Since I am now blessed with time to explore new stuff, I have begun to attend the weekly Pilates class which is included in the price of my gym membership. At last I begin to get value for my subscription. It’s a rolling class, so the instructor cannot begin afresh for every new recruit, hence I know little about the theory behind the practice. I just copy the movements as best I can. This has been a recurring theme for me, as it happens. A family move resulted in my starting at a rugby-playing grammar school two years after all the other boys. When Wednesday afternoon came around, I had all the kit but no idea what to do. The master weighed me up, ordered me to play “lock”, and offered little advice or encouragement beyond screaming, “push!” every now and then.
Pilates class is a little similar, although there are two crucial differences. Firstly it takes place in a warm studio, on a comfy foam mat. Secondly, the instructor is not a huge, hairy, fierce-looking Welshman who had played for his country and who was on a mission to prove that all English schoolboys were wimps, and that they had better not even dream of playing against the Welsh. No, the Pilates instructor is a rather fit, attractive, mature lady from Rio de Janeiro who has a friendly, engaging manner and an intriguing tattoo on her lower back. When she commands us to “push”, I feel a more inclined to do so, not now out of fear, but rather to try to please her.
She probably gets tired of explaining the principles to every Johnny newcomer so, in my first session, I told myself to feel at ease and just fit in. I was the only man, and I tried not to take too blatantly keen an interest in the unusual perspectives and variety of the female form displaying around me. At the end of the session the instructor approached me and said, “Excuse me, do you mind if I ask you a question?” Flashing through my mind came the possible subjects, such as “Are you sure this is for you?” or, “Would you prefer to be in an all male/senior citizen class?” or even, “Have you thought of taking up swimming?” She surprised me by asking whether I had previously been a sportsman or, perhaps a dancer, and then proceeded to express incredulity that I had no experience of either, and told me that I was destined to be “very good” at Pilates.
“Don’t get carried away” I was later urged. “She has to keep the numbers up”. Nevertheless, I continued to grow in confidence when, at the end of the second session, she grabbed the arm of one of her regular ladies, pointed at me, red faced and struggling with my plimsoles, and said “I know who he reminds me of! Merce Cunningham”. Her confidante was reluctant to commit herself, possibly because it was not clear whether the resemblance she had in mind was facial or otherwise. In any case, Merce Cunningham has been dead for some years so she could possibly have been making ironical reference to a similarity of movement. I don’t know her well enough to judge her sense of humour, which is why, at the end of the third session, when she said to me “You should come to the ‘legs, tums and bums’ session tomorrow”, I promised I would.