Photo by Simon Schoeters.
Photo by Simon Schoeters.

When the Body Combat instructor pushed to the front of the crowd and introduced herself, I could not help but be reminded of a bygone era. Her thick pink headband, stretch pants, and neon athletic top made her seem as if she had just arrived in a time machine from an 80s aerobics class. Of course, I have never experienced the 80s for myself, so I cannot be sure that all aerobics instructors wore such tight, shiny fabric, but the movies of the time seem to indicate they did.

I was reminded, in particular, of one cult classic: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. In this 1989 gem, metalheads Bill S. Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted Logan (played by a young Keanu Reeves, yet untainted by Speed) receive help from a mysterious man of the future, Rufus, and his phone booth time machine to put on, like, totally the most rad history presentation ever. They collect great thinkers and historical figures from past ages and bring them to the mall, a microcosm of 1980s commercialism and pop culture.

It is here that Joan of Arc, still wearing chainmail, discovers an aerobics class. She is immediately taken with the woman at the front, dressed in bright spandex, jumping up and down, shouting at the crowd of panting housewives. Joan leaps onto the stage, pushes the perky instructor to the ground, and begins jabbing her fists in the air, exclaiming words of motivation in rapid French, effectively commandeering the class. Meanwhile, Mozart, in the piano shop next door, has mastered the electronic piano and turns out some bangin’ tunes for the aerobics class to jam along with.

Watching the Body Combat instructor, I could not help but think that possibly Joan of Arc never made it back 1429. Maybe she was never burned at the stake for heresy. Maybe she stayed in the future, attending fitness classes and developing the program known as Body Combat, a high-intensity martial arts cardio experience. Perhaps this woman in front of me was Joan of Arc, or, at least, her disciple. In contrast to the fun loving, prancing and dancing Zumba instructors, this woman certainly seemed like a radical militant, albeit an optimistic one.

After teaching us a few basic punches, Joan (as she will now be called) turned on the dance beats, which proved to be not so different from Mozart’s 1989 composition, and began demonstrating a series of jabs, jumps, and uppercuts, and we all followed along as best as we could. She would shout things like, “Visualize your opponent. Picture your fist making contact with their jaw. Feel the Power! Doesn’t that feel good? Now, push yourself harder! Destroy the enemy.” Personally, I am not quite sure what enemy we were “destroying,” but it seems that he was male. I mean, Joan has good reason to hate the male race: their chauvinism is what ultimately did her in. That being said, I don’t think I have ever wanted to hit anyone. Well, maybe slap or cat-scratch but never hit. No one ever taught me how to punch. I have always been instructed to roll up in a ball like an armadillo, and just hope that my attacker would lose interest. If that doesn’t work, reach for pepper spray. Of course, my techniques are decidedly defensive, and Joan seemed to have more of an offensive plan of attack for her warriors.

She taught us to breathe between punches, anticipate the next blow, and counter attack. Those around me went positively medieval on their invented attackers. (For those of you who wronged these women, beware. A newly trained martial artist may be waiting behind any door.) I, on the other hand, found my fists reaching through stale air, hitting the faint mirages of a succession of people I dislike, including, but not limited to, Ryan Seacrest, Joseph Stalin, Scarlett Johansson, and that bitchy girl Ashley from elementary school. It quickly became clear to me that I wasn’t aggressive enough for this crowd. Maybe I needed go out and try to hate some people more intensely and then I could come back and kick their imagined butts.

When I woke up the next morning, I realized that someone had indeed been beaten up the previous night, and it was me. I generally avoid weight rooms, and my neglected upper-body was feeling the pain that day. Throughout the morning, I became increasingly frustrated with my tight muscles, a constant reminder of my failed efforts the night before.

My probably very normal fitness instructor had taken on mythic proportions in my thoughts. I was jealous of her ability to feel anger, and to channel into something productive. Usually when I am upset, I watch an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” or seek out ice cream. Joan of Arc and her Body Combat army were putting me to shame. Why did Joan get to experience such strong feelings and act upon them, while I was left helplessly eating melting dessert, wrapped up in a blanket of my own melancholy? It didn’t seem fair. Then I realized I don’t always have to the damsel in distress, or the Disney princess who sits waiting for someone to fight her battles. In fact, Joan of Arc seemed way more “rad” than those wimpy girls. It was time to pick myself up, and sign up for another Body Combat lesson. Joan still has plenty to teach me about getting in touch with my inner warrior.

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