It’s 1983 and aerobics is the hot new fitness craze. Flash Dance star Jennifer Beals has transformed sweatshirts into a sexy fashion statement with strategically placed rips and tears. Women have an alternative to the male dominated gym scene with Jane Fonda’s Workout Video. Leg warmers, shiny leotards and matching headbands are the new chic. And the place to show this off is Move-It Fitness, a large exercise studio at the heart of downtown Los Gatos, just South of the burgeoning Silicon Valley.
Move-It exploded in popularity a few months after opening its doors. With packed classes and a reputation for providing the most challenging workouts in the area, it fast became the place to be. It didn’t hurt business that it also had a reputation for having good-looking instructors.
I was working in a bakery and going to school at West Valley, the local Community College, when I found out about it. I’d make a point to drive by on my way back from my early-morning bakery job just so I could get a look at the shiny-clad women as they filed into class. I envied their glamour and at the same time judged them – thinking to myself,
I’m better than that, I don’t need to follow a fad to feel OK.
But in fact, I felt crappy about myself. I was gaining weight with every cheesecake I “accidently” smashed, my boyfriend criticized me if I gained weight, and my paycheck was barely enough to cover rent let alone tuition and books. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life but I was anxious to do something. Anything! Fresh out of high school, I was full of energy and passion but I was also full of tons of self-doubt.
Then one morning, while lying beside my boyfriend, Sven – a gorgeous semi-pro tennis player – we had a conversation that changed everything.
“I took the hardest class last night at that new studio Move-It” he says, rolling over while pulling his arm from under where my head is resting.
“Really?” I asked, trying to sound unimpressed, “Where was this?”
“In Los Gatos, right there on Main Street,” he snaps, “Haven’t you heard of it?”
“Oh, ya, I’ve seen it…what’s the big deal, it’s just a work-out place?” I roll over and go into the bathroom before he has a chance to see my jealousy. I’m English and fair skinned and when I get upset my chest gets red blotches – and there were plenty on my chest. I splash my face with cold water, put on my robe and wrap a towel around my neck to conceal evidence that my feelings are hurt before crawling back into bed.
“You ok?” Sven asks.
“Yup,” holding in an avalanche of interrogatory questions. “So, what’s so great about this new studio anyway?”
Sven scoffs and says in his strong Swedish accent, “You have to be the best to teach there – our tennis team has been going there all summer to build endurance.”
Throwing off my robe and towel I proclaim: “I can do that job!”
With a confused look on his face, Sven says, “What job, what are you talking about?” I say nothing. He pauses for a minute then says, “Are you joking? You work at a bakery…you’re not aerobics instructor material, Robin.” he says while getting out of bed to get dressed.
Taking his response as a challenge, I proclaim, “I’ll prove to you – I can get a job there. And I can do it in one month.”
“You’re on,” he says, giving me a peck on the cheek before leaving.
The next day I take my usual detour to drive by Move-It, only this time, I park and go in.
The studio is buzzing with energy; the advanced 2-hour class is about to begin. It was packed as usual with clusters of women chatting amongst themselves, others sat adjusting their legwarmers or shoes. Then there were the serious athletic types in the front row, some focused on their own pre-class warm-up, others staring at themselves in the mirror with a Ninja Warrior intensity. The music started and with the instructor’s command to reach up with both arms, the class began. Those who were sitting stood up immediately, the athletes in the front row, now focused on the teacher, the woman at the front counter looked up and even passers by outside the studio made there way to the window from the Ferrari Dealership across the street to check out the class. Everyone wide-eyed and admiring at the instructor, who in a single motion, demonstrated her choreographed exercise, encouraged the slower students, pushed the more advanced students and did all this with the charisma of a lead singer of a rock band. Her name was Nancy, and watching her I felt equal parts inspiration and terror.
I slipped out the door, headed for my car and left without looking back.
What had I gotten myself into? Its much more than doing an exercise in front of a class – I have to be star! I’m not a star, I can barely walk into a room full of people without turning red, let alone remember a list of exercises, set to the right music, and inspire a room of people in just the right way at just the right moment. – I’m not Nancy. I’ll never be Nancy. And I’m definitely not a star…
But a promise is a promise. Especially when pride is on the line. But more than that, a voice inside came alive when I was watching Nancy. What if I could do that?
So the next day, armed only with that what if, I returned to Move-It. I went an hour earlier to avoid the pre-class chaos and in the hopes the owner would be there. Two women were at the front desk, neither of whom I saw the day before.
“Hi, I’m Robin,” I say nervously.
“Hi Robin, is this your first time here?” one of the two asks graciously.
“No, I was here yesterday,” thinking she won’t know that I didn’t actually take the class since she wasn’t here.
“Oh really, which class?” she asks…”by the way, my name is Karen.
Nice to meet you Karen, “Um..the advanced class in the afternoon,” I say, heart pounding.
Hesitating a minute, Karen says, “That’s funny, I didn’t see you. I was in that class yesterday.”
Gulp…I collect my thoughts and before I have time to get nervous blurt, “Well actually I’m here to ask about a teaching position.”
The second women looks up from what she’s doing and interjects, “You, want to work here?” She’s broad-shouldered with penetrating blue eyes that look right through me. She adds, “Did I understand you correctly?”
“Yes, I want to work here.”
Without hesitation the second woman says, “I’m sorry but we don’t need any instructors.”
I don’t remember what I said, only that I felt completely dejected. Walking out the door, Karen said, “But we’d love to have you come back for a class sometime.”
On the way home I had one hand on the steering wheel and the other pinching a roll of fat that had accumulated from sampling one too many cheesecakes at the bakery. It’s true what Sven said – I’ll never get a job there. I’m just not star material.
But a couple of days later, driving by the studio, I see the same two women through the window and in flash of blind optimism, park my car to try again. We have a similar conversation, except that this time when they say that they don’t have a need for instructors, I counter with the question, “But what if one of your star instructors gets sick?”
“We’ve already got instructors who can substitute…but thank you anyway,” was the response.
This time when I returned to my car, I felt a little less dejected. That night I resolved to go back every day until something changed.
Many days later, something did change. Martha, the one with penetrating blue eyes, who by this time I’d learned was one of the two owners, was getting used to me coming by the studio. On this particular day before I said anything, she initiated the conversation. “You seem pretty determined to work here,” she says.
“What gave you that I idea?” I laughed. By this time, my dejection was gone and I felt comfortable and even happy to be there.
“We don’t have a need for an instructor, but we do have an early morning class that is hard to find a substitute for when we need one. Come here this Friday at 10:00am for an audition. Bring your own music and moves and we’ll let you show us what you got,” she says with a twinkle in her eye.
“Thank you so much Martha!” I’ll be here!!
I’m so excited on the drive home and can’t wait to dig into my albums and create a class that will show them how good I am. Later, faced with a tall stack of albums I’ve selected with my mission on Friday, I’m filled with anxiety. I go by the studio to get inspired and see what kinds of moves I should do, but instead leave feeling overwhelmed with self-doubt and dread for Friday’s audition. Who am I to think I can be as good as them?
A couple of days pass and the albums I gathered for my audition remain unopened. Instead, I compensate with cheesecake samples brought from work. I even crack open some truffles to drink the liqueur, then refilled them with Grand Marnier.
I’m a mess and dreading Friday’s audition.
Thursday night arrives fast and I have no choice but to choreograph something – anything! I play a few songs, get inspired and come up with some moves. I do this without checking myself in the mirror because to do so would remind me of how stupid I’ve been all week to procrastinate until now.
The next morning I pull out a powder-pink leotard and navy blue tights that are so old they have pilings. I completely forgot about what I’d wear – these are from when I took my last ballet class years ago. No time to go shopping at this point. It’s now or never. I get dressed, go through my music and choreography one more time and head to Move-It. Pulling into the parking lot it occurs to me that I can leave and never come back.
But then the words, what if enter my mind. I park and go in. Martha, her business partner, Karen, and Nancy – the star instructor, are there waiting. I make a beeline for the turntable; pull out my stack of albums. My hands were trembling so hard that it took me several tries to get the needle on the right song – White Wedding, by Billy Idol. I start my choreography focusing on the lyrics,
Hey little sister what have you done
Hey little sister who’s the only one
Hey little sister who’s your superman
Hey little sister who’s the one you want
Hey little sister shot gun!
Billy Idols voice blaring with rebel energy boosts my confidence. I look at myself – pink and navy blue as I am – and, helped by the lyrics, I own it.
It’s a nice day to start again
It’s a nice day for a white wedding
It’s a nice day to start again…
I get to the last song and look up at my audience of three – who, to my shock, are beaming and nodding with approval.
“Good work, Robin. You’ve got the job! Can you start next Tuesday?” Martha asks. “We need a substitute for the 6:30 am class?”
I take the job and drop the boyfriend.