I used to be a chair-dancer. Which means, when music played, my upper body moved, but my legs didn’t get the memo. So at parties and weddings, whenever the band got going, I stayed put while rolling my shoulders and snaking my arms to show I was in 50 percent possession of rhythm. I put this picture in because it’s nice.
I didn’t look like that. Anyway, now I can dance. Sort of. Let’s go back….
For my entire physical fitness life, I have been a swimmer, an activity my father assured could be “taken into old age.” In my young age, I swam competitively in school. Okay, that last statement is almost entirely a lie. Being what my mother refers to as a “hothouse flower” and swimming being a winter sport (except at the World Games and the Olympics, which I would never attend without a spectator ticket), I was on the team for about a month. In the decades since, I’ve been wearing eau de chlorine, committed to a 1-mile swim four times a week, which over the years takes me longer and longer to accomplish.
Now, let’s move forward again: I work a lot. So does my husband. And on weekends, we empty-nesters go our separate ways when it comes to fitness: I head poolside, and he to the track or tennis. But one Friday night, barely recognizing each other over dinner, he suggested we take a Saturday class at the Y together. “I don’t…gym,” I said. “It will be fun and different,” he offered. We checked out the schedule and saw an 11:30 am Zumba class, led by Sara.
“I hope it’s chair Zumba,” I said to myself.
If you don’t know, Zumba is a blend of high-velocity international music, mostly Latin and African. And dancing to it is exercise. That’s an understatement. Now, both of us have pretty good lung capacity, but after 10 winded minutes trying to watch Sara’s feet, which Danika, the girl now Zumba-ing beside me, had suggested before class started, my husband tapped me on my back, and said, “I give up.” I, forever the competitor, pushed to the full hour, fearing I must have looked as clumsy as a foal taking its first unsteady steps on super-duper fast forward. “Don’t worry,” Danika soothed, as I sat on the floor, sucking the last droplet from my water bottle. “You’ll get to know Sara’s routine.”
Except Sara went on a two-week vacation. And Elphaba subbed for her. “Elphaba” is the Wicked Witch of the West’s given name. That probably wasn’t the substitute instructor’s name, but that’s who she was to me.
Anyway, Elphaba called me out twice over the next two classes.
Elphaba: [voice booming into one of those wireless pilot-looking microphones while pointing at me] “You are not moving your arms.”
Me: [loudly over music] Someone [glancing at Danika, who looked away] suggested I watch your feet instead.
Elphaba: [stopping and placing one hand on her hip] “Well, is your friend a dancer?” “I’m a dancer. You need to move your arms.”
(Little did she know that moving my arms was my special talent when it came to dancing.)
Elphaba: [again into her mic over the rapping music] Don’t you have better sneakers, ones without such a thick sole?
Me: I have plantar fasciitis and arthritis in both knees. I need padding.
Thankfully, Sara returned, and in the months that have passed, still dedicated to the pool, I’ve kept up with that Saturday morning class. I’ve gone from chugging the entire water bottle to stealing a few dainty sips between routines. But better, my upper and lower body had a détente. I now rumba, I merengue, I strut and pump, and sometimes, in my padded sneakers, I jump…a little. Eventually, I didn’t need to watch Sara anymore, so I began glancing covertly around the room. There were men and women of all ages, some young teens, and others as old as…well, pretty old. And many of them were doing their own thing. Some only swaying or gently bouncing, some doing the exact opposite of what Sara was doing – but all working at their own pace, all having fun, and all absorbed into the frenzied beat of the dance mix, which included songs like “Boom Boom Pow” and “Waku Waku.”
Now get this: After I got done telling my 84-year-old mother of this observation, she confessed that at night, she cranks “that loud modern music channel” on her TV and dances around the kitchen while she’s cleaning up her dinner.
Mom, obviously, has choreographed her own Zumba routine.
So now we’re up to today, or rather, a few days ago when at the wheel beside my colleague Cynthia, who is also of a certain age, a song came on the radio. “Everything that has a driving rhythm sounds like Zumba music,” I said, cranking up the volume. “I know!” she agreed. I looked at her. “You…Zumba?” “Yes,” she said. “I go with my friend Beth once a week.” Which leads me to conclude there are more of us out there than anyone knows. We are The Secret Society of Zumba-ists. Cynthia and I giggled, then started rolling our shoulders and, at the traffic light, the driver behind us saw four arms snaking up over the headrests.
I guess there are more chair-dancers out there as well.