Margaret Peggie takes a look at shared experiences, the special bonds of friendship which exist between FLexercise teachers and develop between their class members.

When reading Caitlin Moran’s book ‘More than a Woman’ I thoroughly enjoyed a paragraph which described how middle-aged women find each other “inescapably more glorious than any other kind of person.” An exaggeration, of course, because that is her style, but as she says “it is only with the rest of your kind that you feel you can assume your true form: sharing stories, laughing hysterically…”

Apart from not being sure about the reference to ‘middle-aged,’ reading this made me think immediately of the times when FLexercise teachers would crowd together into someone’s bedroom, usually at the end of the day on a teachers’ course or maybe after the meetings we used to have in the days before Zoom, to relax and chat over a bottle of wine. Anyone walking down the corridors would hear gales of laughter emanating from nearby rooms as teachers gathered together in groups determined usually by who they trained with. Lots of hair being let down in exactly the way Caitlin Moran goes on to describe. The chat would maybe start with the professional events of the day but it wouldn’t be long before it embraced the personal as we caught up with each other’s lives. The joy is being with ‘like-minded’ people from all over the country, from a great variety of backgrounds, not all middle-aged, but everyone enjoying the brief moment of being completely detached from the significant others and circumstances of our lives.

What we share is the experience of teaching our classes, our skill at making it look easy and enjoyable at all times, despite what is going on in our lives. It’s not always easy, which makes being able to share the various trials and tribulations with people who understand such a relief. A situation which might have felt desperate at the time, can in the telling of it become very funny – we should write a book we say!

The strap line of FLexercise is Flexible, Friendly Fitness. All very true and while increasing the fitness of the people we teach is the primary goal, the fun and especially the friendship go closely hand in hand. From its inception in the 1930s ‘belonging’ to this new, ground-breaking organisation was a key benefit of joining the Women’s League of Health and Beauty as it was called in those days. A strong network of teachers developed who remained friends with the people they trained with, came together with others on courses, displays and events, thus widening and strengthening the bond. Class members had the chance to meet and join with members from other classes which developed a similar member network.

A class I know well has at its core several women who met when they had their first babies. They joined the class to get back in shape and no doubt also to relieve the loneliness of being left in charge of a new baby, which, if they have left busy jobs to do, comes as a bit of a shock. They have stayed with that class and each other for over 40 years and in that time they have enjoyed each other’s company, they have seen each other through most of life’s difficulties, including those most responsible for loneliness, such as death or divorce, giving support, friendship and care. A strong group, they sweep newcomers up into their midst with great enthusiasm, wrapping them up with friendship. This is exactly the same for all FLexercise classes of long-standing. Inevitably, though, life events overtake some classes which might have to close when a teacher retires or moves away.

Some members from a class which is closing got together recently for coffee to discus the closure. One of them said, “It’s a way of life and I can’t imagine not going to class.” They all agreed and went on to reminisce. “It gave us great joy talking about the years gone by. We had such a laugh around the table that I expect people wondered what we were all talking about.” Which takes me back to Caitlin Moran… I’m more than sure that they’ll stay together for the friendship, and the chance to let their hair down with ‘their own kind.’ Let’s hope they manage to maintain their fitness some other way.

STOP PRESS: No need to go elsewhere – a new class which they can go to is being set up via the incredible teacher network that is FLexercise. Hurray!