More Dance, Less Volley Ball by
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Let me be clear. I am not an athlete and never enjoyed any sort of organized team sport. Just built that way. So PE was definitely not my thing. I am barely 5′ tall, small-boned, terrible hand-to-eye coordination. Great sense of rhythm, good dancer. Yes, dancing is good exercise. Anyone done a Zumba class? So I was always picked last for any team activity in PE class (even Red Rover…I wasn’t strong enough to break through the line). I couldn’t serve the ball over the net in volley ball. I do have strong legs, so I was pretty good at kick ball, just not very fast at running the bases.

The Featured photo is from my 7th grade yearbook, so an actual PE photo. The woman in the white blouse was our instructor and we wore those (blue) uniforms to class for two years. They came home on Fridays to be laundered. The trampoline was fine. I rather liked the bouncing and could do a few tricks. I was truly awful at most of the rest. The one part that I liked, even in grade school was square dancing. Learning the calls and proper moves was really fun. I’m not sure it gave us a good workout, but it was different and kept our minds engaged, as we listened to the calls and moved to them.

I understand that part of the role of PE was just to let us work off steam and get us moving after sitting so much of the day. That certainly has it merits. And for those who excel athletically, it gave them a chance to shine, which was also nice. But it was always a frustrating part of my day, as I was so bad at most aspects of PE class. But I’d get a good grade for effort. I always tried.

By the time I got to college, they did offer Modern Dance as a form of exercise, so I’d put on my black leotard and trod to the gym. Of course, I was happy with that. I picked up choreography quickly and would sail through class. We also had to pass a swim test in order to graduate. That was a state requirement and I was fine with that. We took swimming in high school too. I had to remove my contact lenses for that class and putting them back in, in the busy, crowded locker room was always challenging. I was not a strong swimmer, but I enjoyed the water and could pass all the tests, so was fine being in the pool except for the strong smell of chlorine, which was off-putting.

At Brandeis I used to swim for exercise, then take a relaxing sauna after. There was a notorious professor who was frequently in the sauna with all the co-eds, a very handsy professor. We all knew that his wandering hands would be all over our bare legs in the sauna (we always wore our bathing suits – no nude co-ed saunas). In fact, it was sort of a joke around campus. This was long before the #MeToo movement. We just pushed his hand off of us. Of course, he would be fired today. Times have changed.

I have changed too. I still don’t like team sports (except watching them, of course), but I am in the gym six days a week, taking Barre class, Pilates, Core Synergy and my own workout on a recumbent bike and a machine circuit. So maybe the lessons from PE class were somehow embedded in my psyche after all.


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: Square dancing, trampoline, modern dance, workouts
Characterizations: been there, moving, well written


  1. Well done, Betsy. When the going gets tough, the tough dance, as they should. And thanks for the call out on behalf of square dancing. I remember that we did it in grade school and it was great fun. And it counts!

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Great story, Betsy. Knowing that you were a dancer/athlete, I was particularly curious to see if this might have led to you having actually enjoyed PE — a rarity among high school girls, I know. Clearly not, but it is not surprising that you enjoyed/excelled at the trampoline and square dancing. (As I recall, the other reason that square dancing was popular was that you didn’t have to put on your gym uniforms to do so – -same with you?) In any event, I somehow think that your current commitment to an enviable fitness regime is more despite of, than because of, all those stupid PE classes.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I only remember doing square dancing in elementary school, John. We didn’t wear uniforms then, so I don’t think that played a part in it (perhaps we might have square danced in junior high, but we would still have worn uniforms, so your thesis doesn’t hold up).

      My fitness regime now is just about trying to elude Mother Nature and forestall the effects of being in my 60s. I have already lost 1/2′ of my height, have bone loss and other ill-effects of aging, so doing all I can to stay strong as the years continue to damage my body.

  3. Marian says:

    I’m so glad you posted the picture with gym suits, Betsy! I, too, loved dance until that foot issue quashed advanced modern dance classes in college. I’d almost forgotten the Brandeis swim test, which I passed easily. Today I’ll be off to the gym to get rid of the stiffness and aches and pains. Yikes, I’m now not even 5’6″, don’t want more shrinking.

  4. Suzy says:

    Love the picture from your yearbook! The gymsuits look just like mine did. Now I have to go check my old yearbooks to see if there are any pics like that. Wish we had had trampoline and square dancing in junior high and HS, that would have made it tolerable.

    I’m sure if there had been a PE requirement for me in college, I would have satisfied it with Modern Dance too. I had three years of Modern Dance at Interlochen, and years of private lessons as a child, so that would have been fun. But not doing anything physical at all was even more fun!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      As I’ve read these stories, Suzy, it is interesting to me to read the diversity of what passed for gym classes across the various regions. We certainly didn’t have field hockey or softball. That would have been HORRID for me. And we only had two years of PE in high school, so that was almost bearable. Also interesting that none of us current writers LIKED PE! What does that tell us?

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Betsy, my short soul sister, as a barely over five foot tall girl I had the same experiences with PE. I had forgotten about square dancing, at which I also excelled. Ball sports — forget it. I wish I had the opportunity to figure skate like my daughters or swim and dance like my granddaughters. Alas, those options were not available to me where I grew up. I’m still waiting for a woman to write about how she loved PE. Since fitness is so important, that’s pretty sad.

  6. A very CLEAR description of your ups and downs in gym class, Betsy. And a great image of those medieval suits the girls were required to wear, altho in my days, the girls would take turns ‘forgetting’ their uniforms as they were called. Your cool response to the roving sauna hands of some professor seems outrageous now. Of course, you would have busted him, now. One hopes!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Charlie. Yes, definitely would have busted that professor now. As I said, times have changed. My husband was very impressed at Brandeis commencement this morning when Anita Hill said hi to me (“Does she really know you?” he queried. He totally missed the part where we sat next to one another and talked about Joe Biden at a board meeting last Friday; she said of course she’d vote for him against Trump, tho she remains exasperated with his response to her).

      • Anita Hill, eh? Well, I’m impressed. Angela Davis also attended Brandeis, I believe. Not that there’s any necessary connection ;-)! I believe Anita Hill also added to her refusal to accept Biden’s apology that the real apology should come from Clarence Thomas!

        • Betsy Pfau says:

          Angela Davis was a student at Brandeis in the 60s. Anita is a professor. And yes, the real apology should come from Clarence Thomas, who is now emboldened by having compatriots on the court with him. His wife once left a message on Anita’s voice mail at Brandeis telling her to stop harassing Clarence! Can you even imagine?

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