Europe 2010: Exercise Class in Paris

I think having one post for each day is going to prove too unwieldy so I’ll break the days into topics! Rick Steves, my favorite travel guru, wrote that travel is concentrated living and he certainly got that right! One day of sightseeing and just being in a new location seems to last forever compared with a typical day at home.

So, I left the gallery and hopped the Metro for a long ride up to Place de Clichy in the northwest of Paris, not far from Montmartre. Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I’d checked out all the NIA classes available in Paris. For those of you reading this blog who have never heard of NIA, you can read about it at NIA is a dance/fitness program that I got hooked on almost two years ago to such an extent that I took the training needed to teach it. As a matter of fact, I’ll be teaching two classes a week starting October 25 (the day after we get back from Europe!) at the Ron Braithwaite Community Center in North Vancouver. Plug…!

I found the right address—a typical French 19th Century building with a large courtyard and a staircase. I couldn’t see any sign of a dance studio on the ground floor so I started up the staircase in the dark. In Europe, the lighting for most staircases is on a timer which means that unless you can find the switch, you mount the stairs virtually in total darkness. There wasn’t a soul around as up and up I went on a broadly winding staircase. At each level I saw only ranks of black closed doors—a trifle ominous in their anonymity. I made it to the top of the building with still no sign of a dance studio. What was I doing? I felt like I was in the movie Charade from the early 60’s—I was Audrey Hepburn in an ancient apartment building about to run across a dead body.

I would disappear from Paris and no one would ever know where I had gone!

Dismissing such negative thoughts, I found the tiny elevator and took it down to the ground floor, only to remember around floor three that Audrey Hepburn found one of the many dead bodies that littered Charade in an elevator.


I emerged back into the cobbled courtyard and of course the first thing I see is a sign pointing downstairs to the Espace Ettava. Bon! I had found my NIA class.

Not so fast! I approached the fittest looking individual waiting outside the studio as it emptied from the previous class.

“Bonjour. NIA est ici?”

Quoi? What?

The woman’s eyes widened as she struggled to understand me. It turns out that she was not the NIA teacher and had never even heard of NIA which meant that the posting on the Web site was not correct. She directed me to the list of classes posted on the wall of the studio – no NIA was listed.

Ahh – now what? She (her name was Vivienne I soon found out) asked if I would like to stay for Le Stretching Postural. Well, heck, I was there and was determined to exercise so why not? Minutes later I was standing on an ancient wood floor in front of an even more ancient mirror that truly looked as if it had come from the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles—all speckled and warped. It wasn’t much use as a mirror in a dance studio, but whatever – it looked atmospheric.

I was joined by three people—a woman around my age, a 40-something man with the wildest hair and skinniest legs I’ve ever seen on someone who was not in the last stages of consumption, and a woman probably in her seventies that looked a bit worried.

And rightly so!

Vivienne began the class and for the next 60 minutes took us through a series of postures—rather like yoga on steroids with a bit of Pilates thrown in—that left my muscles pleading for mercy. I don’t think she ever once stopped talking for more than five seconds. My French got an even better workout than my body (and that’s saying something)!

Respirez……(and we all breathe in), Soufflez (we breathe out). We did a lot of respirering and soufflering as the hour progressed. I gathered that breathing plays a very important role in le stretching postural—a fitness practice I later discovered that has been around quite awhile at least in France.

I managed to keep up more or less and added many new French words to my vocabulary. I came to dread hearing “Carol!” followed by a string of directions in French pertaining to my failure to hold my body in the correct postural. But she was very nice and often came over to manually place me in the correct position (ouch!) when she could see I hadn’t a clue what she was saying.

The class really was quite wonderful! I particularly liked it when she’d have us in a posture and then towards the end would encourage us to hold it by saying “encore, encore, encore…” pause…”Soufflez.” I think we all quickly came to love the sound of “soufflez” since it meant we could relax.

Vivenne had one of the most petite and sculptured body I’ve ever seen. She really was gorgeous. I got a kick out of the fact that she wore an artfully knotted orange silk scarf for the entire class. Chic and fit –how French!

So I limped out of the class and went looking for more adventure. My plan was to walk down to Les Grand Boulevards to do some shopping. I can’t say I actually need more clothes, but as my mother says, since when does need have to do with anything?

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