Can Mama Get Her Groove Back? My First Dance Class in 24 Years

Can Mama Get Her Groove Back?  My First Dance Class in 24 Years

I did it – I finally took a class. After almost two weeks of bad TV and extreme cramps on the treadmill, I finally got myself to All About Dance on Saturday for a cardio hip hop class.

I decided to take this class because I love to dance. Yes, I’m pushing 40 (well, it's 19 months away), but I’m not above shaking my booty with my 5-year-old, which I do at home  – a lot. Between that and 10+ years as a dancer under my stretched-out belt, I figured this would be a cinch. The fact that my last class was 24 years ago didn't faze me.  And that, my friends, was a big mistake.

I entered the room as the warm-up began and noticed that my daughter’s dance teacher was there, as a participant. This was the first indication that I was in way over my head. I should not be allowed to take a dance class with someone who actually teaches dance. Of this I am certain. People didn’t even call this type of movement "hip hop" 24 years ago. We called it jazz.

As the very perky, very fit teacher led us through the warm-up, I began to feel like a … dancer? No. More like a cultural anthropologist, producing internal commentary in a voice that was a cross between the Wicked Witch of the West and Julia Child. “Lots of yoga in warm-ups these days” I observed. That turned into “Oh oh, is she about to do a center split?" to (in my very own, perplexed, voice), “Sh*t, she did do a center split. I hope she doesn't notice my awkward Tush Slide.”

Soon after, we move onto abdominal exercises. Ohhh, the tummy. I don’t know about you, but in the past five years my abdominals have functioned as a self-torture device, a way to display the leftovers of pregnancy and too many cinnamon buns. I made it just about to the end of the warm-up when the belly gave out. I lay on the floor, grunting in pain.

Now that I was ready to hit the locker room and call it quits, it was time for the good stuff: hip hop. Cardio hip hop, to be exact. The teacher demonstrated the dance, and at this point I realized, with utter certainty, that I was screwed. Problem number one was that she went through the routine only once. Once! And everyone in the class got it! How the heck was this possible?

The second problem, and I know you’ll think this is pretty stupid but it’s true: I didn’t get the memo that you’re supposed to wear dark sexy clothes to dance class. While I looked like a car mechanic in a white T-shirt, everyone else appeared ready for a spot on America’s Best Dance Crew. Call me crazy, but would you want to be the only who can't learn the steps AND stand out like sore thumb? I didn’t think so.

To make matters worse, I was situated next to my daughter’s dance teacher, so every time we performed the routine, I practically knocked her over. Unable to handle the pressure (or embarrassment), I looked furtively around the room for a new spot. After trying a few, I finally claimed a small sliver of space in the second row between a wall and a woman who very clearly, at least in my mind, has performed on Broadway in some cool hip hop dance show for years. I felt the hostility shooting out of her cut arms and muscled back as I repeatedly side-kicked out of step.

Good news, finally: After eight or nine times of going through the routine, I had about four steps memorized. So I made up some of my own moves and then did a hip jut with everyone else. Then I made up a few more and did a kick with the gals and finally swirled around and went down for two synchronized push-ups. And I was sweating. Holy salt machine, was I drenched. During the last few go-arounds, even my hostile neighbor, whom I found out afterward has taught dance in prisons in Nashville (prisons!), seemed to have made peace with being stuck next to me.

Towards the end of the class, in the final few minutes, I was a happy, sweaty mess. The teacher transitioned us into a cool-down, pausing for a moment to dedicate the second song of the set, Orange Sky by Alexi Murdoch, to her brother. This weekend, she told us, her voice choking up, he will find out if he needs a kidney transplant. If he does, she said, she will be the donor.  Here’s a verse from the song:

Oh but you know I am so weary

And you know my heart

My heart's been broken now

Sometimes, sometimes

My mind is too strong to carry on

Too strong, too strong to carry on

Halfway through the song, I paused, only this time not from lack of skill or shame. Hands on my legs, hunched over and gasping for breath, I yearned deeply for the moments that I had let slip away because I, too, felt weary or out of step. I worry so much being imperfect that I've let countless adventures and experiences, and all that I could have learned from them, pass me by. If  given the chance, would I go back and choose a different path? Would you?

With the words "my salvation lies in your love, my salvation lies in your love" echoing gently around the room, I stretch up high to the ceiling, open my arms, and let go.

(Here's Murdoch playing Orange Sky.)

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