I danced the role of Gingerbread in my dance studio’s production of “The Nutcracker” in 2002. All evidence of this performance has been destroyed, but the fond memories live on. I was much too old to be in the Sugar Plum Court, and as I tried on my one-piece, brown felt costume the week before the dress rehearsal, I broke down in tears. I was supposed to be Prima Ballerina, what was I doing wearing a smelly old potato sack? I had a solo, for goodness sake, bouréeing across the stage to give Clara her tiara. It was humiliating. My mom told me I could quit, I wasn’t contracted or anything, but I was too afraid to let the director down. Not only was she terrifying, but without me, the performance clearly could not go on- Clara’s dream wouldn’t be complete without my vital participation! I was a star in my own right.
My dance career only took off from there! I joined my middle school’s pom-pom squad, show choir, and when I moved up to high school, I joined the step dancing team (this is a story for another time), performed in the spring dance concert, and sacrificed my lunch period for additional performance classes. I spent hours in dance class each week, traveled to Upstate New York for performing arts camp, took intensive pre-college workshops in Chicago. I still know every word to Flashdance and Dirty Dancing.
I was told I was good, but not a star. Ouch. It never bothered me that I was usually placed in the back row during ensemble numbers—I’m tall! When an instructor moved me from the head of the barre to the middle, I blamed it on the fact that I had a wandering mind and couldn’t always remember the precise combinations, no big deal, my technique was great. I still firmly believe this-- memorizing plie and tendue combinations is challenging!
I’m gangly and awkward. There’s no way to get around it. It took me about 17 years to embrace this. I slowly phased out dance as a lifestyle and turned it into more of a hobby. Which was totally fine, I didn’t need to be a triple threat, my other talents were suffice.
And while I may be gangly and awkward, I also have tons of energy.
Sophomore year of high school, I began taking yoga. It was nice. Sometimes we did downward facing dog to Corrine Bailey Rae. Occasionally we’d breathe in rhythm with a gong. I’d roll up my mat feeling restless.
Junior year, I began kickboxing. It was awesome. I felt tough, I felt powerful, I felt so cool. My friends and I would gear up for an hour of jumping around and punching to Michael Jackson and Britney Spears re-mixes while the instructor would call out directions. Occasionally, she’d go for a sip of water or to change the track and I’d be left in front, trustworthy enough to lead the group in Uppercuts and Roundhouse kicks. This was so much better than ballet! I could follow the combinations. I could envision fighting my enemies. My gangliness gave me that extra oomph in the double-time exercises. I’d leave every week feeling amazing!
Inevitably, the gym schedule changed and my weekly cardio kickboxing routine was replaced by Zumba. Zumba, what the hell was that? And more importantly, why would I want to do anything any less badass than kickboxing?
But I needed something to do with my endless energy, as I had kicked my tap shoes, jazz sneakers, and ballet slippers far into the depths of my closet. After a week of monotonous repetitions with the Jackie Warner DVD in my living room, I begrudgingly agreed to try Zumba. (This is not an insult to Jackie, I love her dearly, but something about counting to twenty with a recording while flexing my abs and waving my arms just wasn’t cutting it for me).
Zumba was unbelievable. It was everything a gangly, ex-dancer, Latina-wannabe could ever wish for. And more. We shook our hips to Ricky Martin and Shakira and Michael Buble and the Hairspray soundtrack. We grapevined across the floor and waved our arms to the music and shook our booties wildly. Whatever we did, however badly we messed up, the teacher continued dishing out constant praise and smiles. There was no one holding a cold pole to keep my knees straight, no one correcting me for pivoting to my left instead of my right. It was just fun!
I love dancing, I love to dance, but I’m not a dancer. And for this reason, Zumba has been my perfect solution to life. I always leave feeling so alive, so free, so on top of the world. I can move my body like a maniac, shout out affirmations with my fellow Zumba-ers (Yeah! Wooo!), and just let go of all my worries. I can only imagine how crazy I look, twisting my bony hips in a figure eight and throwing my long arms in the air, but it doesn’t matter! Everyone is perfect in Zumba.
I may never be Prima Ballerina, my name will never be in lights at the New York City Ballet, but for an hour every week, I am the Dancing Queen, and that’s more than enough for me.