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The Front of the Exercise Class Blues


On Mondays, I always attend a 9:15 am step class at my gym. I always set up my step in the same spot near the back of the room at the side. Last week, however, I arrived later than usual, and the only free space was at the very front of the room.

The thought of doing the class front and center really freaked me out. I was not born with the choreography gene that allows one to learn dance steps quickly.

While everyone else in class is grapevining to the right, I’m up on my step doing an eight-knee repeat, and I did not relish the thought of doing it quite so publicly. I thought of simply leaving, but I really love this class. As I reluctantly set up my step inches from the instructor, I joked to the lady beside me that being there felt like a lot of pressure.

“Oh don’t worry. Everybody just watches the instructor,” she said, with her naïve, front row perspective.

People like me do not watch the instructor. The instructor faces us and even though she shows us what to do–as if we were looking into a mirror–I can never quite figure it out, so I watch the people in front of me. There is one woman at the front who is really good, and when she makes the occasional error, half the room follows suit because they are all looking at her.

I gulped as I climbed atop my step.

Once the music started, my nervousness melted away as I focused on the class. When it was over, I felt foolish that I’d been so anxious, and then took a kinder view. Routine has become very important to me, as it does for many people getting over trauma. As Carol Shields writes in her novel, The Republic of Love:

Routine is liberating. It makes you feel in control. A paradox, isn’t it? You think your routines are controlling you, but in fact you’re using the routine to give you power.

If you have been stripped of dignity in some way–through disease, divorce, financial setback, abuse–it is important to regain some sense of control in your life. I have come to rely on certain things such as my morning latte, my evening bath, Friday yoga, and my 9:15 Monday morning step class. If something interferes with the things I’ve learned to count on, it’s unsettling.

In hindsight, I’m glad I had to face my front-of-the-room fears. It forced me out of my comfort zone in a way that makes me know I’m on a path to healing. (A couple of years ago, I would have bolted.) Still, next week, I’m going to make sure I’m in the class with lots of time to claim my place of comfort: at the back, at the side, where I can grapevine in the wrong direction to my heart’s content.

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With an MBA in Finance, JEN LAWRENCE worked in investment banking; was Executive Director of a Children’s Museum and is a pioneer mommy blogger. Jen writes and speaks about women in business, critical thinking, strategic planning and is the author of Engage the Fox: A Business Fable About Thinking Critically and Motivating Your Team. When your world’s been blown apart, Jen Lawrence can help you pull yourself together, and pinpoint those next steps that will help you find your new normal. She can also be found at

3 thoughts on “The Front of the Exercise Class Blues”

  1. You’re right about regaining control in times that overwhelm you. A friend in NYC, who I’ve met because of 1010ParkPlace, is struggling after finishing cancer treatment. I didn’t realise it at the time, but something I suggested as a coping skin, will bring them a much needed sense of control. So wise of you, Jen!

  2. Jen, what a wonderful post! And it’s so true that routine can help us regain control over our lives, at least to a certain extent. Still, routine can also be a killer, so sometimes it’s good to be forced to the front of the class! Well done for sticking with it, I always need someone to follow otherwise you’d think I was in a completely different class altogether! Esther xx

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