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.