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A visit to a Tanzanian gym

Several months ago I wrote a very excited post on Facebook about how Dodoma now has a gym. However, it’s quite expensive (with no reduction for membership) and the classes weren’t at a great time for me. I went along to one but it wasn’t a very good experience – the class didn’t start on time, the instructor was a bit sleazy, I was by far the fittest participant in the class, and the aerobics moves themselves were pretty boring. I might give it a go again once they’re a bit more established.

I gave a gym in Arusha a go while we were on holidays and it was much better. Despite going to the gym being considered a more western kind of activity by Tanzanians, it was still a cross-cultural experience for me and it was interesting to see how gym culture manifests itself in Tanzania. There were 10 people in the class, all women – 2 white (including me), 2 Indian and 6 Tanzanian. Like the university world Arthur and I move in, the language was a mixture of English and Swahili. For examples, ‘Kick, matembezi [walk]’ or ‘Four, three, two, one, Hapo Safi [this is good]’. I was still the fittest in the class and the only one wearing shorts instead of longer pants.

Two other things stuck out to me:

1. The motivators the instructor gave were very different. There was nothing about ‘your personal fitness goals’ and no encouragement to take it at your own pace. Where in Australia, the group environment is a big positive motivator e.g. ‘We’re all in this together’, in this class, it was a negative motivator. For example, at one point the instructor told one girl, ‘We will keep doing this move until you get it right. You are holding us all up.’

2. It was very important that everyone participated in the same way. Because it was a freestyle step class, it had a bit of choreography and the other white girl would change some of the moves slightly, something I’ve seen people do in Australia. Whether the instructor realised she was doing it on purpose or not, he told her she was wrong and spent ages trying to show her the ‘correct’ move. On the other hand, when I modified a move because of my old shoulder injury, the instructor spoke to me about it and then insisted that the whole class change the move so that we could all do the same one.

Categories: Tanzania Tanzanian culture Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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