September, 30, 2015

Club Swinging: The Zumba of Yesteryear

club swinging BYA

By Annilyn Schill

This photo of BYA students in gym class is one of my favorites to point out in the gallery because it just seems so funny and strange. Most visitors can’t imagine what you would do with those weird looking clubs. But these strange clubs, known as Indian clubs or meels, were actually the Zumba of the Victorian era.

The English first encountered this martial art in India, where club swinging was used as a military drill to train warriors for battle. It was brought back to Britain as a form of exercise and was considered appropriate for both men and women. The club craze soon spread to America and by the turn of the century it had become part of the athletic curriculum at many colleges. J. H. Doughtery, the amateur club-swinging champion of America, reported in a pamphlet explaining the benefits of club-swinging, “Students have had its theory and practice drilled into them at college and have come forth into the battle of life with the physique of gladiators.”

BYU adopted the fad around this same time. Club-swinging would have been taught similar to most modern aerobic courses with an instructor leading participants through the series of swinging exercises with the weighted clubs. When the clubs were not in use the clubs were kept on racks on the walls of the BYU gym.

While the idea of synchronized club swinging might seem silly today, at the time it was the height of fitness and was included as an Olympic event in 1904, the same year this photo was taken at the BYU branch in Beaver. In the 1920s and 30s, organized sports began to replace these aerobic exercises. But the last twenty years have seen increased interest in reviving meels as a form of exercise.

club swinging drawing

1 Dougherty, J. H. Indian Clubs and Dumb Bells. New York: American Sports Pub., 1901.
2 Jillings, Anna. “Introduction.” Modern Club Swinging and Pole Spinning. 1994. Accessed September 24, 2015.
3 Dougherty, J. H. Indian Clubs and Dumb Bells. New York: American Sports Pub., 1901.