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  • Writer's pictureMarilyn Saltzman

Mussar and...Jazzercise??

I’m a septuagenarian with osteoporosis. So when my teacher friend Deb encouraged me to come to Jazzercise class in October, I thought “why not?” Little did I know that it would not only offer a fun form of exercise, but also another way to look at the world through a Mussar (Jewish ethics) lens.

In the middle of one of my first Jazzercise classes, while attempting to be graceful with my chassés, pliés and relevés, I thought about balancing the middot (soul traits) of humility and pride.

Humility came to mind because with my naturally competitive nature, I want to excel at every activity I attempt. Yet there is no way I will be the fastest, strongest, most fit mountain mama in Conifer Jazzercise. There are some exercises, like sit-ups, that I can’t…or shouldn’t…do because it might injure my fragile spine. So I modify. While most others in the class are lifting five- or eight-pound weights, my hands are clutching bright pink three-pounders. I’ve learned that heavier weights make my shoulders ache, and I have trouble sleeping.

Practicing humility allows me to approach this new activity by knowing and accepting my limits. It’s recognizing that no one else cares how fast or graceful I am, as long as I don’t run into them!  Keeping my body safe and my attitude balanced, I can feel a sense of accomplishment without worrying about judgment from others.

My humility is paired with the balancing middah (soul trait) of pride. I’m both humbled and proud when I look around the class and concede that I am probably the oldest one in attendance. In fact, I most likely have two, three, even four more decades of life under my belt than some of my fellow students.

I experience self-satisfaction as I learn new “tricks” and rack up 25 classes in a two-month period. I am proud of how I’ve lost some weight and toned my muscles. Picking up a 30-pound bag of dog food at King Soopers has gotten easier.

While dancing across the polished wood floor, I am also infused with gratitude for my healthy body. Sure, I’m not quite as sprightly as I once was. I may slow down and breathe more heavily as the hourlong class draws to a close. And I’m doing it! Thanks, body, for holding me up for all these years and allowing me to learn new ways of keeping fit.

I can practice self-patience as I learn new dance terms and moves. Yes, sometimes I turn to the right when I’m supposed to turn left, do three reps instead of two and lift my arms to my side instead of over my head. I trip over my own feet and march in the wrong direction. And I try to give myself permission to make mistakes, recognizing that I’m still learning and probably will be for a long time. It takes patience to learn a new skill, especially when I’ve never been particularly graceful.

I am also rediscovering the middot of joy and enthusiasm that come from the camaraderie of working out in a group. Before the pandemic, I was taking in-person Zumba classes, and for the last three years, I’ve been watching online Silver Sneakers classes. While I was still getting exercise and the teachers were excellent, it just wasn’t the same. The advantage of working out in my pajamas was overshadowed by the fact that I was exercising alone with all the distractions – phone calls, ringing doorbells, barking dogs – of being at home.

At Jazzercise, there is the joy of connection and community.  We laugh, sing, clap and dance together. We enthusiastically shout out “ab-solutely” when Deb asks if we are contracting our stomach muscles. We catch up with friends and neighbors before and after class. We congratulate those who are celebrating Jazzercise milestones. And it’s a place where, even as a newcomer, I feel welcome, a place like Cheers, “where everybody knows your name.”

When I started taking Jazzercise, my only goal was to increase my physical activity. I have come to appreciate that it also brings yet another opportunity to practice Mussar by experiencing the middot of both humility and pride as well as gratitude, patience, joy and enthusiasm.

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