Callowhill pool's aqua-aerobics class sounds a lot like a nightclub.
Dance music with a heavy beat blares from a mediocre sound system and reverberates through the room. Women, and a few men, groove to the music. "One, two, three, four ... turn it," shouts instructor and facility director Richard Gray.
But the "dancers" are submerged in almost 4 feet of water. They jog in place, they pump their arms in the air. However, their heads - many covered with shower caps and swim caps - stay dry.
The workout isn't always set to a nightclub soundtrack. "Once they get the same routine and same music, it takes the fun out of it," said Gray, "so we switch it up a lot." The class has worked out to '80s music, jazz and even gospel.
People in a recent class smiled broadly when Gray - standing on the edge of the pool wearing an oversized white polo shirt - showed them a new move. But, by the end of the hourlong workout, everyone was hurting. "Oh, I can feel that in my arms," said one woman as she emerged from the pool after class.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the pain inflicted, these classes draw a crowd. About a dozen attended this class, but Gray has had more than 100 in the past. "We can pack them in," he said.
Roughly 1,500 people participate in aqua-aerobic classes at the city's three indoor pools, said Darryl Railey, the acting program director for the Aquatics Division of the city's Recreation and Parks Department. Classes at Callowhill, in Northwest Baltimore, are the most popular, with more than 700 signed up each month.
Classes are limited to those ages 18 and over.
"Ever since Michael Phelps and the Olympics, we've had a lot of interest," said Railey. Many are also signing up for the learn-to-swim programs at these facilities.
The classes are inexpensive. A single session is $3, and month-long passes are available for $20.
And, back at Callowhill, the participants are a dedicated group. "I look forward to it," said Elmira Johnson, 62, in the locker room after the workout. "Your body needs that exercise."
Johnson, whose long hair was bundled back in a shower cap, said she liked being able to get a low-impact workout without having to do her hair afterward.
And, for the participants, it is the atmosphere in addition to the workout that makes it worthwhile. "Everyone is friendly; the same people come every week," said Katrina Bland, 34, who comes twice a week from Catonsville.
She uses aqua-aerobics to supplement time she spends weightlifting in the gym. And, although she thinks that as the weather gets colder it'll be more difficult to motivate herself to jump into the water, she's glad the pool is heated. "I'm not sure I'll be here in February or March," she said with a laugh.
Aerobics at city pools
Callowhill Aquatic Center, 2821 Oakley Ave. Call 410-396-0677 Aqua-aerobics schedule: 8 a.m.-9 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays; 6 p.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 7 p.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Cherry Hill Aquatic Center, 2600 Giles Road. Call 410-396-1938. Aqua-aerobics schedule: 6 p.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Chick Webb Recreation Center Pool, 623 N. Eden St. Call 410-396-7563. Aqua-aerobics schedule: 6 p.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Cost: $3 per session; $20 for a month pass; $45 for three-month pass.