Wendy Louise moved from the court to the pool after a lifetime of playing tennis, with its constant pounding on her knees and hips, plus a rotator cuff surgery. When she switched from teaching tennis to teaching fitness classes in the water, she gradually began to notice the same bored, glazed-over looks on the students' faces. So, on a whim one frigid January day, she sang to her class: "Oh, what a beautiful morning!" Soon, the class was singing along. That was several years ago; since then, they've been through everything from old American Indian chants to three-part harmonies of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" to Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes.
BETTER THAN THE HOT TUB "In the pool, you don't have to have a terrific voice or be on key. You don't have to speak English. All you need is a bathing suit. People go by the window and see people waving and having fun. ... I've had men hop out of the jacuzzi and join us. Some of them come just to sing, and they all leave with a smile. Any class could be dull if you did similar routines -- there's only so many ways you can kick and flail your arms."
EXERTION CHECK "We do 15 minutes of strength training and then 30 minutes of nonstop movement. They don't stop for one second. They're running up and down the pool. Singing is a good way to check cardio; if they can't get the sound out, slow it down. When we get to the more melodious music during resistance training, everything gets very quiet because we're doing the movements under the water. You can actually hear the harmonies; they just love it. For the 4th of July, we sang 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' and 'You're a Grand Old Flag'; during the Olympics, we did 'Chariots of Fire.'"
DRAWING A CROWD "We used to leave a lane open for lap swimming, but when the class got to 36 people I asked to take over the pool. The club I work at has sent personal trainers over to find out how I'm able to get 36 people to stick with a class. So these macho men are having fun with these little plastic weights and afterward, their hands and arms are sore."
WATER THERAPY "I appreciate all the stories I hear so much. I have an 83-year-old who stopped me after class to tell me that coming to class helps her not get so violently ill after her chemotherapy and radiation. I have one gal in her late 20s who was completely sedentary and lost 35 pounds in four months. Another student had brain surgery, and the classes helped her get her stability and balance back. One is expecting twins. ... Everyone is hoping she has her babies in the pool, so they can be at the birth!"
FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH? "It's a good workout for everyone. For all of us who are aging and losing our ability to keep up our stamina, or for people who have had both knees and hips replaced, it feels so good to get in the water. For me, it keeps my range of motion up, and it also keeps my mobility and strength up. ... It's also great for people with arthritis or fibromyalgia."
SILLINESS FACTOR "One thing singing has done -- and I'll never be able to explain this -- but it's created a camaraderie. Word gets out that people have such a great time. They're telling their friends in their bridge clubs. ... When you're silly and you sing and exercise, the silliness factor keeps these people having a good time.
"I encourage people to go to any beach and do this, to make your own aqua class. If you're not swimming across the lake, just do some high kicks and jumping jacks and start with 'Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.' It'll put a smile on your face, and that's the most important thing."