Health is beauty, baby
In seductive harem splendor, cosseted in broadloom
and bathed in muted strains of music, the plump and guilt-racked sedentary are gently flexing muscles in elysian ways the Y
never knew. It's Canadas new health-spa kick, where thousands have learned
NOW IS THE TIME, in the nonseason between winter and spring, that Canadians are most prone to intimations of physical unfitness. It’s the weather, for a start. In the unkindly grey light of late February and March, there’s no disowning the effects of age, sloth and dissipation: the whey face, the clutter of chins and that disaster area from midriff to thigh are yours, baby. That persistent knocking in the respiratory region is for you, too. All that, and the prospect of warm weather exposure of the winter's wattles, are enough to produce an urge to selfamelioration more desperate even than the resolve of New Year’s morning.
The same end-of-winter urge to renewal has probably stirred generations of Canadians. But until recently it has not been harnessed commercially. The
booming health-spa business is a Canadian phenomenon of the 1960s. Between now and the beginning of May, rush season for spas, tens of thousands of us will sign oneor two-year or even lifetime contracts to become young and lovely again through gym exercise, steam and whirlpool baths and sun-lamp treatments. We’ll do most of our health and beauty business, moreover, with two big chains — Palm Springs, which operates 11 spas between Winnipeg and Victoria, and Vic Tanny, which, with 13 spas, pretty well covers Ontario. From its big share of the Canadian market, Tanny banks on taking upward of five million dollars this year.
"We created the boom in Canada,” Tanny president John Valentine insists. It is true that the gym business here hasn't been the same since Valentine's arrival in 1959 with a Vic
Tanny franchise for Canada. (For using the name of the U. S. chain, he pays a royalty to the real Vic Tanny, who trained him.) Under the influence of Tanny, via Valentine, the setting for and the whole psychology of keeping fit have taken on a radically new look, resembling not at all the sweaty gym of yesteryear.
What Valentine has done is bring a lot of southern California sunshine and bezazz to the Canadian health scene. It was in California that Tanny himself made his reputation as “world’s foremost physical - culture authority” and came to understand, according to his apt pupil, Valentine, that fitness is “all psychological.” To sell, it has to be made sociable, even sexy; there must be nothing suggesting 5BX-style boredom or the Spartan chill of old school parallel bars. Like the dance studios, which advertise important
emotional fringe benefits from learn-l ing the latest discothèque steps (“Don't Be Lonely This Saturday Night”), Tanny appeals to needs far deeper than a desire for sound wind. The Tanny spas, which are designed, Valentine says, “to provide a richman’s club at a poor-man’s price,” hold out the promise of fun, the fine, careless kind associated with the natural virility of youth.
Confident by now that this pitch will sell memberships anywhere in Canada, the Vic Tanny group hopes to tap the Quebec and Maritimes markets next and then move west. Within the next two years, Tanny intends to add some 30 spas to its dominion and, on the side, start peddling a whole range of home health products, from food and gym equipment to whirlpool baths. For now, Tanny and its western counterpart. Palm Springs, have a friendly affiliation; the two chains honor each other's membership cards, an obligation that even now could be crushing. In greater Vancouver alone. Palm Springs claims a membership of more than 15,000 in its five spas. “If we all came,” a Vancouver member acknowledges, "it would be a worse mob than at Grey Cup time." In Toronto, where Vic Tanny operates six spas and plans four more, there are now so many Tanny card-carriers, according to one rival health-club operator, that “if they all turned up at the same time for a workout, there’d be a lineup stretching the length of Yonge Street.”
Some like to grunt and groan
A lot of these "no-shows.” I suspect. are people who dropped in for a look around and found themselves reaching for their cheque books. 1 went to one of Tanny's spas on a cold winter day and felt, on entering the lobby, that I had been transported south to the Fontainbleau or some Hilton-by-thc-sea. The decor, 1 was told later, is ancient Greek — there are a lot of white marble tables, urns dripping artificial grapes and busts on pedestals—but the scarlet, gold-flocked wallpaper, purple - velvet drapes, violet broadloom and white-vinvl sofas
put me in mind more of the grandeur that is modern Miami. It was ladies' day and the well-groomed customers looked right at home in the resorthotel atmosphere. I was one of three potential members who were told to wait for Mr. Allen Cowan, the branch manager, who would interview us.
Earlier that day I had talked to Mr. Cowan by telephone; I was inquiring about the cost of joining Tanny. Mr. Cowan had urged me to join now while the rates were “as low as two to three dollars a week”; after the "winter changeover.” he said. I’d pay more than double that amount. Fie recommended an appointment for an interview that very day; otherwise, I invited a long wait in line and the possibility of “our quota being full.”
As it turned out, I was able, without an appointment, almost immediately to see Mr. Cowan. A young man. physically unheroic but attractive, he looked, in his silk suit and wood-paneled office, much more the junior executive than physical culturist. 1 noticed on his desk a framed picture. which showed in the foreground a monumentally handsome man. whom I took to be Vic Tanny. and behind him the head of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I was curious about the relation-
ship between Tanny and the late president but before I could ask, Mr. Cowan had launched the interview. “I suppose.” he said, smiling solicitously, “you're here because of your circulation.”
That hadn't occurred to me. Mr. Cowan continued, “You probably aren't aware that between the age of 18 and 36 a sedentary man loses 60 percent of his circulation. That means less than 40 percent of your body tissues are getting blood. So apathy sets in.”
I asked Mr. Cowan to repeat this information so that I could make a note of it for my husband, who happens to be a sedentary man. When we were done. I remarked on how dispiriting it all sounded. But Mr. Cowan smiled reassuringly. “All you need,” he said, “is a little toning up.” Which brought us to the Tanny method and the financial cost to me.
What Tanny offers is a "personalized” program of gym exercise, steam and whirlpool bathing, swimming and artificial sunning, which is mapped out by an instructor after the customer has been weighed, measured and found wanting. The price of a oneyear membership, before the winter changeover, was $163 in installments
of $35 down and eight monthly payments of $16. But what Mr. Cowan recommended was a two-year membership, costing $155 cash. If I joined for tw'o years, my husband could enrol for $95. providing he did so within 30 days. At the end of two years, each of us could “re-enroll permanently at a cost of only $24 a year.” Extensions would be granted to cover time lost during winter or summer holidays.
I made notes of the financial details. then suggested that an instructor establish my need; that would help me decide what membership arrangements I should make. No, said Mr. Cowan, you have to enroll before your program is charted. He was willing, however, to give guidance on the spot.
“How much do you weigh?” he asked. I hedged. I had given up scales; since my last crash diet, I said — and then admitted to being, perhaps, a little overweight. “Yes,” Mr. Cowan said, grasping my wrist (presumably to test what amount of me was bone), “you’re about 1 2 pounds overweight.”
Although I sensed that Mr. Cowan had arrived at the business end of our interview, I still had a private misgiving to confide. “Perhaps,” I said, “I should come by the week until I’ve shown that I’ll stick with the program.” I had a long record of resisting exercise, I told him; most recently I’d tried and failed the RCAF’s 10BX.
"And a good thing,” he said, “10BX has ruined more figures. It makes women flat-chested.”
Mr. Cowan went on to observe that home calisthenics, besides being boring, are useless; a full range of exercises is necessary, he said. “Here at Vic Tanny.” he promised, “you'll get that range — we have $60,000 worth of gym equipment — and you’ll never be bored. You and your husband can come together on Fridays and at the weekend. There’s mixed swimming then. You’ll meet dozens of people you know.
“And now,” he said. “I think it's time you saw our facilities.”
A young woman, as charming as Mr. Cowan, led me away. Our first stop was the gym. “Have you ever seen anything like it?” she asked. I hadn't. With its wall-to-wall violet broadloom. exercise boards and machines padded in pearly vinyl, instructresses costumed in mauve jackets and black tights and customers turned out. like a ballet corps, in leotards,] the Tanny gym is about as remote from the YMCA as California's Forest Lawn is from an old-fashioned funeral parlor. No more grunting, grimacing or sweating: only sweet music, pretty sit-ups and noiseless machines lor easing away the signs of age. While my guide, whom I had come to think of as my Health I.adv. spoke reverently of Tanny's personalized service, the feeling grew in me that I had wandered onto the Hollywood set for I lie Loved One.
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ut no-sweat luxury is what has built the new health-cult boom
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On a sauna door, where nudity prevails: “At Your Own Risk”
We descended to the bamboo-lined Snackeroo Bar by the heavenly-blue pool. In bamboo chairs grouped around bamboo tables, terry-wrapped women idly watched other women in bouffant bathing caps flutter-kicking to more music in the thermostatically controlled mildness of the pool waters. "You can see." said my Health Lady.
"that it really is just like a club." O sexless middle-age. where is thy stinga-ling? I wanted to cry triumphantly.
Even in the sauna and whirlpool bath, where nudity prevails and there is no supervision (only a faintly jarring sign on the sauna door, saying. "At Your Own Risk"), the atmosphere was sociable, not vulgarly
steamy. There's a eucalyptus room for customers with snuffles. Cheerfulness pervades even the changing rooms, where metal lockers are painted brightred and the walls are wood-paneled. From that area, it's only a few steps back to the lobby.
There I was invited to wait for a final word with Mr. Cowan, who was busy signing up the two women he had interviewed after me. To improve the wait. I was offered a book entitled Wisdom, which turned out to be the life story of Vic Tanny.
Tanny was born in Rochester. New York, on February 18, 1912. and
brought up, the book said, "in an atmosphere of industriousness and health." His mother, to this day. works out regularly in her son's Santa Monica. California, gym where, "under his faithful supervision and loving care, she maintains a figure of youth and firmness that is the envy ot women one third her age."
Tanny himself is the product not only of sound home influences but of an early education by "strict but gentle nuns" and teacher training at the University of California. In 1938. when he returned home to teach, he started a gym. on the side. Two years later he abandoned teaching and "answered California's siren call." It was in California that he founded a business empire on the proposition that "beauty is merely good health and health is beauty."
“Power of a panther”
Additionally. Tanny has built a happy marriage, which has four offspring. and maintained himself in a remarkably vigorous state of physical, mental and social health. According to Wisdom, "when he moves it is with the restrained grace and power ol a panther: when he greets you. it is with all the courtliness and elegance of a polished gentleman. His knowledge of the world about him seems boundless."
Tanny's Canadian disciples. Valentine and Cowan, are also worldly men and wise in both the business and psychology of selling physical culture. Branch manager Cowan, for example, tried hard and then gracefully gave up on me: when we said farewell, he did not press me to return. He seemed to understand that I was not at heart a candidate for health and beauty.
I shall not be missed. According to Mr. Valentine, the Tanny health business is so brisk that it occupies him steadily for 16 to 17 hours a day.
The Tanny president, a small, lortyish man with a neat beard and the remains of an English accent. I unctions from an executive suite 10 stories above his Eglinton Avenue branch spa. On the day that I was admitted to his front office, he was dressed for action, in a white polo shirt, red cardigan sweater (very go-go. being double-breasted ) and tan slacks. I he door between the reception and executive areas is opened by a buzzer and then automatically locks. Otherwise. Mr. Valentine does not stand on ceremony. "Let's make it briet.' he began our interview.
For most of my allotted time. Mr. Valentine was engaged in a longdistance conversation with the manager of his newest Ottawa spa. He did tell me, however, about his expansion plans (30 spas east and west) and his ambition, by next year, to control "the biggest, singly owned chain of health clubs in the world."
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“It’s like a club—and so much better than playing bridge”
The Tanny philosophy does seem to work, not only to the benefit of
Valentine but to the satisfaction of a host of customers. A middle-aged Toronto housewife, who has been a Tanny member since last December, told me that "it really is like a club.” She explained: "I go with a girlfriend about three times a u'eek, for an hour or so. We exercise, sit in the whirlpool bath — it’s marvellous for circulation
— and sometimes have a swim. It’s enjoyable and so much better for us than playing bridge.”
A Toronto businessman, sounding like a Tanny testimonial, told me that six months of gym exercise and swimming have reduced his w-cight by 15 pounds and taken "inches” off his middle. He knew of another man
whose drinking problem had been helped: instead of spending his leisure hours in bars, this man sits most winter nights in the TV lounge of his health club, where nothing stronger than yogurt is on tap.
Health-club members aren't just sheltering from the Canadian winter, according to Palm Springs’ BC president. Robert Yenor, who should know. He explains, “If they live in a fairly good climate, like Vancouver, and are outdoors a great deal, they are more conscious of their bodies, more figureconscious, and want to keep in trim. That's why we’re here. If they live in a cold area, like Edmonton, they can't get the right exercises and be outdoors as much, so they come to us.”
Palm Springs, like Tanny. sells physical culture as a fun thing and provides an appropriate setting. Its Edmonton gym, for example, runs to red broadloom and machines padded in “Spanish gold” leather. Where Tanny trimmings show the Greek influence. Palm Springs tends to be Romanesque. The statues in its Edmonton spa are of Venus and Adonis.
Passé as the waltz
Not only Palm Springs but the whole Canadian physical-culture industry has learned a lot from Tanny. Under his influence, the old concept of the gym as a male preserve, dedicated to muscle-building, is now as passé as the ballroom waltz at Arthur M urray’s.
But there are such old-style gyms still around, I know, because I uncovered one in Toronto. It is called after its real proprietor, Robert Andrews, who encourages his customers to pay by the visit or the month rather than take out a long-term membership. As a result, the place has a relatively small clientele, which includes erratically body-building actors and professional models, whose needs are noticeable only to them. You can “exercycle," lift modest weights, swing from bars and steam at the Andrews Health Club lor $1.50 a session.
It was at this club that I concluded my research. After an hour of exercise, under Mr. Andrews’ supervision, five minutes of steam, a cold shower, coffee and a good gossip in the locker room with an acquaintance who happened to be a fellow customer. 1 began to realize that there’s much to be said for fitness.
As I walked home, feeling physically and morally superior and pure of pore, the truth of the Tanny philosophy finally dawned on me. The old master is right: physical fitness is
almost all in your head. ★