I bounded through the dance studio’s door, hiding my apprehension under several layers of brightly colored spandex. I had never been to Zumba before. In fact, I have only ever attended one aerobics class in my short 18 years. It was in Rome, and a classmate who convinced me that it would be fun dragged me along. Obviously, my friend and I defined “fun” very differently. She must have enjoyed having a small, leather-skinned man in a Ferrari jumpsuit jump up and down and scream in Italian while we attempted to keep up with his diabolical demands. Eventually, my blatant lack of coordination and upper body strength caught his attention, and he asked me if I would like to sit the rest of the class out. Since that humiliation, I vowed never to return to a fitness class, preferring to stick with less rhythmically dependent forms of exercise.
Two years later, on Tuesday, February 26, I was handed a glow stick necklace, about to participate in a Zumba class. “Well, at least it will be dark,” I thought to myself as I took a spot in the back row. Thumping Latin dance beats shook the hardwood floors as a disembodied voice emanating from a glow-stick at the front of the room began to shout commands. “Bounce! Slide! Shuffle! Turn! Jump! Twist! Pop! Pulse! Bend! Shimmy! Shake!” My mind couldn’t keep up with the storm of contradictory verbs raining down upon me; my body spun, my legs kicked, my arms flailed and my hips wiggled in a stunningly arrhythmic vibration. The blonde girl with the spider legs next to me shot me a dirty look when I whipped her in the face with my ponytail after a particularly forceful shimmy. But instead of embarrassment, I felt exhilarated. I wasn’t actually doing any of the moves, but it didn’t matter. I was dancing like I have always wanted to if I’d had the guts: wild, liberated and utterly offbeat.
As I jiggled my way through the next few songs, my mind began to wander. I imagined transplanting my new Zumba moves onto dance-floors across Prospect Street. It was a preposterous but tantalizing idea. Lanky, uncoordinated people like me tend to fear the dance-floor, afraid that our stuttering shuffle steps will reveal our hidden un-cool. But dancing at its most fundamental is just a combination of short steps and limb wiggling that somehow seems to lift our mood. Remove the music, the booze and the darkness and you’re left with a bunch of awkward teenagers having small and somewhat rhythmic seizures. So don’t take yourself so seriously, jump and flail a bit, and just generally try to Zumba your way through life.