I can’t dance. Really. It’s just painful to watch me dance. Despite that, I spent my undergrad college years training as an actor and some of that training necessitated dance classes. I’m not coordinated and I have no rhythm so I chose ballet because beginning ballet relies primarily on control, posture, strength and flexibility. I can do all those things. Had I continued past the basics, I know I would entered into deep waters of coordination and body position but at least I could get through basic ballet classes without feeling utterly ridiculous.
But then one day our director invited the dance teacher, Diane, to our acting class to teach a workshop in tap dance. I can’t remember why. And I probably can’t remember why because the memory of trying to tap dance overwhelms every other memory from that day. Tap requires speed, rhythm, isolation of individual muscles and joints and above all looseness. If your body locks up when you’re uncomfortable (like mine) tapping makes you look like a marionette who’s handler is having a seizure. So. Terrible.
We were practicing in long rows in the theatre, I could barely see the teacher and I could not loosen my lower body and keep my upper body still. Tap heel and toe? You must be joking. Counting and doing different steps? With each foot moving independently? Forget about it.
I remember doing something spastic (certainly not dancing) with my arms windmilling around as I tried to keep my balance while Diane walked around making minor corrections to people’s form. She saw me out of the corner of her eye, her head whipped around, her eyes got really big and she started laughing. She laughed! She immediately covered her mouth and straightened her face and paused to see if there was any place she could start correcting me but really, where to even begin? She finally shook her head, patted me on the shoulder and moved on to the next person.
Fast forward a couple decades to Bob and Barbara’s, a tiny dive bar on Philly’s South Street with a notorious drag show where the queen MC spends the beginning part of the show dragging audience members onto the stage to dance while she chats them up and gives them T-shirts.
Of course she picked me because my greatest fear in all the world is dancing on a stage in front of anyone. So I said the lamest thing you can say in that situation, which is “I don’t dance.” Seriously, Kaitlyn? You’re already up there and it’s too late, just freaking dance already. So I danced and she came up and danced with me.
Sidebar: Then she told me she really liked my dress and a girl in the audience shouted out “I love your dress too!… I’m straight! I’m not hitting on you. I just really love your dress!” The MC thought that was hilarious. “Girl! No one cares who you sleepin’ with! Why you gotta tell me you straight?” The boys I came with got a LOT of mileage out of that evening and the video they took. And I got a cool T-shirt, a T-shirt that when anyone comments on it I get to say “I danced for this T-shirt!” as if I’m the kind of girl that willingly does that kind of thing. Which, as I’ve already established, I’m not at all. Regardless, it’s a cool T-shirt. Unsidebar
This long lead up brings me to today because once again against all my better judgment I found myself in a dance class trying to do things I cannot do.
If someone comes up to you and says: Hey! Let’s do Zumba! It’s a big class of people doing group dance routines that combine of every kind of Latin dance mixed with hip-hop!
You are either the kind of person who replies “That sounds awesome! It doesn’t sound like exercise, it sounds like fun!”
Or you are the kind of person who recoils and says “Please stop talking. All of my nightmares start exactly like this.”
My brother-in-law, Chris, is in camp A.
My sister, Bet, and I live in camp B.
But because we love Chris and he loves Zumba and he wants to share the things he loves, we told him we’d try the class with him. So Saturday morning at 10:45 found Bet and I in the back of the room while the tiny curvy instructor bounced to the front of the class and said “Good morning! Who’s new today?” Bet and I shot our hands in the air and the instructor nodded and said “Great! Welcome!” and then the music started and she started dancing. No instructions, no warm up, no preview, just dove right in.
The first 15 minutes went a little like this:
10:46: Instructor does a step, slide, booty shake, arm pump, twist, turn, head neck roll, hip pop followed by a full turn. I do a step, slide, full turn, hip shake.
10:48: Instructor does a cha-cha step followed by a full twist, arm windmill, grapevine cross and hair toss. I do a box step and a booty shake
10:50Am: Bet leans over and pants “Why didn’t we drink a bloody mary before this class? I think that would have helped.”
10:53: Instructor smiles, whoops, puts her hands in the air with a hip shimmy, jerks her elbows sideways, hops back and forth in a marching step with her arms swinging in opposite directions and then jumps forward and changes direction. I put my hands in the air and march.
10:55AM: I glance at the clock, “we have 50 more minutes of this?!”
10:57: Instructor does a “stop in the name of love” arm circle with her head leaning back, popping her feet sideways, switching feet every 2 steps. Then she leans forward, circles her arms in diagonal swoops, does a booty shake and changes directions. I step the opposite direction wave my arms in circles and toss my hair.
11AM: Bet stops, looks at me while I hair toss and says, “We are the whitest girls in the room. Bar none.”
Rinse and repeat for 45 more minutes.
Chris kept turning around between routines and beaming at us, so happy we were there. Around the 35 minute mark I was no more competent, but I could see it being fun if I knew what I was doing. I wonder how many years that would take? An infinite amount of time later, the “cool down” was more dancing and then the music stopped and everyone started clapping. Great class! So fun! And Chris bounded over “Wasn’t that awesome!? You guys did great!!” So sincere that Bet and I just shook our heads and laughed. God bless him. I think he might be blind.
And given the effort, I figure I’m good with the dancing for the next decade. Maybe I’ll give it another shot in 2020.