This is a tale (true) about how I started feeling into the phenomenon of rebounding.
The year is 1981, the location is Brighton on the south coast of the UK; we are in the reception area of the Lotte Berk studio in seedy Preston Street, an exercise studio for the pursuit of the perfect shape through an excruciatingly difficult (and now almost defunct) exercise method. I was the studio owner, director, lead teacher, etc. etc. It was the era of Jane Fonda’s new ‘aerobics’ which was sweeping town, and we were getting bookings by the hour from women who had injured themselves in huge aerobics classes doing things that were and are highly injurious to the spine and everything that hangs therefrom. The more the aerobics teachers demo’d fast, high impact, totally out of control, ‘go for the burn’ lunges, crunches and extreme stretches, the more we focused on control of movement, proprioception, body awareness.
I had just trained for a year full time, that’s twelve whole months, with Lotte Berk herself in her renowned (notorious) London Manchester Street studio. Lotte was a formidable woman, took no notice of her trainees at all, but we had to get it right before she would issue the diploma and let us loose on the general public in our own studios. She must have done something right herself, because in Brighton that year we were inundated with women rising to the challenge of an intelligent exercise method and the ‘novel’ idea that one could gain shape, control of one’s movement and posture, just through going to exercise classes. These were tough women, willing to pay the price. Exercise was serious business. We took no prisoners. I had no idea what was going on.
The reception area was large, a shop front in fact. We frequently featured gizmos and gadgets for class attendees to try and buy. One of these small pieces of apparatus was the ‘Rebounder’, a small trampoline, on which one bounced in jogging – on- the – spot mode whilst performing unlikely movements with arms and legs. This was supposed to provide aerobic exercise without high impact, and also help with lymphatic drainage. Whatever.
The rebounders were a great hit and women bounced and boinged with gay abandon in the heady pursuit of more things to do with their newly-reclaimed bodies. This was the early 80s, remember. This was also the era of low cut leotards, tights, holey and ripped if one was serious about working out, leg warmers (also ripped – we used to sell them ready-ripped) and not a lot of underwear worn. Abiding memories include bouncing boobs, barely contained, legwarmers flying as the leg routine began, and some wonderful, wonderful women, many twice my age; I was totally in awe of them, and they looked to me for the latest word in working out. Apart from that, our paths did not cross.
What I did notice, amidst the heady, new, brash confidence was one strange phenomenon about rebounding, not mentioned anywhere in the sales brochures: as women started to bounce, they started out stiff, unbalanced, anxious, determined. A couple of minutes in it seemed as if they settled into a rhythm which flowed through them as they bounced, the rhythm cascading through them from top to toe and back again, lapping up against the edge of their physical bodies and crashing back in like waves; they would become softer, in body, in their faces, in the feeling, or energy (‘vibes’ – remember the ‘vibes’ of the 80s?) coming from them. As this progressed they became more coordinated, relaxed, everything one would expect. But it didn’t end there. What I observed was that I was beginning to see more of the ‘insides’ of these women, they were becoming more ‘whole’ as they softened. In other words, where they had been holding themselves, their lives, together, holding things in, ‘contained’, as they rebounded they lost some of the divisions within. I sensed I was seeing more of the authentic woman. This was not featured in any sales brochure – and one had to look past the flying boobs to catch it.
Cut to the exercise studio itself. I’m teaching a leg exercise, ten women in a row, clutching the barre with a death-like grip, tiny-bend-stretching their working leg impossibly high (willpower reigned supreme), standing leg stretched like a stick of celery, teeth gritted, shoulders creeping up to the ears. This is *before* the epiphany of Pilates. They are magnificent, there is no mercy, we’re going through to ten repeat tiny-bend-stretches, and none of them will drop an inch.
What is worrying me is that as they beat their bodies into submission, learn about their hidden depths of persistence, always digging deeper for one more repeat, is… well… that they *are* beating their bodies into submission. And I have this dim notion that that is maybe not such a good idea. I have this strange idea that they would be better off working *with* their bodies, instead of against them, as it were. Just a hunch.
There is a problem here. They will do anything I say during the class. Our lives may be a million miles apart, but they trust me, I have brought them results. Their shape has changed. But however much I say ‘drop your shoulders’ and ‘shake your head loose’, they can’t do it. The shoulders don’t drop and the head does not loosen, even if they do shake it. It really is about working *with* their bodies, not against them, I decide. And this is where it gets seriously problematic.
It goes like this: Our classes are filled with women who are taking charge of their lives, starting with taking control of their bodies and getting separate bank accounts. They have lived full lives and have a lot to take charge of.
I have taught them to isolate parts of the body and to hang with the bits they aren’t focused on for the moment. Now I am going to try to get them to get body and mind to work together or at least get body bits to work together. But they have achieved success by separating them. Divide and conquer. Hmmm.
It doesn’t stop there: In order to connect with these women on a mind-body level rather than on an isolated body-part level I have to… er… connect with them on a mind-body level. How on earth do I do that? I am 24, single, with a degree in Philosophy. I am dealing with women who have had kids, careers, marriages and failed marriages, illness, disaster and shattered dreams. Strong women. I can’t connect for one minute with their lives, they don’t connect with mine, we don’t share experiences. It’s not going to happen.
This is where I think about what I observed as they were rebounding downstairs on the mini-trampoline. What I was noticing there was the authentic Perry, Sally, Kate. No isolated body parts. They were showing their authentic selves in rebounding. That was a level deeper than experience, life lived, wisdom or relationships. That was my way in, without words. If I couldn’t connect with their lives, maybe I could connect by going deep into their core, where I was sure I could find their rhythm.
So I pick the most tensed-up, teeth-gritted woman right at the beginning of the next exercise to try it out on. I have the space of three sets of ten movements to get through to her, without pouncing on her right at the beginning. I set it up, get them moving, go through all the ‘let your shoulders drop’ routine, then go round to help them with their positions as usual.
Only this time it’s different. I take her hand and arm, held out at shoulder height (rigid), and as I count for them, give the hand a shake, trying to mimic the kind of rhythm I had observed on the rebounder downstairs. Nothing. Totally rigid. She’s trying to figure out where she is to put her arm, as I seem to be waving it up and down. We are on to the next set, and I make it a little more complicated than usual, to take their minds off what I am doing, in case they are wondering. This does the trick. She can’t concentrate on both arm and leg and lets the arm go. It takes a couple of counts and I am in to her rhythm. I have no idea how I find it, but it starts to ripple through her body and her spine lengthens, her shoulders drop (fractionally) and her teeth unclench. The movement I am initiating in her arm is infinitesimal. She shifts to release the other hand clenching the barre. Amazing. I count in their third, much less complex set and scoot around to give the others some attention.
Nothing is said. I get no feedback and I give no explanations. What would I explain? I have learned that firstly it works for the purposes I had intended, and secondly I have to get it to work extremely fast. Over the months I develop the habit of a little shake here and a little rocking there, to tune in to the rhythm, and to get it flowing. I don’t teach my teachers to do this, as I really have no idea how I do it myself. It is, however, probably the most effective thing I ever introduced to the Lotte Berk classes.