Where? Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre
What? Salsa Aerobics
I found myself in Hampstead on Sunday and thought I’d tack a gym hop onto the end of my errands. So I took on the leviathan that is Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre. The Westfield’s of gyms – walking round it will be a work out in itself. Having checked the Sunday group session timetable I had my target selected: Salsa Aerobics. The absurd name, the promise of awkward hip shimmying, the excuse to write about it, I was powerless to resist.
As I stepped in to Studio 1 I knew I’d found the right place. Maybe it was the Lycra bootcut trouser clad man with the greying ponytail stroking his abs while gyrating in front of the mirror; that tipped me off. Or perhaps it was the flotilla of confused ladies behind him trying to emulate his moves.
We applauded after each track or section. While I think it was meant to be proverbial pat on the back for our efforts – ponytail seemed to think we were his rapt audience applauding his last routine on strictly come dancing. Ten minutes in I found myself looking at the clock. Usually during a fitness class the ‘how much more is there?’ question is induced by heart pounding aerobic exertion. In this case it was just a case of ‘am I going to be shuffling around in the same 1 metre radius for the next hour? This doesn’t seem like a terribly productive use of time’. I kept going, trying in earnest to match the footwork being demonstrated, just like the other ladies of all shapes and ages in the room. Just like them however I too resembled one of an intoxicated herd of cattle, aimlessly walking on the spot. Almost without exception everyone wore a bemused rictus that said ‘I’m not really sure how I ended up here’.
Something odd started to happen around the thirty minute mark. I felt myself add a head flick and a hand flourish which wasn’t in the choreography. I was immediately filled with revulsion but there was no taking it back now. Oh god, it happened again! There was something cult-like about the class. The repetitive choreography lulled you into a hypnotic daze while the instructor’s flamboyance wore you down, until without realising it your quiet derision had flipped to full blown hip shaking fun. In all its cringe inducing glory. When the instructor put on line dancing music and introduced us to his ‘cowboy’ persona I could feel the cynic inside me raise a baffled eyebrow, wasn’t this Salsa Aerobics? Unfortunately I could still see myself in the full length mirror heel, toe, step ball changing with thumbs in imaginary belt loops. Oh god. I may have looked positively conservative when compared to the regulars ‘twerking’ it out at the front of the class, improvising their own choreography. But my dignity had clearly crept back to cower in my rucksack in the changing rooms. After an hour I had developed a rosy hue, a light mist and an embarrassing hip shimmy but no more.
The changing rooms were extremely basic as was the gym etiquette found surrounding the cables and free weights. The empty paper towel holder and spray bottles only served to highlight their absence. Leaving one to speculate on the approach to the apparatus when it was last wiped down.
I was glad I went. I won’t be repeating this particular experience but I will be back to try out Swiss Cottages impressive climbing facilities.