LOUIS — Beyond the quiet stacks at the Schlafly Branch of
the St. Louis Public Library, past the tables of computers and
across the way from the checkout is a large meeting room. The
windowless space is carpeted and has beige walls; slate blue
chairs ring the perimeter.
recent Tuesday, patrons stride in after work, stop at the
registration table and sign in for the evening’s class.
few minutes of chitchat, the class gets a cue that it’s time
get up!" commands singer Robin Thicke, as "Blurred
Lines" trumpets through a CD player that has a microphone
nosed up to its speaker. "Woo!"
time he gets to the "hey, hey, hey!" refrain, the 30
or so women are on their feet, shimmying to the beat in
parallel lines across the room. "Step for Fitness"
class is one of several fitness-themed programs held in
branches of the St. Louis Public and St. Louis County library
systems. Aerobics, dance, yoga and tai chi are as much a part
of the systems’ missions as the memoirs, novels and
nonfiction tomes that pack their hushed shelves.
into our strategic planning is to provide community gathering
spaces," says Jennifer McBride, the communications
manager for the St. Louis County Library. "Fitness
programs fall under that umbrella."
several of the county’s branches undergoing renovations,
McBride expects there soon will be an expanded menu of free
fitness classes, including more programs targeting seniors and
the return of Zumba to a branch this fall.
workout classes found their way to the library when they had
nowhere else to go. The Golden Warriors Fitness Troupe, a
gentle exercise program for older adults, outgrew the Pine
Lawn Community Center about five years ago. The Natural Bridge
Branch now hosts a loyal group of warriors each week, McBride
Fitness was in the same predicament several years ago when it
overflowed from its space at a nearby church.
Schlafly branch, in the city’s Central West End, welcomed
the dance class as part of its mission "to improve people’s
lives and provide resources to our families," says John
Koniak, communications coordinator of the St. Louis Public
Library. "Being healthy is a part of that."
one of the library’s most popular offerings, drawing about
400 people each month to its back-to-back weekly sessions,
says Leandrea Lucas, Schlafly’s regional branch manager.
a combination of both avid library users and some who come
just for the class," she says.
something to see when everyone is moving in sync with one
another. It’s a beautiful thing."
night, Dani Narayan leads the first dance. The teachers are
seasoned class members who rotate duties throughout the
66, has been dancing about 10 years. "I always liked to
dance, but I never liked partner dancing, she says. "My
husband won’t dance."
dancing, the steps are variations of left-right, forward-back
combos, with kicks, shoulder shakes and hip swivels sprinkled
has covered her tennis shoes in layers of rolled-down
knee-high stockings, a trick to keep the soles from catching
the carpet. A couple of other women pull shower caps over
theirs. There are also heels, sandals, wedges and sneakers.
those feet more or less find their rhythm as the second song
comes on, an "Everybody Dance Now-Rock This Party"
mashup. The strutting starts, with two side steps followed by
a pivot. Wrist circles add a touch of attitude.
need to learn it?" Narayan asks, taking a quick survey of
the room. "Looks like everybody’s got it."
even with the air conditioning blowing at full tilt, the women
have started to sweat.
Howard takes a quick break. Howard, 56, also leads the class
the only exercise I love to do. I hate gyms," she says.
at the library, people let loose, whooping and egging on their
friends. "It’s like a drug," Howard says.
"You have a bad day; you get here, and you’re in a good
points out a woman in a wheelchair who is swinging her arms
and snapping her fingers to the music. "Even if you’re
in a chair, you can do something," says Howard. "It’s
all about moving."
session approaches its midpoint, Betty Johnson, 67, takes
over. Clad in an oversized navy T-shirt that says "Own
it." in light blue letters, Johnson introduces a new
dance, the Nola Bounce.
she demonstrates the sequence — "half-diamond, up, out,
1-2-3, half-turn" — the women watch and tentatively
mimic the moves.
fake it till you make it," Johnson encourages as her
silver hoop earrings swing in time with her steps. "Put a
little ‘mmmpp’ into it! Put your flavor into it!"
is game. Four lines form. They Nola Bounce through Pitbull’s
"We Are One" — with just a couple of missteps
here, a dropped turn there.
try it again next week," says Johnson. "It just