Finding beauty in a beat

Once upon a time, there lived a skinny white girl who loved to ballroom dance. Rarely competitive but always moved by song, she lived for the Friday night sock hops with friends over parties with anonymous faces. All was well until she graduated college, lived far from her dance community, and felt too timid to strike out anew. So she began a quest to replace the fun and fitness of ballroom with something else.

First, she tried a hip hop “dance for fitness” class, thinking she could gain “fire” skills and tricks for the dance parties that would surely come post-graduation (they never did). But the journey to class stretched two states away, and the feet on the floor traced only drills and numbered choreography. This wasn’t a party — it was boot camp — and she had enlisted into a cadre of people who far surpassed her in talent. So she moon walked out the back door.

Next, she sashayed away from dance, thinking her cha cha days were over, and joined a yoga class far closer to home. But while the class did teach her to stretch like a tree and lie like a corpse, it did nothing to lift her spirits. Furthermore, the studio depressed her by sardine packing in dozens of girls just as basic as herself. Instead of branching out, she was becoming a stereotype, so she namaste’d away before developing an iced coffee addiction.

After several half-hearted attempts at “yogging” that concluded in profanity and ice cream, the girl gave up on her body and retreated to a cocoon to metamorphose into a Couch Person. The power of inertia was strong: as an object in stasis, she felt the pull to remain in stasis, and slumped through life from cushion to cushion. Her body morphed dramatically, and she grew daily more upset with her altered silhouette, even as the impulse to act faded away.

One day on her couch, she was reading an article about a very sexy subject — finances for one’s mid-twenties — when a line struck her: health is an investment. Whatever money you invest in your body now, you will save in medical costs later. The girl already paid daily tribute to the greedy god of Advil to treat aches and pains from stress, so she asked herself: how much did she monetarily value a lifelong hale body…?

…$40. That’s all she thought she was worth. But it was enough: to get off the couch! To even! To go where this basic girl had never gone before — Zumba!

SPOILER ALERT GUYS: that girl was me.

Up until this point, I had filed Zumba away in my head with Jazzercise and Prancercise as something that silly, Spandexed people did in the ’80s. I could not have been more wrong. When I showed up for that 10-class Groupon, I saw something spectacular: women, from ages 20 to 60, of every shape and background, having the time of their lives. They came every day, they supported one another, and they give not one damn about looking foolish. The 50-year-old ladies with love handles inspired me the most as they spun soca, merengue and hip hop moves into gold. So I stayed, and I bought a longer subscription…

…until I fell off the wagon again, back into my couchy quagmire. I can’t say exactly why, but it only takes a few small interruptions in a routine to break a pattern and forget how good something makes you feel. Sometimes, the train stop is too far, or work is too hard, or your energy level cannot sustain cooking and cleaning and also one more thing. Sometimes you’re just sad.

But life is magic, and inspiration can strike when you least expect it. For me, the cocktail of an empty apartment and a non-judgmental wing woman called The Internet has intoxicated me in recent weeks.

I have begun to chance fate; on any given day, if the obligations of the world fall away, I play chicken with my roommate’s return and transform our living room into my own private Zumba studio. My neighbors must hear the blast of fusion YouTube channels like Live Love Party, but they never complain. When they hear songs about finding self-worth and happiness, I think they believe they can; so do the dancing retirees who weave a community of celebration with their feet; the cashier who hosts a mosh pit for each person in her checkout line; the coworker who rocks like nobody’s watching with earbuds at her desk. I think they know the secret to completing the quest for self love, so I follow their lead by blasting the ballads and striving for silliness. When I see them glow in motion, I cannot and will not believe the dance is over.

And someday soon, I’m going to rejoin those people in Zumba class.

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