“Last September I celebrated my 25th employment anniversary,” says Conny Knoppert on the on-campus sports centre’s outdoor seating area. She is trying to stay in the shade, because it is hot and sultry out in the sun. She has just arrived from Capelle a/d IJssel, where she was born and bred, having cycled all the way to Rotterdam. She is about to teach a class.

“My then boyfriend worked at the centre’s information desk. The first class I ever taught was a Callanetics class (an exercise programme developed in the early 1980s by an American lady called Callan Pinckney – ed.), and I still teach those same lessons today. Only they are now called ‘body toning’, because Callanetics is a trademarked name.” Very soon afterwards she started teaching ‘keep moving’ lessons, as well, which featured a hundred people getting together in the large gym once per week, during their lunch break. “The only requirement was that everyone had to move, and we had to have some music,” Knoppert says, laughing. At the time, those were pretty much the only types of fitness classes on offer.

G-strings on top of leggings

It was the era of leg warmers and G-strings worn on top of leggings. Conny Knoppert prepared the music accompanying the lessons herself, by recording cassette tapes. “Preparation for my lessons took considerably longer than actually teaching them,” she says matter-of-factly. “At the time I had to loudly yell my instructions. Now I have a wide range of aerobics CDs and a headset [with a microphone]. What matters is that the music has good beats, is uplifting and appeals to the students.”

In the 25 years that have passed since then, she has seen many hypes come and go (and taught classes in them, too), ranging from kicking and punching a punching bag in time to the music to tae bo (which was a hit more than a decade ago due to one Billy Blanks). At present she is an aerobics, body toning and power pump instructor. The former two types of lessons mostly attract women, while the latter draws mostly men. Perhaps this is because – as the name suggests – the fitness exercises (such as squats) must be done with weights.

Enthusiastic elderly people

Conny likes teaching students. “They attend your classes on a voluntary basis, so they tend to be highly motivated. Particularly these days, because there are so many classes on offer. So they must have a good reason to pick my classes in particular: either they like the exercises, or they like the instructor, or both.” But when it all comes down to it, Knoppert finds teaching older people just as satisfying. She does so at the community centre, and enjoys it every bit as much. “Those elderly people might actually be even more enthusiastic than these students!”

For the time being, she is not considering quitting. “The day I realise that I am no longer able to handle it physically, or have stopped enjoying it, is the day I quit. I will simply have to, because the success of your classes depends on how enthusiastic you are while teaching them. But I’m not considering quitting at all; on the contrary, getting a group energised is one of my specialities. Moreover, even if I expend a lot of energy while teaching, my groups always give me just as much energy in return.”