I walked confidently into that studio, though I had little idea what to expect. Sure, I’d never taken a formal dance class in my life, but everyone told me that didn’t matter, you’ll catch on easily. Plus, you’re just supposed to have fun. I knew no one there, so I was determined to let it all hang out and do just that.

I’ve spent my life surrounded by dancers. My best friend since neon stretch pants were de rigueur (the first time around) took ballet everyday after school, and through the years I attended her performances and eventually befriended other dancers as well. I know what a pas de deux is and I can distinguish between first and second positions, among others. I can critique a dancer’s form, grace and execution with a sharpness born of familiarity with the craft.

Despite this saturation in the dance world I escaped the dancing bug. Awkward and painfully self-conscious, I preferred physical activities that required merely strength, speed and accuracy – you know, sports that occasionally called for physical violence. My gawky legs didn’t matter so much when I could plow down everyone in my path to score a goal on the soccer field.

Plus, dance was beautiful, and I was not. At least, that’s what I believed.

It had only been recently that I’d toyed around with the idea of trying out dance. Frustrated with my increasing joint pain and softening midsection, I knew I needed to develop some serious muscle tone if I was going to make it another year at my office job without injury from over-sitting. With my advancing age, contact sports were out of the question. I had been taking yoga, but that didn’t keep up my heart rate enough to qualify as a legitimate workout.  Maybe I was not quite ready for the adult ballet class, but Zumba? Grace wasn’t so much a requirement as the ability to shake what your mama gave you, and I had plenty that could be shaken, believe me.

I towered above the dainty instructor like a Herculean version of a Rubens model, all obscene curves and pliant buoyancy that I soon discovered would not help in this class. As she switched on the catchy, upbeat music and started gyrating in rhythm to the drums, I tried to keep up with her fast-paced, sharp moves, but my center of gravity seemed to be a tad off. Where her wiry muscles allowed her hips to thrust in just the perfect side to side motion, my fleshiness threw me off-balance.

Trying desperately to imitate the instructor without falling over, I simultaneously had the problem of trying to keep my glasses from flying off, too. After considering chucking them to the side as they slipped down my now slick-with-sweat nose, I decided that sight was mandatory to even attempt keeping up with the tiny dervish up front. Shove. Turn. Stumble. Thrust left hip. Kick. Repeat.

Then there was the problem of my shoes: New Balance running shoes, meant for – you guessed it – running. The heavy tread grounded me like an ostrich attempting to take flight, and every time I tried to kick my feet or make quick half-steps, I found myself stuck to the floor. Stuck to the floor is not a sensation one expects to feel while dancing.

Never having felt more awkward, graceless or gigantic in my life, for a moment or two I felt the familiar dejection and failure welling up in the form of tears. Instead of wallowing and skulking out the back though, with effort I remembered my commitment to self-care and being kind to myself. I mentally removed my head from my insecurities and consciously tried to release my self-loathing. This was supposed to be enjoyable! I was paying eight bucks for this class! It was going to be fun, dammit!

So I smiled. I laughed when I kept stepping out of time to the drum beat. I shook what my mama gave me.

I had fun.

When the class was finally over, I noticed I had never felt more capable, strong and alive in my body. Maybe I’m not graceful yet. Okay, I’m definitely not graceful yet.

But I certainly felt beautiful. That alone is reason enough to keep dancing.

elleroy was here


Shake What Your Mama Gave You — 67 Comments

  1. You are much braver than I am!! I’m horribly self-conscious in classes, even in things like spinning. It’s so lame. Good for you for sticking with it and giving it a real shot.
    I’ve heard that about the shoe thing, I think you have to get something much less structured that lets your feet feel the ground.

    • I guess I’m officially at the point in my life where being self-conscious has interfered too much with what I want to do; the “screw it” stage, I suppose you’d call it. Operation Rad Bod has done wonders for my self-esteem, even if I’m not all the way there yet.

  2. Well done! I love Zumba. It helps that our class laughs a lot, because we all feel like fairy elephants. It is supposed to be fun and joyful, not a chore, so just go with it, like you did. It eventually gets easier, and soon you will think “How was that ever a hard move? I do that while I am cooking!”
    You’re probably right about your shoes though. 🙂

  3. You brave, brave soul. I’ve heard such great things about Zumba, but I’m terrified for all the reasons you listed. That’s great that you overcame them and just had fun! Enjoy! And maybe show up in some black ballet shoes next time? 🙂

  4. OH, I love dance and everything about it. I was a huge ballet head and my friends listened to me drone on and on about how much I loved it and what I was dancing and blah blah blah. They were good friends like you. I hope they are dancing these days just like you. Excellent post.

  5. I’m too wrapped in my own crap to go to any kind of class, let alone one that would require my non-athletic tendencies to be viewed by all. You are awesome!

  6. This may sound a bit odd, but I looked into a zumba class earlier this winter. If there had been one other guy in the class, I probably would have joined. As it was, I was just too embarrassed to stumble in, fresh off the street and give this a go, little alone that it would have been in a class full of women.

    I admire anyone with the courage to get up and dance. Good for you! 🙂

  7. I love this post! So well written, so intriguing. Nice job.

    I have no rhythm AND feel like I’d break something (attached to my body or otherwise) if I attempted any of these new classes at the gym. You’re courageous and amazing! I’m too embarrassed to shake it…I need a drink for that.

  8. I’m way too chicken to take any sort of dance class or group fitness class. I have absolutely no coordination. I’m so glad you let yourself have fun!

  9. I feel your pain. And I completely get the problem with the shoes sticking. But like you the older I get — I just laugh and keep plowing ahead. I no longer freak out if I’m not perfect at something the first time. Glad you joined in and I bet you’ll get to love it.

  10. I want to take a zumba class in the worst way! But our finances cannot support it right now, grr…

    I actually teach tap dance and my favorite class is my adult class because they all want to be there in a way the kids don’t. We have a blast in that class!

    • You teach tap?? That’s amazing! You can’t barter for a class exchange?
      And that’s how I felt about teaching piano to adults – they all loved it, while the children were only there because their parents were making them.

  11. I am such a horrible dancer that I did not even dance at my wedding! I am also a failure at any class, club, group, get together….I am a total drop out. So I commend you for having what I don’t!

  12. After watching Silver Linings Playbook (which is great BTW), there is a huge dance scene that is fairly steamy & funny, and afterwards I looked at my wife and said, “maybe we should take some dance classes together…” She looked back at me, introspectively, and…we both burst out laughing. My wife has no rhythm, and I have no desire to wear a codpiece (I don’t think it’s mandatory for all dances, but I commit to the whole look when I jump into something).

    Dance is one of those art-forms I look at from a distance and say, “wow, that’s beautiful…I’m glad I didn’t pay anything to see that, though.”

    • A codpiece, eh? How very Shakespearean. And my husband will never take a dance class with me because he’s convinced he’s the worst dancer ever – obviously, he didn’t see me hopping around that dance floor.

      Thanks for the movie recommendation! It’s on my to-see list.

  13. Yeah, I was dragged to Silver Linings by my wife, and I wasn’t happy, but “this was supposed to be enjoyable! I was paying eight bucks for this {movie}! It was going to be fun, dammit!” –If I might quote someone.

    I really had no reason to re-reply other than to get you nearer 30 comments, which seems pretty cool.

  14. That does sound like a lot of fun. Sometimes I wish that I wanted to dance more than I do. I play in a reggae band, so I get people dancing w/ my music. Does that count? 🙂

  15. This was such an enjoyable read! I felt like I was right there with you. And I’m still chuckling over your worry about “injury from over-sitting.” I’m so glad your staying with it, it sounds like fun.

  16. The last dance class I took was with my husband before we got married. We had so much fun! I didn’t realize Zumba was so much like dance. Good for you for sticking with it!

  17. As a fallen ballerina, I have avoided zumba out of absolute fear and terror that I would stress over the movement and body placement, and that I would look stiff and… well, ballerina-like rather than just enjoying it and getting out of it what I should. Maybe I should re-think that!

  18. I used to belong to a gym and it was unbelievably boooring! Now I take a dance class for fun and exercise. In spite of the fact that I am neither graceful or athletic, I love it anyway. Have fun! 🙂

  19. Lacking the funds for Zumba, I loaded up some Youtube dance workout videos. I tried very hard not to grit my teeth at the over-perky, nubile young “instructor” writhing around seductively while I imitated like a robot walrus stiffly flopping around. It’s good that you manage to focus on the fun factor!

    • Yea, I can’t really afford it either, but my local studio was offering a free course and I thought I’d try it and see if it would be worth buying the DVDs.
      And had I focused on the instructor, I’d have been feeling the same way, but I’m learning (slowly) to tune that ridiculousness out! ;P

  20. Could you please be sure to videotape your next class please? I think we all just need a visual here!
    Also, my friend, I nominated you for a Liebster cuz’ you are my girl crush! Go see what all the hooplah is on my site when you get a chance.

    • Really? Video? I don’t know if I’m THAT secure with myself…the key for abandoning self-doubt in this case was the fact that I knew NO ONE. 😉
      Thank you for the award! An award from MY girl crush? Made my day!! I don’t know if I should participate, since I’ve already won that one? Do you think that’s conceited of me? Maybe I’ll just answer the questions, because they DO look fun…

  21. Love this post! And I love the mantra to be kind to yourself and enjoy the class! I quit ballet after one round when I was little b/c I was made that all we were doing was pointing and flexing and occasionally plie-ing and I wanted to be on point (haha). I didn’t get the graceful gene.

  22. I watch the Zumba class at my gym occasionally. One day, I might try to join them, but I’m awful at picking up steps. I got turfed out of ballet and tap classes as a child because I’m so lousy at learning routines. I guess I could just hop around when I get lost…
    Good for you for Zumba-ing!

  23. Pingback: Unmotivated | Adventures of a Jayhawk Mommy

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