The World’s Greatest Aquafit Instructor

I have taken aquafit classes on and off for years. Never before have I met an instructor as skilled as Dana Pelham at the College Street West End YMCA in Toronto. He is a master of his craft, with a large following of fans including the 30 or more (many seniors and an increasing number of men) who faithfully attend his classes, several times a week. His energy, enthusiasm and good spirits leave the group smiling and upbeat after a workout which is surprisingly rigorous. 

Dana Pelham, photo  by Rafael Montoya

His is a model for creative and effective teaching. Unlike many instructors, Dana breaks down his movements and concentrates on having them done correctly before he begins counting. He starts with the basics, adds variations, and then offers a challenge. It is fun mimicking a marionette, jumping over a candlestick, or jumping in circles, first to the side, then to the back, then three-quarters, then all the way around. Crunches and lunges are less tedious done in the water. That he names them for what they are makes us realize that we are doing a classic exercise, but we have the added benefit provided by water resistance. I will take his word for the claim that his dreaded snake exercise strengthens every muscle in the body. It certainly feels like it. He does exercises for balance, and for the brain, particularly important for the seniors in the class. And he works on our breathing.

His teaching is eclectic, drawing from different sports to engage the participants and make them work harder than otherwise they would. He uses boxing, running, soccer, dance, water walking, tai chi, cross-country skiing, yoga, basketball, tennis, and whatever else he draws from his bag of tricks. One day we were to imagine ourselves dribbling a ball as we ran and pivoted in the pool. Another he suggested we use our noodles to earn an “aquafit twinkle toes award.” Another he challenged us to do a steeplechase. Racing back and forth on the side of the pool, he created the scenario of us running a Canadian national championship, four laps with three short jumps and one big jump on each lap. He started us at 56th in the pack, moved us to 45th, then down to 39th, then down to 28th, then 15th, 14th, and 12th, then down to fourth, third, and finally second… sometimes he fantasizes that we win. Fantasy is fun, and it makes the time for a fast sprint in the water fly by.

He really mixes up his classes, so they are never boring. Sometimes he makes us run across the pool at increasingly faster paces. First to the count of ten, then to the count of nine, then eight, etc. Other times, he has us water walking on the noodles the length of the pool. This is not easy, but it is good exercise and the ride on the noodle is a treat.

There is no Olympic gold medal for World’s Greatest Aquafit Instructor. And, of course, my experience in such classes is not universal. But how could anyone be better than this superb instructor with his comprehensive command of movement, his excellent communication skills and his enthusiasm? His grin and his good humour are infectious. No matter what the pace, participants try harder. When I take his classes, Dana makes my day.  Thanks, Dana.

Dana Pelham doing "The Snake," photo by Rafael Montoya

Dana Pelham does “The Snake”     Photos: Rafael Montoya.

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  1. Bob

    Lots of research happening on exercise and slowing the aging process. A newly identified hormone, Irisin, apparently influences the body’s fat cells; they burn energy instead of storing it which affects metabolic rate and eventually telomeres. Telomeres are the connectors between cells. Source All a bit scientific sounding to me but the message is clear – keep up the exercise.

  2. Beth

    Great post…. I’ve just taken one of Dana’s aquafit classes and really enjoyed it. He brings the same talent, enthusiasm and innovation to swimming classes. (He also quotes poetry!) We are very privileged at West End YMCA.

  3. Pingback: Into Competitive Swimming at 78 | The Effervescent Bubble


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