Physical Culture: Let’s Get Physical

Physie, pronounced ‘fizzy’: never heard of it? Was I getting to that age when even fitness trends were passing me by? But as I explored, Physie, or Physical Culture reminded me of jazz ballet days when leotards and simple choreography weren’t daggy. With all the extraordinary aerial talent on TV dance shows, so many girls not blessed with long limbs and marshmallow adductors might never consider ballet or gymnastics as an fitness option. But they don’t know about Physie.

Physie is a kind of dance sport that combines a bit of everything: warm-up exercises, ballet, aerobic dance, jazz, hip hop, stretching, yoga, pilates, gymnastics, even marching. It caters to girls aged 3 through to women in their 50+ years. Kind of nice – or “nasstie”, depending on your family – to find a work-out that encourages mothers, daughters and grandmothers to join the same club.

Each year, the key associations, the Bjelke-Peterson School of Physical Culture or BJP School, and Australian Physie and Dance Association  or APDA, choreograph dance and exercise syllabuses that are taught throughout the 120+ clubs around Australia so participants can compete – or not, no pressure – in team and individual events in the second half of the year. Clubs are divided into age groups and teach age-appropriate routines.

Never thought I’d say this, but in a world of pop culture raunch, it’s healthy to have alternatives. Physie aims to encourage lost values like “have fun”, “win humbly, lose graciously”, alongside confidence-building attitudes, respect all round, and codes of fair conduct for members, parents and spectators. The BJP School’s motto is “Mens  Sana in Corpore Sano” – a healthy mind in a healthy body.

Its freshly scrubbed and groomed, popsicle-coloured-leotard-wearing troupes scream wholesome goodness, maybe a little too loudly. According to this Herald Sun article, Physie did go through an 80s phase of big hair, orange tan and glitter, where even the popettes became tiny drag queens with bouffy hair and fake lashes. OTT-ness has since been dumped for today’s cleaner, sleekly coiffed look.

Still, Physie is not without controversy. In 2011 the APDA formed, a breakaway from the main BJP School of Physie, with the aim of “bridging the gap between the traditional school of Physie` and the world of contemporary dance, to create an innovative dance sport”.

So, whether you’re a gelato leotard, or shorty-shorts and midriff top kinda Physie gal, this is a fitness trend that has not only survived its inspiration, but continues to grow and expand.

Physie has been around for 120 years in Australia (check out its Hobartian history). Back then, in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, it was known as “physical culture” and women wore tunics and performed what looked like a stand-up version of synchronised swimming (cool photo alert!). Physical culture was taught in private schools and in some businesses as women moved into sedentary office jobs.

Some  basics: you can expect between 5 and 25 people in a class and it’s priced well ($5 to $10 per class with an annual registration free of $55). Choosing to participate in competitions can also increase the price, due to extra costumes, classes and interstate travel although there is a focus on keeping things as affordable as possible compared to other performance sports like calisthenics.

Physie is not going to win over the too-hip-to-tap girls, or the rad girls, but it might interest retro-oriented Gen Ys, blingers, the Well Coiffed and the I’m-Too-Happy -To-Be-To-Be-Cool crew.