The First Day in the Dancercize Class

Since the day when my advisor told me to choose the classes to take in the first term, my concerns over the choice stuck in my mind. One reason for it was that the choice demanded a careful long term scheduling of the classes. Some classes required completion of prerequisite courses. I needed to decide what class to challenge and what lecture to attend. The other reason was my poor English. I could read and write. But my speaking and my listening were awful. To maintain my grades at a certain level, I had to find classes with little discussion and much writing on the blackboard. And the optimum class would contain no English communication in it.

Knowing that I needed to take three P. E. courses before the graduation, I decided to take one of them with few rules and instructions in the very first term. I thought I was clever. The P. E. courses would not have much discussion, I thought. I checked the course list of the term. The word, “dancercize,” rang my bell. I imagined a gym with young leotard girls exercise to the music. That sort of exercise in Japan back then was virtually open to women. Though the classes were open to men in terms of the registration, the class atmosphere with no other man would make the entering man freak out. The dancercize course at the college seemed not only to meet my criterion over the communication barrier but also to let me experience what I can not in Japan.

I did not have a chance to take a look at the class because that was my first term of the year. I had no one around who had attended the class either. I went to the international advisor’s office and asked if that was a right choice to take the dancercize class. Jennifer, the international advisor, replied, “Yes.” She gave me a brief explanation about the aerobics and what the dancercize class would be like. I felt a little comfortable. I registered myself in the class.

I went to the gym to participate in the first day of the dancercize course. There were about twenty girls plus two middle aged men already stretching their muscles. Most of the girls were in their leotards as I expected. But unlike the imaginary class view I had had, the class was held not in the well-equipped studio-type room but in a corner of the wide gymnasium where other classes were being held behind us. And above all, what amazed me was the body sizes of the girls. I am 5 ft. and 5 in. tall and it was very hard for me to find a shorter or smaller girl than I in the class. Aerobics work-out videos with Caucasian females are popular in Japan but functionally they lack a 5 ft. 5 tall man in them as a reference to indicate the actual sizes of the girls.

The instructor took the attendance of the students. She called students one by one quickly until she hits weird foreign name in the list. It was mine. I was the only foreigner in the class. I sensed her trouble and responded without recognizing her exact words. She gave a glance and nodded slightly. It was probably because she was content with the match between the strange name and the foreigner. She jotted down something on her list and proceeded.

The music started. Everyone began the actions. The amateur dancercize doers sadly struggled awkwardly and they could not catch up with what the instructor did moment by moment. Their indifferent moves and steps, combined with their heavy bodies, made considerable noises and vibrations. And the music continued for a while till the instructor’s sudden whistle echoed.

She told us something. I did not understand it because she finished her words before my ears got tuned to her English pronunciation. The voice itself echoed in the gym and was hard to hear. I thought that she meant “at ease” to have an intermission. The students were indeed at ease. But something more than I had supposed was happening. They turned downward and many of them closed their eyes. They stood silently with both knuckles on their breasts. I was standing in the rear row. It appeared to me as if they had been praying, though the course syllabus had not mentioned anything about Christianity.

It was quiet. I hesitated to step closer to others to find out what they were doing. I decided to ask someone outside of the class later about this solemn ritual of the leotard girls plus a couple of men. Without disturbing the silence, I simply mimicked the way they acted. Actually I sometimes had to do this later when invited to a Christian family’s dinner.

The ritual came to an abrupt end with a short whistle by the instructor. Following the silent prayer was bingo-game-like situation. But it was the students who gave the numbers one by one in this case. The instructor began to name off each student. And the students responded by giving a single number. The numbers given by the individual students were not the same. But they were not totally at random. They were close each other to be in a certain range. I had to analyze the rapidly presented numbers. My heartbeat got faster as my turn approached. The minimum number I heard was in late 50’s and the largest was in early 70’s. I could not understand what was going on. All I knew was that I should not be conspicuous with some extreme numbers until I found out the meaning of the mysterious numbers.

The awkward pronunciation of my name echoed in the gym. I instantly said 65. And the instructor moved on to the next person. I made it, though the riddle was still there with me. The second session began. I hoped that it would last until the end of the class. It did not.

Another number giving set off. The range seemed to be from 80’s to a little over 100. It was impossible for me to deduct a meaningful rule to figure out my number. I presumed that the numbers were some kind of scores. I became hesitant to give high numbers which might sound conspicuous. I do not remember the exact number I gave in the second time. It must have been as low as about 70. This time the instructor did not let me go. She immediately strode toward me. She said a few words and grabbed my wrist. I was frightened. She looked down on my wrist and her thumb was probing something. That was the very moment that I understood everything. The students had been reporting their own pulses to the instructors.

She kept looking down on the watch for a moment, while holding my wrist. She said 92 and jotted the number in her notebook. She told me something which included the words, “count” and “pulse.” I knew the word “pulse” only by the meaning of the electricity pulses then as an ex-telephone engineer. But I could easily stretch the meaning of the word to blood pulse in the given situation. I could, of course, imagine what she instructed to me. I replied, “Yes.” She said, “Okay.” She added a comment of several words. The words included “medical center.” Then she smiled and walked back to her original position.

I do not know how many students noticed that I did not understand what they were doing. They might have thought that I merely miscalculated my pulse. The instructor might have thought so also. Well, this was what happened in my first day in the dancercize class. I perfectly followed the class afterwards with great joy. And the readers of this book must be impressed because even the person who didn’t understand the word, “pulse” could get A out of the dancercize class.