Michelle Zhiqing Yang / Sun Staff Photographer

Students learn dance steps at Intro to Swing Dance, one of many popular P.E. classes offered.

October 30, 2019

Bahamas Dive Trips to Backcountry Cooking: Physical Education at Cornell

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Cornell has required a swim test for over 100 years, but there’s another piece to its physical fitness regime: the completion of two P.E. courses during every undergraduate’s time at the University. And with over 100 courses like Juggling, Yasaride or Swedish Massage, students have many different ways to tackle the P.E. requirement.

Many courses, especially ones with specialty focuses, come with a fee. Some classes are free, such as Beginning Swimming, while other classes can cost upward of $1,000, like the Bahamas Dive Trip which totals $1,275.  Students may choose to appeal to borrow funds in order to cover the cost of P.E. courses.

Bowling currently has the most enrolled students, said Jennifer Gudaz, Robert E. Browning ’56 Director of Physical Education. Adam Herold ’23 is one of the over 650 students currently enrolled in that course; he described it as a “laid-back, friendly experience.”

The University offers several classes in dance, ranging in price from $40 to $90 including Salsa, Ballroom Dancing and two levels of Modern Dance.

“I think it’s really fun to take a class that mostly no one has ever tried before, because you’re all just learning together and having fun with it,” said Mia Glass ’23, a student in the Introduction to Belly Dancing course.

In the Introduction to Swing Dance course, students dabble in both East Coast and West Coast swing styles, rotating partners throughout class in attire ranging from khakis to sweatpants.

The instructor of Intro to Swing Dance 1, Kendall McAdams, teaching the dance steps on October 27, 2019.

Michelle Zhiqing Yang / Sun Staff Photographer

The instructor of Intro to Swing Dance 1, Kendall McAdams, teaching the dance steps on October 27, 2019.

“It was such a life-changing event when I took my first swing class,” said Kendall McAdams, the course instructor. “It just hits so many different aspects of the human psyche. It’s physical, it’s creative, spontaneous, interpersonal [and] social,” he continued.

“I’m not taking this class because I have to take P.E. class; I’m just taking it for fun,” said Fangchen Liu grad. After serving as a Teaching Assistant for two semesters of Ballroom Dancing under the same instructor, she enrolled in Swing Dance.

Lucy Cadanau ’22 is a Teaching Assistant for the course as well as the president of Cornell West Coast Swing Dance Network; she noted that swing dance is a “nice escape to keep [her]self a little bit more sane.” She added that “Ithaca has an amazing dance community,” thereby providing an opportunity for students to venture outside of the University.

A number of the University’s P.E. class offerings involve rock climbing, both indoor and outdoor. The 8,000 square foot Lindseth Climbing Center and Noyes K2 Bouldering Wall under the umbrella of Cornell Outdoor Education grant students opportunities to climb on their own time, while classes such as Basic Rock Climbing and Shawangunks Rock Climbing provide a more structured environment.

Interaction with the Ithaca environment is at the heart of various Cornell P.E. classes, including Wilderness First Aid, Tree Climbing and Introduction to Sea Kayaking, all of which cost over $300.

“It’s nice to be away from campus on Friday afternoon and feel the breeze on your face,” said Andrey Yao ’23, who is enrolled in Introduction to Small Boat Sailing.

Additionally, courses such as Backcountry Cooking and Backcountry Photography allow students to develop other passions — even ones that align with their fields of study — while staying active.

Beyond physical activity, the University offers an array of P.E. classes focused on mindfulness. The Relaxation and Stress Management course, which is free, teaches new methods of dealing with trying situations. A selection of meditation and yoga classes follow similar purposes.

Looking ahead, Gudaz said that the University will be rolling out an Okinawan Karate-do class in Spring 2020 at no cost. Students may also choose to participate in a yoga retreat in Austin, TX, over spring break as a means of obtaining P.E. credit.

The University’s P.E. class roster includes courses inspired by cultures across the globe, from Filipino Kali to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

While some students may see P.E. as a hurdle before graduation, the assortment of classes offered might just help them reframe this hurdle as one they look forward to overcoming.