Gwen Marshbank, 86, started her exercise classes at her Constantia home with just a handful of pupils back in September 1976.
After slipping flyers in many postboxes without much success, she decided to go door to door, marketing her classes face to face. Sure enough, the business began to grow. Despite all the other options out there, Gwen’s classes are still running, 40 years later, in a much bigger venue of course.
Her daughter, Moira, takes six advanced classes a week, having joined forces with her mom more than 19 years ago, and they were also fortunate to have Marlene Mabe on board as an assistant instructor for many years. Gwen now has another teacher, Lynn Munro, working alongside her, and they run two ‘dancersize’ classes each week. Gwen’s other daughter, Debbie, attends Moira’s classes three times a week.
“It’s a women-only ‘gym’, and I think the girls feel very comfortable, as each class is like an extended family, with plenty of fun and chatting before and after the workout,” says Gwen.
“They all seem to love the music and the dance-oriented combinations, along with the more serious body-conditioning sections of the class. We keep things structured yet upbeat, changing the music and the exercises every three or four weeks, so there’s no time to get bored, or to settle into any kind of comfort zone.”
Moira says “creative choreography” is key, especially during the aerobic section. It keeps everyone on their toes, besides “giving the girls a sense of accomplishment once they have mastered the combinations”.
She adds: “As instructors, we have to be able to think fast and cue (call out) literally every step of the way, in order to keep the clarity and continuity in sync.”
Gwen is proud of the women, and says they are so good that the dance-aerobic section of the class starts looking like a mini “extravaganza” once they are in the second or third week.
“Our goal has always been to activate our bodies and brains, using compound combinations, as well as strengthening all the major muscle groups. Obviously, it is very important to keep the exercises safe and functional and to maintain a good awareness of posture, breathing and the modification of certain moves, if necessary,” says Gwen.
“We are extremely grateful for the ongoing dedication and support from all our lovely, loyal ladies, some of whom have been with us for more than 25 years.”