Girton village website

Active Girton: Aerobics, Line Dancing, Tai Chi

We have a line-up of three activities for this month's instalment of the "Active Girton" series. I've placed them in order from the most vigorous to the most tranquil, starting with:

Jane Mansley has been running an aerobics class in the WI Hall since January this year. A dedicated group of what your correspondent would describe as the "younger" age group (under-50) turns up to work out between 7.30 and 8.30 on Tuesday evenings. The class begins with a warm up, followed by "Hi-Lo" cardiovascular training, that is, High- or Low-impact. In other words, if you feel like jumping (high-impact), then that is what you do, or you can choose a low-impact version of the same exercise, making the class suitable for a wide range of fitness levels. The class finishes with toning work and a relaxing stretch.

Jane has been doing aerobics since early adulthood and always thought that directing a class would be fun. She gained her internationally recognised qualification as an instructor in Exercise to Music through the YMCA. Music really helps in providing a steady rhythmic background to the exercise routine, as well as making it more enjoyable. If you like dancing, you will enjoy aerobics! Jane creates her own routines, which are easy to pick up. It's a very friendly group, mainly consisting of people from Girton - all women at present, but men are most welcome to join! Jane aims to make her classes welcoming, fun and effective in meeting her participants' goals. Why not come along and try it.

Contact: Jane Mansley, 277027, or visit

Barbara Wright, with a string of professional qualifications after her name, has been teaching dance of one kind or another since she was 17, and has been conducting Line Dancing sessions in Girton since 2000. Classes started in the WI Hall, then moved to the Pavilion when work was being done to the Hall floor, and stayed there. So what's involved?

Line Dancing started in the USA, and the different steps and moves have their genesis in the folk dances of the various nationalities that have settled there, from Russian stomps through Austrian waltzes and Irish jigs, right the way to cha-cha and salsa. In its origins, the men would dance in line to the women and the women would pick out the partners they liked best. As you stand in line or in formation, i.e. you aren't dancing with a partner, it is an ideal activity for singletons - just find a space on the floor and follow along. This makes it sound easy - but believe me, it's harder than it looks! I joined in one session, and soon found my confidence in the distinction between left and right shaken - Hey, I used to be good at this sort of thing! It turns out that you also need to use your brain to get your feet in the right place. Which may be why the Girton line dancers are such an alert and lively group - "Gentle exercise, and good for the brain," as one participant told me.

It all started, they were keen to tell me, when Beryl and Mary (I'm keeping to first names) went to a Line Dancing session on holiday, and had such a good time they looked for a teacher to start a class in Girton. Barbara offered to hold classes if enough people turned up. Now there are about 15 regular attenders, mainly women (more men would be welcome), whose ages range from - let's just say that age is no barrier, but you must be wide awake and young at heart! For example, Joan has just turned 90 and is still dancing.

Beginners have to learn the names of the steps such as "chasséand "shuffle", and Barbara will call out the steps during the dance, with plenty of help for the less expert. If it all seems too much - too energetic or too complicated - you can sit out a dance or adapt movements to whatever you feel comfortable with. At the other end of the scale, some have become so expert that they have studied for medals - there are Bronze, Silver and Gold qualifications to be gained. Margaret has attained a Silver qualification, and Deborah attained a teaching qualification and now teaches her own class in Swavesey.

Sessions run on Thursday afternoons from 2 to 3.30 with a break in the middle for tea and a chat. The social aspect is important, so birthdays are celebrated with cake, and although exercise (mental and physical) is the motive, there is also an emphasis on enjoying oneself. Unfortunately, high-heeled shoes and cowboy boots are banned as they would damage the floor, but I don't think the members of this group would look wrong in dashing Country and Western gear as they sashay along to "I'm Just a Woman in Love" or "Red Hot Salsa". As one of them said, "If you've got music, you can do it!"

Contact: Barbara Wright, 426517, or come along on Thursdays.

We have probably all seen pictures from China of people in Mao suits in public parks, moving their bodies with graceful but exaggerated gestures in what looks like a slow-motion ballet, and we may have asked ourselves, "What is this all about?" It is, of course, Tai Chi. Every Monday from 7 to 8 p.m., Viv Tribe and George Thorpe hold a Tai Chi class in the Cotton Hall, and for the curious the best thing would be to go along and try it out.

Tai Chi (literally "Supreme Fist") was originally one of the Martial Arts disciplines, and over the centuries very diverse forms developed, with some families jealously guarding the secrets of their sequences of movements. Under Chairman Mao, a unified version was developed which was disseminated all over China and then to the West. Viv and George both belong to the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain, which was founded in 1991, and are members of a school going under the name "L'Art du Chi", now based in Provence. Although an internet search for Tai Chi will bring up some images of people apparently fighting in slow motion, waving staves or even swords, the style practised by Viv and George is definitely "No contact and no competition". It is known as the "short form" of Tai Chi and is based on 24 "postures". A warm-up ensures that articulation is good, and that the body is free of stiffness. Movements flow together, and what links them is the degree of "mindfulness" the practitioner brings to the discipline. Here the instructor can come in with help and guidance, but practice is also important.

Traditional Chinese ways of interpreting the world are very different from those of the West. Some people get very interested in the beliefs underlying the practice of Tai Chi, especially the idea that energy flows through the body and that the slow movements assist the free flow of energy. Focusing the mind on the flow of energy reduces tension and relieves stress, and the physical exercise increases flexibility and mobility. However, it isn't necessary to delve deeply into traditional Chinese philosophy in order to reap the benefits of Tai Chi. As it is a very gentle form of exercise, people of any age can practise it. And although it is popular among older people for this very reason, it is by no means exclusively for retirees. Indeed, George holds a short lunchtime class each week at Cambridge University Library for employees, and Viv holds a drop-in class at the University Social Club on Wednesday lunchtimes and a more in-depth class on Wednesday evenings.

Viv has been teaching Tai Chi since 1995, and George since 2000, so if you decide to investigate and go along to a class, you will be in the care of very experienced teachers. Once you master the basics, it is a way of feeling more grounded, relaxed and energised, with no bodily strain. And surely we could all do with that!

Contact: George Thorpe and Viv Tribe, tel. 560084, More information at

Angela Blackburn