It’s not as though I thought I would be good at Brazilian dance aerobics.
I’m no fool. I knew it would be difficult and embarrassing, but I imagined it would be in a fun-loving kind of way that would make exercise seem less boring.
I thought it would make me laugh.
I went with a friend who swore she’d never tried it, thinking it would help me feel less intimidated. I figured we’d be in the same boat, stumbling through some tough moves, but emerging on the other side having enjoyed a good workout.
I did not know then there is no such thing as an ally in Brazilian dance aerobics.
A few minutes into the class,when we’d already hit levels of motor skill and humiliation that exceeded my expectations with this move where you had to wave your arms and shake your ass while performing a grotesque sort of limbo, I looked over at my pal, fully expecting to see my suffering written all over her face. Instead, she was dancing that dance like it was her job, by far the best one on the floor.
(After class, when I confronted her about being a lying liar, she nonchalantly said, “Oh, well, years ago, I used to study Haitian and African dance. I guess there are a lot of similarities!”)
As I watched my friend earnestly grind her way through my nightmare, it dawned on me that I had made a terrible mistake. I began to panic, and from there things went downhill quickly. Like a horse smells fear, the instructor sensed my weakness and tried to build me up with well-meaning encouragement that only made everything worse.
“Keeeem, you gotta move your heeeps!” she said, shaking her own hips suggestively. She did not seem to realize, despite the compelling evidence miserable and slumping before her, that I possess neither the physiological nor the emotional capacity to create that kind of movement.
“Keeem, you gotta stand up straight!”
“Keeem, you’re gonna learn the dance and find a husband!”
It wasn’t long before the supportive comments devolved into frustrated, but friendly, commands.
“Keeem, no, here, watch how I do it.”
“No, Keeem, the wave goes through your body and you tuck in the stomach.”
And finally just: “KEEEM! HEEEEPS!”
There were drills up and down the length of the room. There were intricate routines that required you to move each appendage to a different beat. There was a goddamn hippie in a hemp skirt. I pressed on through it all, fueled by hate and despair and the certain knowledge that, eventually, it had to end.
The class concluded with a mandatory dance circle.
No humiliation—including those I experienced during the first 87 minutes of Brazilian dance aerobics and the countless others I’ve endured during the 33 years of near-constant mortification that led up to it—could have prepared me for what I would feel as I “danced” within that circle.
I guess I was still in denial when the teacher stepped in the ring, but when the first student ducked in after her, I had to admit to myself that the worst was happening. I gripped the sweaty hands of the ladies standing next to me and wished myself dead with an urgency I haven’t felt since my photo shoot at the Sears Portrait Studio.
Student One flailed about with abandon, not showing any hint of irony or self-loathing.
Student Two, a girl of no more than 20, decided to take things to the next level with a dance of seduction. She rolled around on the floor in a way that would have made me deeply uncomfortable if I’d had the capacity to feel anything in that moment apart from my own dread.
Student Three, an older lady of size, followed suit, running her hands suggestively up and down the length of her body. All too soon she was beckoning me, the next dancer up, like she was Patrick Fucking Swayze.
As I stepped into the circle, I told myself to just go with it. I knew that acting self-conscious would only draw attention to my own ridiculousness. And anyway, who cares, right? Brazilian dance aerobics is practically Jazzercise; it’s not like anyone there was trying to be cool.
Unfortunately, “just going with it” proved to be physically impossible. Instead, I sort of stood in the center of the circle, bopping my head ever so slightly while everyone looked on in pity. It was among the worst moments of my life.
Days later, when I recounted this story to a friend, she asked why I didn’t just break the circle and leave. The truth is the idea didn’t even occur to me. It goes to show that you never know exactly how you’re going to react when you’re going through a trauma, like that time I yelled at my muggers and they ran away.
Anyway, now I’m doing zumba, which is a lot more fun. Zumba class, if you’ve never tried it, is comprised of zippy little dance routines that last only the length of a single song. Probably the best thing about it is that some of the songs are proprietary, and for those there’s always someone in the background yelling “ZUMBA!” in, like, a fake Jamaican accent.
The second-best thing is that you mostly perform the same routines week to week, which really appeals to my autistic tendencies.
That is not to say zumba does not have its drawbacks. Probably the worst part for me is the inevitable moment when I realize that everyone else in the world is better at zumba than me. This happens every class. I often spend my time before we begin sizing up the other ladies, which tends to make me feel overconfident. Typically, they are older or heavier or both. One is a blue-hair who wears those creepy shoes that look like feet. All of them can totally out-dance me.
The other bad part is the shame I feel in front of the zumba instructors, these beautiful paragons of fitness who never break a sweat. Even their simplest movements are full of flair and grace. Each step has a certain bounce. I have to imagine they are really good in bed. And as I throw myself around the room, sweating like a hog and moving just a little bit behind the beat, I can’t help but wonder what they think about me.
Other zumba issues are instructor-specific. For example, my Monday class is taught by a lady who can't commit to facing forward or backward. I have some sort of brain tic where I have trouble mirroring people, so the constant switching back-and-forth means that I’m always moving left when I should be moving right, etc. This exacerbates my feelings of inadequacy and occasionally leads to full-on collisions.
Thursday class is my favorite even though one of our regular routines has a freestyle segment. (By now, you might have inferred I am thoroughly unequipped for, and maybe even fundamentally incapable of, freestyle zumba.) The first time it happened, I stood stock still, watching in abject horror as all the other ladies cavorted around me like Beyonce.
My favorite time was when the instructor—this tiny lady with a huge ponytail who always wears a visor even though the class is indoors and at night—looked at me during the freestyle portion of the routine and yelled, “Come on, girl, we KNOW you go to the club!”
I wanted to be like, “Oh, I think we know that I don’t.” But I’m a dancer now, so instead I expressed my emotions through the movement.