A couple of weeks ago on “The Mindy Project,” there was a super-quick clip of Mindy’s attempt to take a hip-hop dance class that I totally identified with — basically, because she just tried to follow along super awkwardly and then defended herself by saying something like, “Those people have been dancing their entire lives!” It’s exactly how I’ve felt every time I’ve tried to take a dance workout class, whether it’s ballet or hip-hop. It sounds awesome in theory, but then I catch sight of myself in one of those mirrors and realize that when it comes to dance, I don’t look anything in reality like I do in my head. Anyway, today we have Jenny talking about how she found her way back into a dance class as an adult, something I am very envious of. — RW
It seems like when I was growing up, every little girl was involved in some sort of movement class, whether it was gymnastics or some kind of dance. I’m not really sure why that was the norm. Perhaps it was to encourage gender stereotypes — the boys had karate or football practice to teach them aggressiveness and courage, so girls needed something to teach them gracefulness and femininity. Perhaps parents wanted their kids to have some kind of exercise or social interaction outside of school. Perhaps parents just wanted to drop off their kids for an hour a week so they could get a moment to themselves.
I took probably every kind of movement class out there for girls. I took gymnastics, ballet, pom pom, jazz dance, baton twirling, and more. Because of that, moving rhythmically is just ingrained in me, even today. When any sort of music is playing in the background, even crappy elevator music, my head starts bopping and my toe starts tapping. In typical Dane Cook fashion, I can’t help but wanting to shout aloud, “I JUST WANNA DANCE!”
It’s actually quite annoying as an adult, though, because there aren’t a lot of opportunities for women whose mothers forced them to learn how to dance, women who now can’t help but want to dance every chance they get. All the dance clubs and wedding receptions in the world can’t replace the feeling of moving in sync with a room full of your peers. All the treadmills and ellipticals in the world can’t give you as complete and as rewarding of a workout as the kicks and spins and hair flips that a dance class can. When Zumba became a fitness phenomenon I was hopeful that I would finally have an outlet for this dance desire of mine, but alas, I was still unfulfilled. I needed to channel this passion I had burning inside me so I bit the bullet and started looking for dance classes.
Looking for a dance class can be a difficult endeavor depending on where you live. I live in what is considered a city, but in the loosest sense of the word. We have a downtown area that has a handful of high-rises, and we have our share of expensive restaurants and fancy hotels, but we don’t have a Trader Joe’s, a Whole Foods, or an H&M, so how hip could we possibly be? When I found a dance class, it was through a small independent studio that focused mostly on yoga. The studio was experimenting with other classes like ballet, hip-hop dance, and belly dancing. I’ve taken a belly dance class before and highly recommend it — belly dancing is becoming more widespread and may actually be easier to find than some other kinds of dancing. But hip-hop was what I really had my heart set on.
Don’t be deceived — just because I grew up dancing doesn’t mean that I thought I could jump right back on that old bike and start riding. I was pretty nervous walking into the studio because I didn’t know what to expect. What if everyone was a classically trained dancer? What if no one else showed up and it was just me? What if I don’t know how to follow instructions or learn a routine anymore? How was I gonna convince people I actually belonged there, especially when I was dancing in front my smooth-moving, sexy instructor who probably came out of the womb popping and locking?
And that sexy instructor was expecting us all to pop and lock with him, which was something far foreign to my expertise. Dancing, in my experience, was usually taught by a woman and involved a lot of hip-shaking and hair-flipping, moves I already had down pat. But this instructor focused much more on giving every count of the music a precise move, forcing me to move my body in rapid contortions I’d never attempted before. Even for a veteran dancer like me, the class was instantly challenging, but that just made me more determined to nail every single sequence the instructor laid before us, no matter how impossible it seemed upon first attempt. Luckily, he was extremely patient and ran sequences repeatedly so that we might absorb the moves. When I finally achieved a relatively smooth run-through of the routine, which took more a couple attempts, I was filled with great pride and smiled wide at the mirrored wall. I never started a class executing every move flawlessly. Sometimes I didn’t even end a class executing every move flawlessly. Some days I was totally on my game and I felt like the best dancer who ever lived. Some days were so demanding, it felt like I had never danced a day in my life. The more classes I attended, the more comfortable I became with my dance shortcomings and the more confident and determined I became to improve them.
It’s true, a dance studio is an intimidating scene, but if you take a dance class, chances are you won’t be the only first-timer there and you won’t be the only non-professional dancer there. Even if you aren’t a first-timer, chances are you may not pick up the routines right away. Chances are even higher that no one will even notice when you mess up, because they are all too concerned with their own moves and whether or not they are messing up.
I think that’s what I like most about being in a dance studio, to be honest. It’s a way to be social and achieve something with others who have the same goals, but it’s also a great place to be alone and to think. By “alone,” I mean that in a dance studio, I spend my entire time staring at myself in a mirror, realizing all my flaws and imperfections, every move that is correct or incorrect, my facial expressions when I miss a move, when I get a move right, how smoothly I feel the music and the movements. I can’t hide from myself. Sometimes I’m scared shitless that my classmates or Mr. Smooth Sexy Instructor are watching me, judging every one of my mistakes, but then I realize it’s just me and the mirror. Everyone is focusing on themselves, finding their own errors and attempting to repair them each time the music restarts.
It’s not an easy undertaking, spending an hour staring yourself in the face, but it’s a great way to get to know yourself. I always had the philosophy that dancing is essential in a woman’s life because, as cliché as it might sound, dancing lets you be whoever you want to be. On any normal day, I’m constantly worried that I’m making a fool out of myself or that I’m going to do something wrong. But with dancing, you’re sort of expected to make a fool out of yourself and do everything wrong. Sure, it’s a learning experience that requires constant readjusting, but it’s also supposed to free you from your everyday constraints. You’re supposed to let loose, say “to hell with barriers!” and move your body with however much attitude you feel like. Who are you when you’ve got nothing to lose? Dancing will help you find out.
I was happy to be back in a dance studio learning a routine again. It felt like I was training for something important, even though I wasn’t, since the class didn’t even have a recital at the end. Still, just being there, having the courage to give it a try, to start practicing a long-forgotten passion of mine felt like a great accomplishment on its own, like I had reached some sort of inner peace and balance.
The class was once a week for eight weeks. The last night of the session, we put together all we had learned and did the routine over and over again until we couldn’t breathe and were covered in sweat. When the instructor clapped his hands and announced, “That’s a wrap,” we begged him in unison, “One more time!” And so we did the dance one more time, giving it all we had within ourselves, and then collapsed on the floor in boisterous laughter. It didn’t matter if we had become the best dancers in the world. It didn’t matter if we performed out routine perfectly. What mattered was that we had given a part of ourselves to the class, to the dance, and to each other.
Jenny Furner is currently a housewife trying to live the feminist dream. She is attempting to learn the fine art of creative writing while finishing up her Master’s degree in Literature in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She currently spends most of her days researching the great work of Shirley Jackson. She lives with her handsome husband of three years in a house they are constantly renovating. After she graduates, she hopes to make more money than her husband and have plenty of time for reading, cooking, and, of course, dancing!