Volume 74, Number 3 | June 8- 14, 2005

It takes two to tango, as instructor William Madera, Jr., and a student proved while cutting a rug — make that a lane — at the McBurney YMCA.

Salsa with a splash is heating up the pool at the Y

By Judith Stiles

When Toby Appel joined an “Adapted Aquatics” class for older adults, hoping that it would help her arthritis, she had no idea that she would be dancing salsa with a charismatic aquatics instructor at the end of every class, immersed waist-deep in a swimming pool, that is.

At the McBurney YMCA at 125 W. 14th St., twice a week, instructor William Madera, Jr., charms the ladies into a rigorous aerobics workout that anyone without arthritis would find challenging. Everything from leg lifts to trotting across the pool is done nonstop to lively salsa music that keeps everyone pumped up and on the move. Over 30 women ages 40 to 84 years old, show up faithfully to the class because “William makes it fun and I feel lousy when I miss it,” says Lila Yevelson of Greenwich Village.

The class is filled with brightly colored bathing caps with one lady sporting a cap covered in jiggly rubber flowers, dating her back to the 1950s, when flowered bathing caps were the pinnacle of beach fashion.

Halfway through the class, everyone grabs two aquatic weights and tries pushing them to the bottom of the pool with their feet. Although shaped like dumbbells, the word “weight” is a misnomer because they actually are made of a lightweight material that floats, so the challenge is to force them downward even though they are buoyant.

The class moves along at a rapid pace with no traditional water break and not because class is held in the water, but because Madera knows it would be too discombobulating to stop the class, have everyone exit the pool, take a break and then return to the pool. With 12 years experience as an aerobics instructor, Madera knows it is best to encourage the students to move more slowly and take it easy if they start to feel tired, rather than take a big break. This is why on the outskirts of the group a couple of students are seen drifting back and forth in the water, one with a back brace who is taking the class for surgery recovery therapy.

Just as the ladies change to using flotation devices that are shaped like long noodles, a gentleman does a little cha-cha to the music as he gets ready to join the class, shouting “Arriba, Arriba!” as he jumps into the pool. A few more men soon join him, and they cluster together on one side of the pool, following Madera’s instructions very intently.

The class is 40 minutes long and for the last 10 minutes, Madera partners with a student, waist-deep in the pool, assuming the ballroom dancing position, as he begins to tango and twirl her with a big smile on his face. The other students pair up for end-of-the-class dancing, which is a great finale to this water aerobics class. However, surprisingly, only five ladies go home at the end of the hour, while the remainder enthusiastically stay for the second, more rigorous class with Madera, which adds up to almost two straight hours of a workout in the pool.

Students who are wheelchair restricted find this class a refreshing way to stretch and exercise. There is a chairlift at the side of the pool making it easy to switch from a wheelchair to the lift, which gently lowers into the water.

According to a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2001, 36.5 percent of women over 18 years old in New York State suffer from arthritis or similar chronic joint symptoms. With the baby boomers getting older, it can only be expected that more people will seek solutions to alleviating this type of discomfort, and what a great way to manage arthritis — dancing to salsa music in the sparkling pool at the McBurney Y. Who knows, maybe they will move the class to Saturday nights!

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