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The Magic of YWCA Midtown

By Shari Aronson, YWCA Health and Fitness member
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There Since the Beginning

I have been a member of YWCA Midtown since it opened. I wish that way back in 2000, I got in on the deal of being a founding member because ever since those doors opened, I have been passing through them near daily to re-energize myself from the inside out.

A Beacon of Hope in Our Neighborhood

YWCA Midtown — while no, not perfect — is such a beacon of light and hope in my life and in our neighborhood. Outside of my home, 10 blocks away, YWCA is the place I am found most frequently. If I did the math, I’m sure the hours I put in there would add up to a staggering number. But, I don’t do the math. I just go.

Rewarded for My Efforts to Show Up

Sometimes, I go with an eagerness to get away from my computer or start my day, elevate my heartbeat and connect with humans that I know, or don’t know yet. Sometimes, I show up with decidedly less zeal, what I fondly refer to as “dragging my sorry buttocks there.” No matter how I arrive, I always —yes, 100% always— return to the outside world feeling better physically, emotionally and mentally, more connected to myself and my community.

Three Key Factors to My Happy Place

What is the magic of YWCA Midtown?

As a member, I can only speak to my experience and offer what I consider to be the 3 key factors that make YWCA Midtown my happy place.

1. Multi-Cultural Mix

The diversity of who is there working out and working as staff at the front desk or as fitness class instructors, more and more truly represents the neighborhood better than any other place.

2. Quality of Classes

As a former cardio machine addict, the Midtown’s cheery (but not too cheery), knowledgeable and highly-skilled instructors lure me off the elliptical and into yoga, circuit, core and world dance, again and again. These exemplary beings lead me to do what I could or would not do by myself, in the company of my neighbors, striving, struggling and persevering on our trajectories in the wellness continuum.

3. Staff

Almost every encounter I have with front desk, custodial and fitness staff is friendly, engaged and responsive.

Multi-Cultural Beauty and Rhythm

The most effective way for me to illustrate the magic of YWCA Midtown is to describe the joy of Mehdi Kennar’s World Dance class.

I am not a dancer and had never before taken a dance class, so when I saw ‘World Dance” listed on the schedule, I did not think this would be for me. But, one night, after dismounting from my elliptical, I wandered over to check out what was going on in Studio A because, from what I could hear of the music and the laughter, it sure sounded like a place I wanted to be. I opened the door and saw a vision of what our country could be, literally dancing before me.

Mehdi is one of the best teachers of anything I have ever experienced, in and beyond higher education. He thrives on simultaneously leading us so-called “non-dancers” alongside the boldly dance confident (whose steps I follow whenever I can’t quite see what Mehdi is doing) into one, somewhat synchronized celebration of movement.

No Need for Spoken Language – It’s All in the Dance Moves

Mehdi uses very little spoken language, which is perfect because some of us wouldn’t be able to hear him over the music. And which language would he choose for his message to reach across this cross-cultural crowd? Without words, he breaks down moves– ranging from Bollywood-inspired hand gestures, salsa-esque hips, hip-hop-ish poses and Michael Jackson’s signature footwork. Mehdi carefully calibrates each step to set us all up for success.

Periodically, Mehdi turns to us all and gleefully shouts, “Freestyle!” or breaks us out of our rows to run around the room. Everyone follows, not knowing what exactly is going to happen next, all while beaming that smile he beams at us as we also smile at each other.

True Picture of Diversity

Many nights, Mehdi’s dance class is a true picture of post-2020 demographics: adults of all shapes, sizes and colors of skin, with and without hijabs and headscarves. A group of Latino male youth might show up and then a group of Somali teenage girls could join in, alongside a white man with Down Syndrome, next to me, a white woman in her 50s. We sweat side by side, bump elbows, apologize and giggle together, gasp for air and gamely exchange glances and start conversations in our lightning quick water breaks.

Everybody is Aboard the Soul Train

Everybody — except for those with fear of immigrants and distrust across faiths, cultures and colors — is all aboard this soul train. For one hour every Wednesday night we shape this country and planet from the dance floor. Nothing makes me feel happier!

This is how I move my body at YWCA Midtown. This is how YWCA Midtown moves me.

— Shari Aronson is Co-Creative Director of Z Puppets Rosenschnoz, a Minneapolis-based company whose mission is to bring children and their adults into the power of playfulness.

Shari has lived in Powderhorn since 1995.