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At 81, Sally continues to teach younger people how to move

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Staying active: Sally Darling is still teaching aerobics at 81 (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

In the early 1980s, Jane Fonda had a legion of fans who all claimed to love aerobics.

They decked themselves out in her branded leotards, sweatbands, leg warmers and running shorts.

“We thought we were hot. We just looked ridiculous,” laughed Sally Darling, who had been wearing shorts and support hose until Fonda came along with her bestselling exercise video.

The 81-year-old saw the style replicated at every class she attended at the Bermuda School of Aerobic Dance.

“The classes were really the first of their kind in Bermuda,” Mrs Darling said. “I loved them. The classes used to be huge and we would have them all over the island.”

The classes were taught by four of her friends. Gradually they started asking her to fill in for them.

“One by one they dropped out of teaching until I was the only one left,” she said.

She studied through the Bermuda College then went to a testing centre in Boston, Massachusetts to formally qualify as an aerobics instructor.

“They liked you to understand the theory behind aerobic exercise,” she said. “The testing centre was in this big auditorium. It was terrifying because I was in my thirties.

“Everyone else seemed so much younger. It was one of those tick the right answer kind of things. I actually did really well on it.”

Bermuda life: Sally Darling thought about giving up aerobics instruction when she was 50, but never got around to it (Photograph supplied)

She has since ditched the colourful leg gear, but has been teaching aerobics in the Wesley Methodist Church Hall on Church Street for more than 40 years.

“I might have one student who always looks her best but most of us just wear comfortable clothing now. I have about nine students and they will not let me quit.

“They love it too much. We have all become really good friends over the years. I have one student who recently moved back to England, but she still takes the class through Zoom. I think they stick with it because it is so much fun.”

Mrs Darling took up aerobics because she enjoyed it and it was a way to stay healthy, not because she wanted to lose weight.

“I used to start every class by saying I am not going to make your legs any longer, but I can make you fitter,” she said.

She loves the music the most. One of her early instructors, Wendy Davis, was a trained dancer and taught her how to do the choreography.

“We would arrange the music for three months of classes at a time,” Mrs Darling said. “I was not particularly a fan of disco, but we would dance to Fleetwood Mac or Flashdance. We would teach the class slowly until they had all the steps down.”

Because she is originally from Texas, she thinks that she probably uses more country music than is necessary.

“Country is becoming very popular,” she said. “Even my grandchildren are into it. I also use some rock, such as the Grateful Dead. I use whatever appeals to me.”

There is no particular pace to her classes, nor are there any steps for people to follow.

“I just throw it out there and in every single class the music is different music, so we don’t ever get bored. I used to have my students take their pulse every 30 minutes, now I don’t bother. However, I will correct if I see them doing something dangerous.”

She feels the classes have helped her stay fit and healthy.

Growing up in Texas exercise was never so formal. “There was none of this, you must exercise every day,” she said. “You just did it naturally. I played sports.”

Mrs Darling and her family moved to Canada when she was 16. She quickly dropped her southern twang.

“You don’t want to be different at that age,” she said.

In university she studied philosophy and met her first husband. She taught school while he finished up his degree.

“We eventually came here because he was Bermudian,” she said. “I have really been here most of my life.”

They eventually separated, and she married Peter Darling in 1982. He brought four children to the marriage and she brought three.

“He had a very interesting life,” Mrs Darling said. “He was away in boarding school when the Second World War broke out and he was brought back to Bermuda. At 17, he got on a ship and went back to England to enlist. He became a Royal Marine.”

Mr Darling died last year. They had a happy life together. She is adjusting to life without him. “I still miss him terribly,” she said. “He was a wonderful husband.”

Teaching the dance classes helps her cope.

“It is a social activity,” she said. “It is good to be out and about with people, instead of stuck at home.”

Outside of aerobics she enjoys gardening although she finds it challenging.

“The garden was really my husband’s baby,” she said. “I feel like I am letting him down a bit. It is hard for me to keep up, so I have two nice young men who come in and help me with the heavy lifting.”

She also likes to paint. “I like anything that is creative,” Mrs Darling said.

She fears that this may be her final year for teaching aerobics.

“I said I would give it up when I was 50, but I am still doing it,” she said. “I have some health challenges now. I feel frustrated with myself that I cannot be as fast in the class as I used to be. Also, when we lay down to stretch, it is getting harder and harder to get up again.”

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every week. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com, with the full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

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Published September 13, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated September 14, 2023 at 8:09 am)

At 81, Sally continues to teach younger people how to move

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