Friday, July 5, 2013

Reprinted from Oakbook, 2008: Kelvin Joiner: Water Aerobics at the Downtown Oakland YMCA

When I was told I should take a water aerobic therapy class at the YMCA that is attended by, and designed for, mostly seniors in their 60s, 70s, and 80s,"I expected an image of a very slow class. The class that Kelvin Joiner leads at 930AM on Mondays and Wednesdays, however, dispels most of these myths.

In fact, with his mixture of very strong rocking songs, and his engaged, highly motivational attitude, Kelvin is a rock star sensation, as he leads his classes into call and response chants with as much passion (and less threat of damnation) than a fiery southern preacher.

Speaking to some of the seniors in his class, they almost unanimously praise him.  Mary Spamos credits Kelvin’s class for  "making her feel 17 again." Denise Dill had “just about given up on water walking classes at the YMCA,” due to what she considered to be lackluster instructors. “But Kelvin brought me back. He doesn’t treat us with kid gloves; he pushes us to go as far as we can go.” His classes are consistently the most popular "water walking" classes at the YMCA. When he substitutes for another class, he brings people with him. When he misses a class, it's a very tough act for his replacements to follow.

In fact, his classes feel much more like the "oldie nights" that young, local hipster DJS, like "The Duke Of Windsor" or "East Bay Oldies" held at Kitty's. Perhaps this is because the mostly senior citizen clientele knows how to rock, dance, a little more, than quite of a few of the young hipsters I meet while clubbing. Kelvin does not make the same assumption most younger people who work with seniors do, he doesn't assume automatically they are slow: “You can’t be healthy unless you’re enjoying yourself. I try to get people to enjoy moving their body whether on water on land.”

Nor is the class’s population restricted to seniors.  Younger clients with disabilities also find Kelvin’s classes to inspire them to stay healthy.  Cricket Bailey loves the water because “she can do things in it like jog, and even dance, “ that she generally can’t do on dry land. In a country that tends to glamorize youth and vigor, people like Kelvin help glamorize the pool therapy class in a way that makes it one of the most happening disco nights in town (even though it happens in the morning).

Kelvin Joiner started going to the new Oakland YMCA when it opened in 1987, and started teaching there shortly thereafter. Until this year he had primarily lead land classes in stationary bicycling, aerobics, and weight training. He began teaching the pool classes earlier in 2008 only as a substitute, but his popularity has kept him doing it. In fact, he has even quit his day job in the computer industry at Stanford University to devote more time to his work as a personal training His class may not be everybody; one or two have complained that he’s a little too loud, or a little too fast. Luckily the YMCA offers other classes to accommodate these folks as well. You must be a member or guest of the YMCA to take these classes. For more information, contact. oakland.ymca - (510) 451-9622. For information on Kelvin’s personal training classes, contact

(Author's Note. From 2007 to 2010, I was able to land some paying gigs writing journalism for The Oakbook, and a few other publications. I took it as an aesthetic challenge, to write "simple" stories for a a general audience after making a career out of writing for more specialized and 'sophisticated' audiences. Unfortunately, Oakbook shut its doors a few years ago; the paying gigs dried up, and these articles are no longer available on the web. I repost this one article for several reasons. I think it raises important points about several crucial functions of music in our society (which of course I could get into more deeply, upon request), and I also need "writing sample" to refer to--to show the range of writing--when applying for jobs, even if pursuing a career in journalism is at least as quixotic in and of itself. 

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