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In Which I Become a Fitness Instructor

Cropped view of multicultural dancers doing a dance workout

In June 2018, I became a certified workout instructor. In a strangely schitzophrenic interview, I explore how this unlikely thing happened (and how it blesses my life).

Caveat: I do not look good in spandex, I have not lost mass amounts of weight, and I will not be sharing before-and-after selfies of my razor sharp abs (ha!). I do not drink meal-replacement shakes and I don’t wear brand clothing (except for the shoes, because I have an old-lady back that squawks otherwise). In short, you needn’t fear fitness conventions here.

Who are you?

I am a back-sweating, ballerina-armed thirty year old. Hater of burpees. Lover of Jesus. I work out in the church gymnasium or at home with children hanging off my legs. My uniform is an old t-shirt, black spandex capris, and Nikes. Morning hair. Sans makeup.

What are your favorite songs to work out to?

Better When I’m Dancing (Meghan Trainor), Fight Song (Rachel Platten), and Storyteller (Morgan Harper Nichols).

What do you teach?

I teach a fitness format called REFIT®. Technically, it’s a cardio dance class, similar to Zumba or Jazzercize. But I think REFIT® offers more than other fitness formats.

REFIT® stands for REvolutionary FITness, and it really is a revolution. Pushing upstream against a body-centric fitness culture, three girls from Waco, Texas created something for people of all shapes, sizes, and ages. They’ve created a workout philosophy that is about building people and communities rather than building bodies and egos.

REFIT® publishes TONS of free workout routines on YouTube. I don’t like all of them, but I love a lot of them (see my class playlist here).

They also encourage instructors to bring their values to class. I love that.

So what are your values and how to you incorporate them in class?

I believe in whole-souls. Health isn’t just physical; it is also emotional, social, and spiritual.

I also believe in community; I am happiest when I do things that connect me to other human beings.

REFIT® allows me to advocate for whole-souls and for communities. How? We begin class with a prayer. We end with a spiritual thought. We talk to each other before class, after class, and in between songs. We use music that is consistent with our family values and spiritual commitments.

What blessings have come from teaching REFIT®?

REFIT® fell into my life during a season of grief, and I consider it a personal gift from a knowing Heavenly Father.

Teaching REFIT® fills my soul! It provides a ministry, a support network, positive music, and healthy habits. Best of all, it is something that I am always working on. I’m never done creating, connecting, or becoming. It’s something worth waking up for every day.

REFIT® also blesses my daughters. In a world where women are objectified and the body is misconstrued, I get to teach my girls that our bodies are beautiful, capable instruments for good. When I teach at nine months pregnant, I am teaching my girls that childbearing is glorious. That every shape, size, and season is acceptable. That we can glorify God and build others by using our bodies in positive, happy ways.

What are your strengths as a fitness instructor?

I smile a lot. I practice a lot. And my music selection is clean and uplifting.

Also, people can feel good about themselves because I set a really low standard of personal appearance.*

What are your weaknesses as a fitness instructor?

Feelings of inadequacy are incredibly disruptive. When I compare myself to other instructors or class members, I lose vision and feel ashamed of my efforts.

Heavenly Father helps with this, though. I prayed about it a lot early on, and this is what He said: “Focus on the people and get lost in the music.” It totally works. If I can direct my eyes outward in prayer and love for the people in class, there is no self-consciousness. If I can listen to the music, the routines come easily and I have energy as an instructor.

The temptation to self-doubt is always present, but there is with the temptation also a way to escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Proudest Moments?

My proudest moments are the hardest ones. I’m proud that I keep teaching when mistakes are high and attendance is low. Those first few classes were some of the scariest hours of my life, and I’m SO grateful that I kept moving forward! I’m proud that I taught class until 37 weeks pregnant, and that I attended until the day before Clara was born. I’m proud that I came back six weeks after a C-section.

So are you saying that I should run out and certify as a REFIT® instructor?

Yes! Ha. Or maybe. But you should at least attend a local class. And if dancing is not your thing, then find something positive to do with your body. It’s God’s gift to you!

You obviously weren’t alone on this journey. Who would you nominate as MVPs?

Good heavens, where to start?

My husband. Andy tolerates my morning living-room exercise habits and then walks around humming REFIT® tunes all day. He tells me that I look beautiful when I dance, and he watches the girls while I teach. He’s honestly the most supportive man I’ve ever met. Case in point? He recently cashed in his coin jar for I-Tunes credit just so I could buy more REFIT® music.

My downstairs neighbors. Did I mention that I practice in the living room of a second-floor apartment? I’m certain that I sound like a thundering elephant, but our neighbors have never said a word.

My team, Erica and Paige. These two are literal Godsends. I found them when I was pregnant and I asked a massive favor: Learn to teach and sub for me when the baby comes? They said yes and took over class for two months. Now we team-teach, and it’s amazing.

Paige has music flowing through her bones, and she NEVER forgets a routine. She dances unselfconsciously in spite of the people watching. I’d attend class just to watch her groove. Erica is our spirit-child. She jumped into teaching sight-unseen, and she brings all the love and spirituality that we need. Her spiritual messages are poignant and honest, and she is all enthusiasm—even on Monday mornings. She wakes up at 3am for work, then shows up at 8am to teach class with a smile on her face. She even brings chocolate covered strawberries on Valentine’s day. That’s Erica.

My class. I wish everyone could have this group of women in their lives. They range in age from twenties to eighties. Our kids steal snacks and giggle together. We grieve deaths, celebrate births, and swap ideas for happy living. They’re kind, inclusive, and other-minded. They even threw me a surprise baby shower after class! I went home and wept that day because it was such an unprecedented display of love.

Mom. My Mom is the reason I exercise. We did step-aerobics together in jr high and Jazzercise in high school. In college we did yoga in the living room, and now she attends my REFIT® class. I owe her for teaching me positive life habits, and for showing up to class. She dances with the toddlers, invites friends, and gives all the right words of encouragement.

The list of mentors and friends could go on and on. Randi was my first church dance fitness instructor. She taught for free, and planted in me a desire to do the same someday. Nicole introduced me to REFIT®, and it is through her advertising that the gym is full. Alicia trusted me to substitute her Zumba class, which eventually led me to start my own class. IsaBelle was my first REFIT® instructor, and continues to mentor me (and dozens of others). Bronwyn hunts down building keys and updates the calendars. Jess (my big sister and a Zumba instructor of 10 years) trained with me. She’s the loving, charismatic extrovert that pushes this awkward introvert to do scary things.

What are your aspirations as a fitness instructor?

Someday I’d like to choreograph. I have a huge list of songs and great intentions to put moves to the music, but I’m amateur. I’d also like to institute truly powerful spiritual messages at the end of class.

Oh, and matching t-shirts. That’s just cool.

*Am I stinky and sweaty and plain when I work out? Absolutely. Do I sometimes have a pregnant belly, post-pregnant belly, jiggly triceps, or cookie-loving thighs? Yes. But there are no prequalifiers to exercising one’s body, and I get to be the posterchild for real-life aesthetic.

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Jenny Harris
Jenny is a star-gazing, book-clubbing mother of two. She has a Master’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies, which is mildly comical (but also a boon in parenting and relationships). Her kids will attest that she’s crazy about reading aloud, time out of doors, and creative play. Her family’s goal is the “abundant life,” as prescribed by Jesus. You can read more posts by Jenny here.

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0 Responses

  1. When I come visit you, can I go to your REFIT class? I’ll bet you’re an awesome instructor!

    Also, thanks for the link, love!

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