In flamenco, each rhythmic unit is called a ‘compas’. There’s a lot of counting. The dance known as the Buleria, for example, has a complex rhythm – you start counting on ’12’ and your steps accent on 12, 3, 6 (or 7), 8 and 10.
I love flamenco, but then I also love to count: steps, calories, fat grams, you name it, I’ve counted it. A safety thing. For many years, when I exercised, I would always have a target for my calorie burn; it was a numbers game and nothing to do with enjoying moving ( though I did also – fortunately – enjoy some things!). Let’s say I wanted to book a class. Our local leisure centre runs Les Mills exercise classes, so I would go online and look up the expected calorie expenditure for each class and choose the highest numbers out of the options I had. In the gym, I would pick the cross trainer because the machine told me it yielded the highest calorie burn per minute of effort, compared to say the bike or the rower. I wouldn’t do any exercise that wasn’t easily measurable in terms of numbers and I couldn’t let myself take a day off; even once attempting a very high intensity body combat class while recovering from pneumonia – that didn’t go too well …. Every week, I upped my goals, until in the end the only thing that was ‘burned’ was me ( burned out!)
So my health forced me to take a complete break from formal exercise and, by the time I was fit to start again, I had found Beyond Chocolate and begun to see things from a different perspective. I returned to the gym, but this time with advice from an instructor who took me off the machines with the numbers and gave me shorter, sharper programs to do which I adapt to meet my goals, like strengthening my core again after my ( rather brutal!) last C section. I do a smattering of classes that I like doing, when I want to do them, deliberately having no set weekly routine: that way I can’t ‘fail’ or ‘get it wrong’. I have fun and exhausting Thai boxing training sessions, letting out pent up emotions, safely, into the pads.
I’ve branched out too into dance, which I always felt too clumsy for. I started flamenco and attend this with my 9 year old daughter (fabulous mummy/daughter time!) and love how empowering it is in its strength and passion. And taking the freedom even further, my latest addition has been 5Rhythms dance – an activity where you can’t really measure anything! It’s so freeing and absolutely impossible to get it wrong; it’s way more than physical exercise, it’s a way of moving which connects me to my body, rather than pitting me against it in a battle of wills; it actually makes a nonsense out of reducing the privilege of moving my body down to a set of ( pretty meaningless!) numbers and (arbitrary) goals.
Goals and targets in moving are great, I’ve found, but only if they work FOR you and enhance your life as a whole. Tune in, listen to your body and your mind and your spirit. Run if you want to, not because you feel you must. Compete if it brings you joy. But above all, be your own guru, enjoy the body that you have and work with it for life.