Posted by: Jena Davison | December 2, 2010

Bailoterapia, just the therapy I need.

On Tuesday, I had my first real experience with a gym in Quito. I did go to another one near my house about two weeks ago, but felt discouraged by its outdated equipment, less-than-friendly staff, cheesy pop music and drab setting for working out in general. This time, I decided to try a gym between my house and work–one I walk past every day, twice a day, without fail. Total Gym, located on Diego de Almagro, not too far from Orellana, was a surprisingly different experience for me. As soon as I walked in, I was greeted with smiles and enthusiastic assistance by the young woman working behind the front desk. I asked her if the aerobics class was still scheduled for 6:30 p.m., then I paid the $5 daily fee and headed upstairs.

This is the thing, I have always been super intimidated by gyms back home. I am not opposed to exercising one bit, but I have never thrived in a gym environment. I prefer to walk or jog outside, or to play a sport like tennis instead. I always feel like gyms I’ve been to in the U.S. are crowded with athletic types or “skinny bitches” (pardon my French) who are so into their workouts, I feel incompetent in their presense. That, or I am convinced they are checking out my speed, time and calories burned on the elliptical and judging me accordingly. No thank you. I like to work at my own pace and not feel like I need to keep up with the girl over there pedaling her ass off on the stationary bike.

However, my experience in Ecuador was quite different. Ecuadorians seem more into their matching workout clothes than their workouts themselves (makeup and long earrings at the gym, come on people!), and they seem to overexaggerate their huffs and puffs after the slightest bit of exertion. Gym time seems to be a social affair here, with pairs of girls chitchatting away as they speed walk on adjacent treadmills,  along with lots of cheek kissing and “que pasa?”s (what’s up?) flying around. What more, I found that most of the people weren’t working out with iPods, but rather watching whatever was on TV, talking with someone next to them or simply using the music blasting out of the gym speakers as motivation to keep on pace. These were all indications to me that the gym culture here is a bit different than in the U.S., where it seems to be a more personal and private experience–maybe I’m wrong on this. The point is, for one of the first times in my life, I was not really intimidated at a gym! In fact, I had a great time, felt some really good energy there and was even inspired to go back.

Anyways, I headed upstairs to where the classes take place and was the first one to arrive. I was greeted by a bronzed Cuban 20-something wearing a sleeveless red shirt exposing his toned arms and a pair of black sweats with a stripe down the leg. He had his hair slicked back, was wearing pink Converse sneakers and was clicking through songs on CDs to find the right music for the upcoming class. He would swing back and forth between upbeat latin pop  and electronic music, salsa music and Bob Marley reggae. I asked him if it was the aerobics class, which he confirmed, and then sat down on the hard-wooded floor.

In true Ecuadorian fashion (or so I thought), I was still the only one there ten minutes after the class was “supposed” to start. About fifteen minutes later, another girl came up to the studio. I asked her if she had ever taken the class before and she said no, she had never taken this class before, but had taken others. She soon revealed that the class about to start was a bailoterapia (dance therapy) class, not an aerobics class. It suddenly clicked that when I read 6:30-7:30 on the schedule, that was a.m., not p.m., time. I am still not used to the military time they use here. I decided to give the class a stab anyways. I began chatting with the instructor for a bit until more people arrived, and I told him to please forgive me with my dancing skills–that I didn’t have Latin blood, but would try my best–and please, not to laugh at me. He laughed at my request for him not to laugh at me.

The class started extremely well. I even surprised myself with how much  I could keep up with the steps and combinations he was leading. There was a lot of toe tapping and hip swinging and chest shaking, and I let loose, tried to coordinate my movements with the music, and pretended I was the only one in the room (which was difficult, given the entire room was lined with mirrors, making it hard for me to escape my own image). About halfway through the hour, things started heating up. Steps started accelerating in pace, more salsa moves were introduced, and it took a considerably greater amount of coordination skills. I kept bursting out loud laughing as I found myself in funny positions and completely lost in some of the newer, more complicated moves. Luckily, everyone was so helpful. The instructor, who kept making playful eye contact with me to make sure I was OK and on par with the others, took my hands at some points to help guide me along. A young Ecuadorian  woman grabbed me at one point and showed me the way as well.

All in all, I had a great time. I even went back today; most of the routines and steps were similar, but the instructor seemed to be in a more energetic mood and upped the workout a bit. I think I have finally found a good way to improve my Latin dancing skills, while burning both calories and steam from whatever stresses are nagging at me. I suppose it is called dance therapy for a reason.


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