A soak in the hot tub at my gym last week had me thinking, “Am I a snob or just very disciplined?”

I had just finished a swimming workout and was winding down with a quick dip in the jacuzzi when women taking the aqua aerobics class began filtering into the pool area. They peeled off their outerwear, greeting each other with smiles and stories about the past week as they gingerly dipped their toes in the cool water. “Whatcha making for dinner tonight?” “How’s Bob and the kids?” “You’ll never believe where Helen is this week!” It was typical pre-class chit-chat, but the thing that raised my eyebrow was that it didn’t stop once class began.

The instructor turned on the stereo, cranking it full volume. The noise of the splashing water grew louder as the exercises started. The sound of gurgling bubbles from the jacuzzi competed with the pulsing music. The teacher yelled out instructions.

So much noise, and yet most of the women kept on talking, bringing their pre-class chats about dinner and Helen and Bob and the kids into the pool. They had to practically shout to be heard among each other, and as a result of being more engaged in conversation than exercise, their moves grew more and more limp and indifferent. They half-heartedly shimmied their torsos from side to side as the instructor demonstrated a powerful twist-and-hop move, clearly not listening and definitely not being very courteous to the other women in the pool who were there for a workout.

A white-haired woman in the front row caught my eye—she is me, age 70-something. She is in the front row, next to the instructor, because she wants to hear the exercises being called out. She is clearly set off from the coffee klatsch, her eyes focused ahead. She mimics the instructor’s moves, counting along, watching her form. She is wearing a fitness swimsuit, something from Speedo maybe, while the others are in frilly and floral bathing suits with skirts. The white-haired woman doesn’t once glance back at the peanut gallery behind her, although the somewhat exasperated look on her face indicates that she wishes everyone else would just shut up and pay attention already.

I sat there in the hot tub, fuming at the social butterflies who were disrupting class, as though I were actually that white-haired woman. I felt guilty for reacting like such a snob, but I was reminded that perhaps: “You’re just very disciplined.”

The utterance of the word sent me back to 4th grade, jazz dance class, in the studio rehearsing our annual recital number to Kylie Minogue’s “Locomotion.” The teacher was by the stereo, rewinding the cassette tape so we could practice the routine again. Jenna and Allison (pseudonyms, but OH I remember their real names) were talking, probably about boys or makeup or something “cool,” because they were a grade ahead of me. The teacher scolded them for talking, yet they got in trouble for the same thing over and over again, class after class. Maybe their parents sent them to dance class against their will; maybe being a serious student wasn’t “cool” to them. But I HATED Jenna and Allison. Why couldn’t they just be quiet and learn the dance?

My father videotaped one of my dance recital dress rehearsals once; this time I was a senior in high school. We had finished the first run-through of our tap routine and were hanging out on stage as the teacher gave notes. It’s all there on camera—a few chatty girls laughing and having their own little conversation on stage, and then me, diligently listening to the teacher, removed from the other fits of giggles breaking out around me, breaking concentration only once to practice a toe stand on my taps.

A tutu disciplined teenage ballerina

In general, the dance teachers I had in elementary and high school were pretty lax. They’d start class a few minutes late. They’d wouldn’t care if Jenna and Allison talked about their junior prom plans as they stood in line waiting to do hitch kicks across the floor.

But then one year a new ballet teacher was hired at the studio—not quite Phantom of the Opera strict, but very different from any other teacher we’d ever had. There was absolutely no talking during class. If you messed up, you had to do the combination again. She was old and didn’t care a lick about your junior prom. And you better be quiet while she was giving notes during dress rehearsal.

Everyone hated her. I LOVED her.

Of course, I pretended to hate her, to fit in with my peers. But inside…she was my dream teacher. I was there to dance, and she made sure that happened.

My parents weren’t paying a hefty tuition for a weekly Happy Hour. I wasn’t taking an hour out of my creative writing class homework every Thursday night to socialize. I was there to dance; I wanted to get it right; just cut the crap and get down to business.

As such, I have a tendency now to look a little snobbish when fellow classmates try to get all talky-talky during group-setting workouts. Maybe that’s why I have so much trouble with Zumba; I mean, aside from the high-impact moves that sometimes hurt my hips and knees, the class is VERY social. It’s advertised as a kind of dance party, and at a party you talk and gossip, right?

As for the chatty aqua aerobics women, I totally get that this may be their only form of exercise and that perhaps they’re there more for the social benefits than anything else. Research has proven over and over again that group exercise classes are beneficial for their social interaction qualities, but that doesn’t give everyone an excuse to slack off and work out their mouths more than their bodies, especially if there is time before and after class to hang out in the lobby. And especially if there are white-haired, disciplined students among them, trying hard to learn the aerobics move, yoga pose, or dance step. 🙂

What about y’all out there? Is your sense of discipline borderline snobbery? Or would you and I butt heads in a class?