Sunday afternoon. I’m at a class I love at the only gym in London where the air-conditioning works. My Step is set up in my usual position – second row from the back in the right-hand corner of the room. In this spot, next to the speaker, the music is loud and drowns out the voice of the instructor. The cool air blows directly on me. This is my favourite time of the week: my personal happy hour. Paul enters and sets up his Step in his position on my left. He smiles at me “Are you ready for this?” I return his smile “I am now – I did NOT appreciate you not being here last week. Don’t do that to me again”. We both laugh.
The Step class is a finely tuned machine. We all have our spots and Paul not turning up the previous week offset the balance. He needs to be on my left, and I need to be on his right for both of us to perform at our best. It’s odd, but it’s how it is. Nicky is directly in front of me, Sarah is on my right, Maxine behind me and so on. It’s been this way for years and the system works.
We chat while waiting for Charlotte, our vibrant and attractive blonde Instructor. Her lateness is abnormal …
With a loud bang of the door, in bursts a huge muscular black man with waist-length dreadlocks. His confident stride and the microphone pack around his waist indicate that he’s a substitute Instructor. I grin broadly, jubilantly surprised. Male Instructors are rare; a straight muscle-bound black guy with dreadlocks instructing a Step class is unprecedented. A straight muscle-bound black guy with dreadlocks instructing a Step class wearing a skin-tight unitard is priceless. My grin widens to a smile that won’t leave my face.
William puts on the music and gets the class started. He’s good and I’m transfixed. The Predator is instructing us. A dancing, singing Predator dressed in a skin-tight unitard. The ridiculousness of the image keeps me smiling and my good mood enhances my workout.
William: Alright Steppers! I want you all in sync and I want to see perfect rhythm! Steppers are dancing soldiers! Show me your style!
Sarah and Paul jump higher. It’s the perfect motivator for us; in our delusional minds we do see ourselves as dancing soldiers. My smile progresses to a giggle I’m unable to stifle. William looks at me and smiles warmly.
William (loudly): Well at least one of you is enjoying yourselves!
I am enjoying myself. Thoroughly enjoying myself. This is exhilarating.
I hear a thud from the left side of the room. Someone’s fallen. Someone always falls. William rushes to their aid and the class is momentarily halted. He stops the music.
William: I’m just going to sort out Amy’s ankle. (He looks at me), Smiley’s going to lead you for the next two tracks.
WHAT?! I firmly protest but no one else will lead and the allocated hour is ticking on. Time’s-a-wasting and I’m pretty sure I know the choreography for the next two songs.
Me: Fine. But I can’t yell out instructions. Everyone will just have to watch and follow. And Paul’s joining me.
Paul’s horrified but equally aware that we need to get on with it. And I need him on my left-side if I’m to have any chance of getting through this.
We take our positions at the front of the room and face the class. Everyone’s laughing, but it’s warm, supportive laughter. The music starts and we take off! Pain sears through my injured toe but I’m having too much fun, and feel too much responsibility to stop.
William returns and all three of us stay facing the class for the remainder of the workout. It’s one of the most enjoyable Step classes I’ve experienced. Though could I have done it without the familiarity of Paul on my left-hand side? Doubtful. I needed my security blanket.