Tag Archives: Society and Fitness

Too cool to Dance

KISS might have been the final blow that killed dancing as a socially acceptable thing to do. Noting the temporary outcroppings of dances surrounding music videos and movies, we still never fully recovered from the backlash against disco. And only a few years later were computers born, keeping us complacently docile and more susceptible to head bobbing as a form of musical appreciation.

It’s a shame we don’t dance in America. We tend to view it as a spectator sport.

Breaking it down into two categories, we have the art of dance and social dance. Over an extended period of time, I’d argue, social dance has all but disappeared, while perceiving dance as an art form, reserved for those with skill, has grown…mainly through reality show competitions. And no doubt it is an admirable and beautiful thing to behold, but socially, as a nation we don’t embrace dance as something we all can do. Blame it on KISS, blame it on technological evolution; blame it on the Puritans; blame it on a lack of rhythm; whatever the reason, we generally scoff and say, “Yeah, right. No. Way.”

From an evolutionary perspective, dance let us show off to potential mates. Like peacocks strutting their feathers, it displayed physical capabilities and breeding skills, the remnants of which can still be unearthed in dance clubs today, however, online dating is taking the opportunities and fun away. The most colorful peacocks today have 1000+ friends and a killer Facebook profile.

From a social perspective, dance is a way to celebrate, congregate, and enjoy community. Almost every culture in the world has a social dance that is crucial to their heritage. In plenty of places, dancing is still an important way of getting together and letting loose in everyday life. Brazil has it down, as does India. There is no dancing like in a Bollywood film, and it only mirrors the societal importance of dance in celebration for men and women, young and old.

Finally, from the physical perspective, dance is a way to stay healthy and in shape, getting the heart pumping, and the brain lapping up all those feel-good neurotransmitters. Dance helps balance intrinsic muscles and joints, and our mental capacities in ways we now use somatics, pilates, and yoga, to try and do. Researchers at Washington University have even found evidence of dance helping to control movements in patients with Parkinson’s Disease.

So we get it. Dance is good. It all makes sense, but we still can’t help but cringe at the thought of jumping up moving around. Generally, the places one feels safest dancing are – the hidden underground belly of a dance club (with the aid of alcohol or recreational drugs), at a wedding, (with the aid of alcohol or recreational drugs), at home with the XBox game, or regulated to a sterile gym fitness class.

Unfortunately, our motives are deeply ingrained, and “cold dancing” is a tall order. The larger the group of people dancing, the easier you’ll find it to be….that’s why it’s social.  Try releasing a hangup or two, grab a bunch of friends, and in the immortal words of Swing Out Sister “Break Out”.  It could become infectious. And if it’s not, who cares, you and your friends will feel great. Maybe we need office Spotify dance breaks, where every few hours a song comes on, encouraging movement within the entire office, from receptionist to CEO. I like that picture. You’d be surprised what camaraderie will ensue when dancing next to your boss or the IT personnel. Until then, I dare you to try and bust a move this week.

Next post we’ll look at a dance troupe breaking down the barriers between, social and artistic dance. Until then, I leave you with Bollywood:


Why we love fitness clubs. A brief history of Gyms.



Funny how words and meanings change overtime. For example, the term salon commonly referred to a gathering of intellectuals to discuss issues of the day, and yet most of us now can’t help but think of the place we go for haircuts.

Another word that’s evolved in meaning is the beloved gym. From ancient times up until even the past 50 years, gymnasiums were considered higher institutions of training the body, mind and spirit. Like a Western equivalent of the Shaolin temple, gymnasiums encompassed not only fitness but; philosophy, community, the arts, and social and political change – a far cry from the health club down the street.

The original Latin gymnos literally means “naked” because what better way to show off physical and raw athletic prowess in ancient Greece than in the buff. Later the word gymnasium would refer to public run high schools in Germany, and gyms were called Turnvereins. Confused yet?

Gyms as we know them in the United States evolved from a political movement in Germany during the early 1800s, with a belief that a healthy mind and body would instill patriotism, a belief in liberty, and unify Germany into one country. They were called Turners (meaning: one who does gymnastics). Thanks to the Turners we have the parallel bars, horizontal bar, the sidehorse, and most gymnastic events still popular in the Olympics.

Large numbers of Germans emmigrated to the US in the mid 1800’s, the Turners included.  They fought with the Union army in the Civil War. But with the end of the war, the Turner’s political edge – their main driving force in Europe- faded in the United States, and their focus shifted to establishing Turnvereins – community centers that mixed social conciousness and fitness. In areas of the country with historically large German immigrant populations, you can still find Turnvereins existing today. Organizations such as the YMCA, were inspired by Turnvereins.

With the Industrial revolution and a growing economy, Americans liked the idea of fitness, leisure exercise, and clubs to occupy more free time. Gyms have continued to evolve and change, until we finally have the posh spots of today – places of little social or political importance, but major on the fitness, health, and fashion spectrum.

We have much to thank the Turners’ for; from the yoga and pilates practiced today, to those scarring junior high physical education classes.  Yes. They were big advocates for physical education in schools.


In a bad economy, gym memberships are one of the first things to go. And with education cuts deepening, PE classes are all but out the door.  Perhaps it’s time for a new localized movement building community, creativity, knowledge, and physical health all in the name of a stronger America. Gyms, Turnvereins…can just we pick a new name though?

Sidenote: If you happen to be in St. Louis, MO, there’s a memorial to Frederic Jahn, The Father of the Turner movement, within Forest Park. It features a large bust of Jahn in the center of an arc of stone, with statues of a male and female gymnast, one on each end of the arc. The monument is on the edge of Art Hill next to the path running north and south along the western edge of Post-Dispatch lake. It is directly north of the St. Louis Zoo.

Energy Saving Fashion in Japan

In the wake of both natural and environmental disasters, Japan is struggling with its lack of energy resources. Attempts to conserve are both large and small, down to making an energy savings fashion statement.  Last month, the Japanese Government launched Super Cool Biz 2011 – the summer fashion campaign to keep people cool while keeping air conditioners at a minimum during Japan’s most sultry months.

The Super Cool Biz fashion campaign, respectfully suggests the Japanese “Salary man”, known for conservative grey or black attire,  put down the ties and step away from the suits – just for the summer – in the name of energy savings.  In other words: The Japanese Government is asking its workforce to lighten up!

The fashion campaign started several years ago as an effort to fight global warming.  But this year, with air conditioner temperatures regulated to 82 degrees fareinheit, the campaign’s necessity is obvious. Super Cool Biz encourages a departure from the heavy suits, and opts for office wear like polos, t-shirts, hawaiian shirts, and sandals.

Interestingly, classic Japanese fashions are being promoted to beat the heat as well.  It is encouraged to carry around the traditional uchiwa hard fans, for men to wear contemporary suteteko (basically slim fitting capris), and women to don the traditional summer yukata. Generally, jeans are considered too informal, and would make most people feel “uncomfortable”.

While it makes sense, the fashion altering campaign faces an uphill battle. Work life definitely outweighs personal time. Wearing casual clothing to work previously would have meant inevitable firing.  Many workers feel they would not be taken seriously sporting a t-shirt in the office, as well as risk standing out apart from their peers. The preference is to suffer a bit more and maintain the status quo. Luckily, the Super Cool Biz campaign not only offers fashion tips, but other energy saving and carbon reducing suggestions as well, including working only in the morning and (my personal favorite recommendation) taking longer summer vacations. The need for flexibility and adaptation could help Japan usher in a more balanced approach to home and work. Only time will tell – as the summer heat and energy crisis continues – if Japan is truly ready to start shedding suits for sandals.

Calorie-restricted diets and Biosphere

Ingestion: Planet in a Bottle

By Christopher Turner

Cabinet Magazine, Issue 41, Spring 2011

Remember Biosphere? The experiment out in the desert testing our planetary colonization skills. It was an intricate maze of self-contained domes, housing plants, animals, and a few brave individuals. Though the two year test was publicly deemed a failure, many fields benefited from the experience; from psychology, to green energy engineering, all the way to food and nutrition. This is where we pick it up. This is the story of Dr. Roy Walford, and his calorie restricted diet studies in Biosphere. Walford’s claim was calorie-restricted diets slow the aging process.

His theory has been around a long time and is still going strong, with ongoing research at Washington University in St. Louis (Go home team!), among others.  It seems interesting enough that the NY Times publishes an in-depth article on the topic every few years –  One for the Ages: A Prescription That May Extend Life, 2006 and  The Calorie Restriction Experiment, 2009.

While I don’t want to give away the ending, let me just say, it holds a certain poignancy over the whole diet thing. Thanks again to Cabinet Magazine, and writer Christopher Turner. Love you guys.

Another link to the article on Dr. Wolford and Biosphere is here.

(I’m excited I wrote this without mentioning Bio-Dome or Pauly Shore…until just now.)

Standing at your desk

On more than one occasion, the dangers of sitting has been discussed on this blog. Here’s someone who’s taking action. Blogger Corbett Barr, attempted standing at his desk for most of the week, and then posted his experience to the Zen Habits blog. He discovers, obviously, there are pluses and minuses. The best approach for most of us would be to split our time between standing and sitting throughout the day. It’s all about balance, right?

You can check out his experiment here.

…And for the record, we think the treadmill desk is just a bad idea for so many reasons.

The Invention of Exercise Equipment

The Origins of Cybex Space is a fascinating article written by Carolyn de la Peña, and published by magazine extraordinaire Cabinet. Each publication of Cabinet collects art, articles and essay under loose themes. This particular issue (Issue 29, Spring 2008) was SLOTH.  In the article, de la Pena delves into the beginnings of exercise equipment, in particular, Cybex machines. Enlightening and informative , it really gives pause to marvel at how awesome and bizarre humanity is. Seriously, where do we come up with this stuff? Truly, if we take a closer look close at the evolution of society, as de la Pena does – down to large metal and wood machines on which we built to exercise – the answers become surprisingly obvious.

You can read the entire article here.

2011: Embracing Stupidity

Albert couldn't tell his right from his left

All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then Success is sure.
– Mark Twain, Notebook, 1887

I overthink most things.  I brood; over plans, ideas and life in general. The dreamiest place i know is inside my head, and it can become so cluttered with thoughts I’m crippled by inaction. It’s kind of like living The Secret Life of Walter J. Mitty. Or, wait! Even better, like this line from the TS Eliot poem:

Do I dare disturb the Universe?/ In a minute there is time. /For revisions and decisions / which a minute will reverse.

Starting projects is not a problem, but completing them is, not because I don’t want to, but because my brain won’t let me. Yes, I’m placing the blame on my over-thinking brain.

How often do we wistfully say, “if only things were simpler.” My longing lately goes more like this, “If only I could be stupid”…by this I mean, less thinking, more action. It sounds wrong, but hear me out. As per usual, it’s all about a healthy balance.

There is a fine line between genius and stupidity; between the mad scientist and then just a really brilliant one. Getting ahead in life according to social mores and making gobs of money doesn’t necessarily make you a genius. Being scattered and unable to move forward in the ways that are deemed culturally correct doesn’t make you unintelligent. Defining what is dumb and smart, and how society accepts both has been contemplated time and again.

The first time I encountered this conceptual debate was in junior high while reading  Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The story goes: A lab janitor yearns to be smarter. He attains it through a radical scientific experiment. The smarter he becomes, the more he ostracizes everything he’s loved. Slowly, the experiment fails and he slips back into a state of mental slowness and his life is better for it…kind of…no. not really. It’s a sad story, expressing the highs are too high, the lows are too low, and best to stick with what you got.

More recently I fortuitously found a more inspiring documentary by Benita Raphan called, Great Genius and Profound stupidity.

Raphan interviews various people, like Oliver Sacks, and tells the stories of others, like Hellen Keller, who throughout history were once considered dumb, and later, professed to be the great geniuses of humanity.

Advertisers too are diving into the sociological game of what makes you genius. Is it stupidity? Maybe it’s your jeans. At least Diesel thinks so. Based on my earlier self-musings, I tend to agree with them…on stupidity, not jeans…just in a less flashy advertisement kind of way.  Here is their latest ad campaign manifesto, “Be Stupid”.

We now know there are different types of intelligence. For several decades, Dr. Howard Gardner has researched how different brains have different, distinct “smarts”.  Even intelligence is relative. I’d like to think we are all endowed in one category or another.

Whatever your intelligence/s might be, they are hard to tap into without a little focused action. It’s easy to read this,  get inspired for 30 seconds and move on. It’s easy to live in our heads or on a screen, and as our senses become overwhelmed by the multi-media encompassing life, it becomes harder to “do”.  So, I lift my coffee mug in a toast and a call to action: Here’s to a little more doing and a little less thinking in 2011. Here’s to balance. Here’s to embracing both the uniqueness of our genius and the wonder of our stupidity. Cheers.