A few years ago I gave up my gym membership, viewing the money spent as a frivolous waste of cash given my access to workout equipment at the office and in my home. For the most part I took full advantage of the machines and weights available to me, but the monotony of my routine and limited options led to boredom and ultimately, some pretty major weight gain. Toying around with re-joining the local fitness giant, I remembered some friends mentioning a gym downtown, The Firm, that offered a variety of fitness classes and decided to take advantage of their “first week free” policy. With my friend Amy in tow, we started the week with cardio strip tease, tried a little circuit training, and ended our free week at a Saturday morning Step class. Little did we know that stepping into that final free class would actually be a life altering experience.
Doug, also known as Diva Doug and Queen Diva, is the Adonis-like man who routinely pushes his disciples to the brink of death and has them begging for more. His style and persona are larger than life and his work is more life coach and performer than aerobics instructor. Each class is a production; the choreography refined over two decades of teaching, music upbeat and uplifting, costumes risqué. Doug is front and center, the leading actor of the program who performs on a disco-esque lighted step stage but this is not a one-man show. Each person of the class plays an important role in the performance, sometimes comedic or tragic, often an epic blockbuster complete with more burlesque moves and naked skin than in cardio strip tease.
Blasphemous as it sounds, the messages heard in a downtown Minneapolis aerobics studio are more empowering and uplifting than anything said in the dozen or so churches I attended throughout my lifetime. Although class is referred to by many as “The Church of Doug,” this isn’t religion; followers are not worshiping a false God, but finding faith in themselves. Our “preacher” Doug spreads the word of personal strength, perseverance, and determination, creating an environment where parishioners learn lessons of hope, faith, fellowship, and love. We hope our bodies will bring us through each class as we gain strength and stamina. We have faith that the sweaty palms of those in the crowded room will maintain their grip their barbells, protecting us from bodily injury (and broken studio mirrors). We form friendships and bonds with those in the class, and each of us continue to bring new people into the group so they too can embark on a journey to self-discovery and better health. We learn to love ourselves and in turn find a truer and deeper love for our friends, family, environment, and mankind.
Unlike many churches, The Firm has an open door and open closet policy; clientele is dominated by gay men and athletically gifted women, but even chubby girls (like me!) and straight men can find fellowship and support at the gym. Although accepting to all, Doug’s Step Class is not for the weak or those who give up easily; I can easily say most of the US of population would poop out well before the Jane Fonda-like warm up is complete. Personally, I have yet to completely putter out, but can often be heard exclaiming moving phrases like “praise God,” “heaven help me,” and “Mommy.”
Spending time with another man for the past 5 months has made me stronger, happier, and healthier, with none of the mess or guilt associated with adultery; Doug would most definitely be more interested in my mind than in my womanly figure so my husband has nothing to worry about! Feeling better about one’s self is enriching and empowering to one’s body, mind, and soul. Many attend a specific church not because of the denomination posted on the bulletin, but because of the energy and outlook of the pastor or priest officiating. After lasting eight minutes with a substitute instructor I realized I do not belong to the religion of step, but follow the word (and moves) of Doug…
The Ten Commandments of Doug (interpreted and authored by Explosive Bombchelle and Friends)
- Thou shalt believe in yourself.
- Thou shalt move with purpose.
- Thou shalt remember to breathe.
- Thou shalt appreciate how lucky you are to have bodies that can move and sweat.
- Thou shalt jump (and bend and squat and lift) with joy.
- Thou shalt have pride in yourself.
- Thou shalt learn how to fly.
- Thou shalt whoop and hoot and holler while exercising, celebrating your strength.
- Thou shalt sweat in places you didn’t know you had sweat glands.
- Thou shalt have fun.