On Monday, my legs were shot. Like, no energy in them at all when I walked, or moved them in any way. Stuck in molasses.
“Oh yeah,” I thought to myself. “You did do some heavy dancing five days straight last week.”
That’s right: Zumba on Tuesday night, Zumba on Wednesday morning and night, Zumba Thursday night, dancing Friday and Saturday nights.
I can’t stop dancing!
And, as you can tell from that rundown of my week, I am Zumba Man.
Yes, Zumba Man! While my true superpowers are navigating mass transit systems and finding a restroom, it turns out Zumba may be another superpower.
It amuses me sometimes how things have turned out with all this dancing. There was a time in my life when I never thought this dancing fool could be me, though. For the longest time growing up, I didn’t think I could dance all that well. I didn’t think I knew how, first off.
Also, that fit all the better with the nerd identity I had known or had thrust upon me. Because nerds can’t dance!
That’s what we were told, right?
Think of the wild gesticulations and gyrations of Farmer Ted in Sixteen Candles or Crispin Glover in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. (For the record, I was friends with a nerdy guy in high school who danced with similar high-energy flair.)
Or, even when nerds are good at dancing, it’s a joke. Poindexter in Revenge of the Nerds finds his groove to “Thriller,” but the close-up of his pelvic thrusts to the beat are supposed to win the biggest laugh.
The chief set piece of Napoleon Dynamite is rooted in marveling at this most awkward geek’s fluid, sensual dance moves to Jamiroquai’s modern disco jam. The comedy comes in how Napoleon’s dancing seems the complete opposite of everything we’ve known about him through the movie.
And being black and nerdy didn’t make it any better, either, growing up in the ‘90s heyday of Steve Urkel and Carlton Banks. The “Do the Urkel” dance was based in how corny Urkel was, as he aped his own mannerisms.
And Carlton’s arm-swinging bop, while not terribly wack on its own, was set to Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual,” ensuring it was wack forever.
In real life, who wants to be laughed at when they’re dancing?
The overall practice of dancing already can look so ridiculous on its face. However, because it is a form of self-expression, a seriousness and bearing of the true self remains.
Add to this how, among black people, you can be laughed off the floor by showing poor dance skills.
If you didn’t know this judgmental aspect of life within the race, now you do. The reason many non-black people think we all can dance is because those of who can’t, don’t. They got shamed out of dancing by their own family and friends long ago, and stopped altogether! White supremacy is the ability to dance poorly in public, and no one really cares.
This happened to me, when I was 10, at my uncle’s wedding reception, with my own family! Thought I was busting a serious move, but those Temptations step-and-slides with a reverse speed bag didn’t go over too well. I’m lucky that you only see a part of me in a corner of the frame on the wedding video.
For real, I dance just fine now, and have for a long while. I grew up, I got in shape, I learned how to move my body in space better. I’m good. Really. I don’t think I get judged harshly on the floor these days.
In fact, I’ve been told I’m rather good at this dancing thing, even though I don’t think I’m that good. I look at people who do this for real, and I still don’t think that is me. I’m regular.
Yet even as I tell you this, it’s true I’ve gotten pulled up to the front of the Zumba class during routines. I am told I move with proper timing. I try to go all out, especially when the choreo gets in my system. (I even know the real hoofers call it “choreo.”) I like to end each routine with some kind of flourish, because why not? The Zumba ladies high-five me for that as much as my loud-ass tights.
I’ve won some amateur, pull-from-the-crowd, dance contests from Brooklyn to Jamaica (the island, not Queens). In fact, I won one just this past week at a burlesque show. The bottle of Pinot Noir is on the kitchen counter right now.
I’ve been told I am a “dance god.” What do I do with that? I don’t feel it, but I’ll take it, right?
Part of this discomfort for me is how this works as another reckoning with life while black. My people have a reputation for dancing, and dancing well. And, among non-black audiences, I’m happy to receive the compliments on my dancing, while in the back of my mind I’m wondering whether my dance ability is bolstered by my race. If you think I can dance by looking at me, does anything I do look good?
The whiter the crowd on the dance floor, the greater the reaction. That’s often when the circle forms, and I gotta get out of the middle! Or I get asked to help teach somebody, usually a white woman, how to dance. Or they downplay their own dancing in deference to mine, as if we’re competing or I’m supposed to be paired off with some other, superior dancer. Please.
Among other black people, I return to the middle of the pack and can toil away in obscurity while the flashier folks draw the shine. I can’t move with great fluidity and connection of all my parts in the way folks who are actually good at this can. No flips, dips and splits for me, either.
If it’s Latin and Caribbean folks, then I really step back.
At least the expectations are low enough for this old-school American Negro that the little I can do garners some respect. Zumba helped a lot in this regard, especially now that I have been going 3-4 times a week. A salsa step side to side, or a hip-turning soca march, gets a nod of acknowledgment. “That’s cool, he learned some of our stuff.”
My five-plus years of Zumba have been an eye-opening lens into masculinity as well. As I often say, I’ve spent more than five years learning to dance like a sexy lady.
Why do I say that? The calculation is simple.
I am often the only or one of a few men in any Zumba class I’ve attended. Altogether, in all that time, I’ve done Zumba with maybe 10 other men, and that includes three male instructors. Therefore, much of the dancing is geared toward women, given that the classes are nearly all women, and nearly all of the instructors are women.
Then, with Zumba being based in Latin and Caribbean dances, a lot of it is sexy stuff – hip shaking, booty popping, body rolling. Stuff that’s not exactly seen as heteronormatively masculine, which are the categories I live as. Sure, we’ve had a lot of male hip-swivelers and pneumatic gyrators in our times, but they’re not exactly doing Shakira hip drops and rolls.
But I am, and it’s great. Glorious, even. Because, why not?
Why not learn how to use my body in as many ways as possible? Why shouldn’t I wear those colorful Lu La Roe tights? Why not use allllll of my arms? Why not do it all with a smile, or with a shout when it’s time to get dowwwnnn.
Why not twerk and vogue?
I’m playing with my friends. I do what I want, in my free-range masculinity. Life’s too short not to try living beyond options A, B and C, and try getting all the way to whatever your Z is.
And that includes your body! Why not move my body to full, well-rounded effect, while I still can?
All the better to steal your girl on the dance floor because I move like she does, if not better.