Since moving to New York, I knew it would be a matter of time before I took a dance class. Manhattan has some of the best schools and teachers in the world. Could I psyche myself up enough to do it? This body hasn't seen a leotard, unitard or any type of tard since 1999. It also hasn't worn that dancer outfit in front of a mirror for the same amount of time. When I pulled my hamstring during a left leg split thirteen years ago, my dance days were over.
For the past decade, I've thought about getting in great shape again, putting myself through the agony, flying through the air, and possibly pulling a triple pirouette out of my dance hat. After much mental preparation, it was time to take the plunge. If I could just get myself to walk in the door at Alvin Ailey, surely I could blend in and shimmy to the music with thirty other people, without causing too much of a scene.
A ballet class was out of the question. I burned my chiffon skirt on September 14, 1999, the day after my 33rd birthday. I knew that I wouldn't wear it again, and the mid-thirties were too old to be sporting a ballet skirt that's above the knee. Believe it or not, I still own the shoes. Freed ballet slippers stay buried in my closet with the size 4 pants that I will never wear, but keep for nostalgic reasons.
So what would be the class for me? A friend of mine has been taking Zumba for years now. Knowing little (other than what I've seen on TV), he's told me that it's a terrific workout, which is exactly what I needed; burn serious calories and have fun while doing it.
I arrived and there were dozens of teens in the lobby, but I didn't see any older students. As I moved upstairs, I noticed a variety of ages. What a state of the art facility--much different than the studios I recall from the 1980s with peeling paint and a key on a stick for the ladies' room. No key was required here.
While waiting for the class to start, I attempted to stretch. I haven't split since I was 32-years-old. I looked like an old woman with no grace or flexibility. As I tried to straddle, I realized I couldn't any longer. The small 45-degree V that my legs made was uncomfortable and even painful. Okay, let's move on from the straddle position, which by the way used to be open at 180 degrees back in the day.
After struggling with a series of elementary bends and reaches that didn't at all resemble stretching, it was time. The perky instructor entered the studio and shouted, "Hi everyone! I'm Chris. I will be subbing today. This is Zumba and it will be pretty high-energy for the entire class. We only have an hour. Who is here for the first time?" Reluctantly, I raised my hand. What exactly does high-energy mean? I have watched Zumba on television and it looked like fun, but not what I would classify as high-energy. Even with my dilapidated forty-something body, I thought I could handle a few bumps and grinds.
We started moving. The music was pounding and so was my heart within five minutes. This was only the warm-up. I began sweating profusely within just 10 minutes. I kept going. It seemed like forever since we began, I thought we must be at least 25 minutes into the class. I looked at the clock and it said 6:42, and the class began at 6:30. OMG. It's just 12 minutes in. I am going to die right here in Alvin Ailey with a group of 37 strangers. I looked around, and no one else was huffing and puffing like I was. Even the senior citizens were keeping up.
After about a half hour, I felt dizzy. This was more high-energy than any dance class I could remember. It was non-stop cardio with hip-hop, jazz, salsa, merengue, and God knows what else thrown into the mix, and the music was so fast, I could barely stay in time. This Zumba was nothing like what I saw on the Today Show---damn Hoda and Kathie Lee.
It finally ended, and I was still breathing. I asked a twenty-something, athletic-looking girl who looked frazzled too, "Is it always this hard?" She replied, "It's typically high-energy, but this is probably higher than most." Lucky me---my first Zumba experience was the most advanced, requiring the highest level of stamina and coordination of any Zumba class on the planet. But honestly, what did I expect? This was Alvin Ailey in New York City. Did I think we were going to do a few jumping jacks and hip thrusts? I should have known that I'd be tortured for an hour.
I spoke with the instructor afterward and said, "Thanks. Great class." He complimented me, "You were really kickin' it the whole time". I responded with surprise, " Really? I barely survived. It was my first Zumba class." He couldn't believe that I was still standing, and neither could I. "It gets easier, I promise," Chris reassured me. Call me a glutton for painful punishment, but I knew that I would go back. There's something satisfying about shaking my tooshie and sweating in a mirrored room full of strangers. I just can't quite put my finger on it.
My chiffon skirt days are definitely in the past, and a triple pirouette may be out of the question. But with Zumba fitness in my future, I may have a bare possibility of getting into those nostalgic size 4 pants in my closet again.
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