To everyone crammed into the sweaty little dance studio on Monday nights, zumba is probably the least exercise-y way of burning some calories and whipping their body into bathing suit-ready shape. It sure beats an hour trying not to pretend I’m bored to tears on the treadmill, peeking behind my magazine every few yards to roll my eyes at the timer. But Zumba is also the unlikeliest of cultural red flags. And apparently, I’m the culprit.
The class is a mixed bag of participants: spry, sprightly little White girls with subzero body fat and super tight stretch pants to prove it. Middle-aged women unsure about their ability to keep up hanging back in the rear of the room, already mapping out their prospective escape routes at the least little excuse to bail. Regulars who pride themselves on their masterful memorization of the choreography that the peptastic instructor has drummed up, the ones who want to flank her on both sides so they can be right in front of the mirror.
And then there’s me: the Black girl who embarrasses her heritage, stumbles over her own two Nikes and dismally watches her rhythm go MIA every time that techno beat kicks on. It’s a mystery of modern science.
I can dance, dammit. I swear. Here — somebody throw on some urban contemporary. What you want? The Dougie? The Biz Mark? The Cupid Shuffle? The Running Man into the Roger Rabbit? The mickey flickey Charleston? When it’s time for the Percolator, I can throw it down for at least a quarter of the song before melting into a pile of sweaty-haired, sore-thighed exhaustion, and I can step in the name of love thanks to my older cousin making me his bop and hand dance partner when my mom and aunts refused to entertain his drunken rug-cutting. I ain’t no Fatima Robinson, but I can hold my own.
That, however, is hard to believe if you ever see me in a zumba class. I go from Smooth Soul Sista #1 to a bumbling, fumbling train wreck in sweats and sneaks. I’m all over the place, and none of them is where I’m supposed to be. Meanwhile, Beth and Becky in the space next to me are kicking it, executing every move with the agility of a Laker girl and the skill of a Hammer dancer. Isn’t that supposed to be me? I wonder as I complete a twirl-kick-salsa step combo with all of the grace of a baby deer on ice skates.
In all fairness, I think zumba is specifically designed to make the rhythmically challenged feel like they’re contestants on America’s Best Dance Crew. I can just imagine some of these chicks busting out their well-weathered zumba moves on the dance floor of their local bars and nightclubs to impress their friends. You can tell by the expressions on their faces that it’s a little bit bigger than fitness. Maybe that’s where I go wrong. I don’t take it seriously enough. I need to get my Leroy-from-Fame on and get down on it. Show them girls how the sistas put in work.
I shake an angry fist at you for showing my cultural Achilles heel, zumba. But I’ll be back. Should I fail, though, I’d like to apologize in advance for continually misrepresenting the soul of Black folks and promise to point people to the Soul Train line and old clips of Scoob and Scrap just to reinforce our reigning position in the rhythm nation.