My first formal exercise came in elementary school with a beloved teacher Mr. Graven. We had gym every day and had a little basket to keep our gym clothes and tennis shoes. Since all girls wore dresses we needed to change into shorts and blouses. We never knew what we would be doing and waited to hear if he said we needed to “dress down” or not.
Mr. Graven was incredibly supportive to me, a tiny, underweight, not all that coordinated kid. In fact at our eighth grade graduation he awarded me a school letter purely for my unfailing effort. But in the early grades he spent a lot of time helping me learn to do a somersault and then, to my amazement, a backward somersault. I never mastered cartwheels, hesitant to take both of my feet off solid ground. Standing on my head seemed a similarly pointless exercise.
But gym class had days where we learned folk dances and square dances. I loved all the variety of music and dances, especially when we whirled around. We also got to dance to the Hokey-Pokey putting first a right foot in then out. Even the Farmer in the Dell delighted us, not yet cynical about “children’s ” music.
My primary advantage came when we formed a pyramid with four girls on the bottom row, then three on the next, then two on the next. As the littlest, I always got to be lifted high onto the top of the pyramid. Then when he signaled us to collapse, I never got squashed as we fell.
So exercise was fun, not that different from regular play at recess and after school. No one had to encourage us to do it, and we all trooped happily to the gym.