The other day I accepted an offer to substitute a class at the Marpole-Oakridge Community Centre. As usual, I arrived about fifteen minutes early to set up the sound system and flirt with the participants. As people began to file in, I asked one of the participants, who possessed a comely and statuesque figure in her purple Spandex attire, whether she was the instructor.

 “Stop ogling,” she said while frowning a little over aggressively. “You’re the instructor and you know it. Who else would monkey with the stereo?”

 She had me there. She not only caught me ogling, which is second nature to most male fitness instructors, she has a legitimate case for sexual harassment. Clearly, I needed to watch my ‘come hither look’ with this one.

 “I didn’t come here early to be hit on by a guy who does jumping jacks for a living,” she continued. “I came early to find out where you’re going to do.”

 I thought that intended to ask for her money back if she didn’t  like what I planned. I didn’t want her to discover at this time that I never really planned anything. I rarely do for classes where I’m only a substitute. I make things up as I go along as I assess the participants’ abilities. “What do you want to do?” I asked.

 “It doesn’t matter,” she said belligerently. “You’re the instructor, aren’t you? You’re supposed to be in charge.”

 This retort puzzled me. Then she added, “Are you going to have us in a circle or in rows. I want to know where I should be.”

 “Where do you want to be?” I asked.

 “If you have us in rows, I want to be in the front row,” she shouted. “If were in a circle, I want to be where everyone can see me.”

 “How about if we do both?” I asked.

 “We can’t do both,” she answered. “I won’t know where to be.”

 Our relationship began as a harmless and friendly flirtation ended in a struggle with roots in the Robert Aubrey’s  Territorial Imperative. I became an innocent victim entangled in a web – the structural anthropology of an aerobics class. The structure binding the class together so participants move in unison has nothing to do with the skill of the instructor or the abilities of the participants. Nor does it have to do with the desire to become fit. It has to do with pecking order and location.

 The pecking order is for location. I have witnessed shoving matches and actual battles between alpha males and females over location. The alpha type will often camp out before the facility is opened to stake out territory.

 It seems like a lot of wasted energy to me. Unless one is waiting for the instructor to turn an ankle so one can take over the class, the front row is not the best place to be. In my opinion, the best place is in the centre of the class. That way, one can receive cues from both the instructor and the alphas in the front row. If the instructor has the inclination to have the class face the back wall, as I sometimes do, a participant can get cues from people in the back row.

 In some gyms, however,  being an alpha participant in the front row makes sense. In gyms with mirrored walls, for example, alpha participants assume their positions in front so they can view their reflections. They tell me this is so they can check their posture. I know better. They are narcissistic. They simply like to look at themselves.

 Participants and instructors alike should be aware of aerobic anthropology. Its study leads to MIKES FIRST LAW OF AEROBICS: NEVER PISS OFF THE FRONT ROW.

Mike Broderick is an Employment Specialist for the Neil Squire Society in Burnaby where he finds employment for people with physical disabilities. Part of this work means affiliation with the Vancouver Board of Trade where he is a member of the Ambassador Club, the Burnaby Board of Trade where he is a member of the Labour Task Force, the Tri Cities Chamber of Commerce where he is an active member of the 10X10 initiative, and the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce. He does some work as a field Archaeologist and is a  fitness instructor and frequent contributor of fitness humour articles to alive magazine in Port Coquitlam. You can reach him at home at   or at

If you’re looking for a career change, he is the Spin Doctor and can give you a resume makeover at competitive rates



  1. Sharon Says:

    Great job, Mike. Funny, as always. Great insights.
    In yoga class I always choose front row center so I can hear the instructor who speaks softly. In tai chi I chose middle so I can take cues from front and back rows. I try to avoid looking at myself in the mirror.

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