Senior workouts are going swimmingly at Dapolito

Huang frequently jumps in the water to show proper technique.
Gar Mint Huang takes a flexible approach when instructing his senior water aerobics class. He frequently jumps in the pool to show proper technique. Photos by Tequila Minsky

BY TEQUILA MINSKY | When water aerobics instructor Gar Mint Huang stands sideways at the pool, he’s so lean you might barely see him. But, there is no mistaking his engagement with the students — who range from age 65 to 90 — who peer up for direction from the dappled waters under the Keith Haring mural.

“He’s great!” is the repeated chorus from his devotees at the Dapolito Recreation Center senior swim, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10 a.m.

Not only is Huang, 23, an instructor who the seniors kvell about, he is a son of the hood.

“I grew up on Delancey near the Willamsburg Bridge and went to P.S. 130 on Baxter St.,” said this water-exercise motivator.

Huang’s class listens in typical rapt attention as he explains an exercise.

He is teaching seniors for the first time, and his caring enthusiasm for helping them exercise is a talent. He received some training in this area from the Red Cross and he did research on his own — on exercises for adults and seniors — on the Internet.

At the first class, he was able to assess likes and dislikes. He sometimes hears, “This is really good,” and then explains why they’re doing a particular exercise and what muscle to use.

“I try to adjust to what they like,” he said. “Yes, they’re seniors, but it doesn’t need to restrict them from exercising.

On a rainy morning, three devoted students showed up and got very personalized attention.
Even on a rainy morning, three seniors faithfully showed up for their class with Huang, left. Clearly, he’s been making a splash.

He’ll help with technique — a flutter kick is from the hips, not the knees. He’ll adjust exercises for individual physical issues. One woman had trouble getting her feet up for the flutter kick and he supported her with styrofoam water noodles.

Village resident Mary-Claire Charba, an actress and mixed-media artist who noticed the class while she was swimming laps at the other end of the pool, decided to participate because “it looked interesting.”

Huang demonstrates proper technique for another exerercise using a water resisting paddleboard.
Huang demonstrates proper technique for another exercise, using a water resisting paddleboard. He often encourages the seniors to use their noodles — the colorful styrofoam tubes on the edge of the pool.

“I’m taking it for the rest of the summer,” she said, commenting on how it was really muscle strengthening. “He stresses keeping your head up. When I leave, I feel my alignment.”

Before the class, Huang sets up an array of exercise equipment poolside, including paddleboards, styrofoam water weights and colorful noodles.

He does his exercises in sets and cheers the students on with encouragement: “They love that,” he said. For him, it feels good to know they’re getting a good workout.

Word of the Dapolito classes has spread Uptown and a few Brooklyn women even take the A train for his water workouts.

Huang demonstrates proper technique for an exercise against the poolside.
Huang shows the right technique for another exercise. Seniors really get a kick out of his class.

“This is my best time of the day — I look forward to taking the aerobics classes,” one of his senior minnows said.

Howard Saldinger, 71, who also uses the Clarkson St. recreation center’s gym to work out, is another fan.

“He’s wonderful! He changes the exercises and the order — the classes are not repetitive,” Saldinger said.

Huang holds the requisite Water Safety Instructor license, has CPR training and also has a Lifeguard Management certificate. In his fourth summer working for the city’s Parks Department, always at Dapolito, he is also the director of its day camp.

Huang studied psychology for four years at Hunter, after which he decided he really wanted to work with kids. He transferred to SUNY Genovese where he is currently studying childhood education for special needs; he knows that everybody learns in different ways.

Summing up his senior aerobics class, he said, “I like helping people, I get joy out of it.”

Sadly, for his students, his last day at the South Village pool is Fri., Aug. 26, when he’s off, back to school.