, but maybe it leaks oil, or drifts to the left, or gets bad gas mileage. Maybe in this case it completely stalled out when it was asked to do something more refined than merely roll. One of the costs to spending all that time on brains was that my body never really learned how to move like this.

  1. I’ve seen classes like that, and I agree with you on how difficult they are to enjoy! You make several good points. Certainly when I have done these, I find moves that are repeated and are consistent right and then left to be the way to go. I have a friend that did high aerobics for years loving the music and having a great time as she memorized the routines. Those types of classes are gone. Maybe it broke some people, but my friend thrived on them.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. I’ve actually been looking at some of the old-school Jane-Fonda-style workouts, and the moves in those classes were so much less complex. They used a lot of movement cues and the moves were repeated so people could follow along. Now it’s the trend to use no verbal cueing at all. For example, Zumba instructors are taught to NOT cue movements. Zumba instructor Miranda “Tiger” Carerras explains that “We want you too feel like you’re at a dance party and if we are telling you what to do every couple seconds it kills that vibe.” (source: So maybe the mistake was mine. Maybe I didn’t feel enough of the party vibe.

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