Yes, that is me in the front row of the hip hop class on a Sunday morning, shaking it to Rihanna like my life depended on it. I jab my elbows out in sharp beats. I shake my finger to Take your shirt off. I slap both hands on the floor. LOUD. You would not have guessed from my appearance a middle aged mother in worn out gym clothes, hair badly in need of new highlights how ‘phat’ my moves are.
But you could say that about the other women in the front row, too.
Boogying next to me is a 50-ish woman who is fully covered: head, wrists, and ankles. Her modest dress in no way interferes with the fact that she’s busting a move. The lady next to her looks the same age as my own mother, but she is killing it, yo. She dances in between songs, when we’re supposed to be drinking water. That is how much she loves the class. (Me, I’m more of a whooper. As in woo-hoo, let’s tear this thing up.) Screaming like this, over the thumping bass line, is encouraged.
The teacher says, “It’s all about the music,” but that is only half of the story. Syncopating your body to the beat is an expression of joy like no other, and this feeling is magnified when thirty people make the same motions to the same beat. (At least in theory; collective coordination is more of an ideal than a reality.) Sometimes I turn around from my spot in the front to soak in the vibe from the crowd, and notice that many of us are smiling those weird grins that people get when they are dancing just. like. Beyoncé.
It takes a few months weeks to learn the various combinations, each song paired with its respective choreography, rotating at the whim of the teacher. This means there are a lot of opportunities to step left while the rest of the class is shuffling to their right; and even some moments where your brain is so befuddled that you have to stand still, waiting for your arms and legs to catch up. But once you get over the hump of not quite knowing what comes next, it becomes pure, so-you-think-you-can-dance exuberance. Like any other sport, time and repetition work their magic.
They write it on greeting cards: dance like no one is watching, because it’s easier to say it than to risk such foolishness in public. I have always loved to dance, but it wasn’t until I hit my 40s that I was able to really let go. And looking around the class, it seems that I am not the only middle aged woman who has been able to tap into the freedom of no longer caring what anyone else thinks.
Now that I’ve given up on the idea of dignity on the dance floor, it’s addictive. And it’s my only chance to act this way, so I’m not going to squander it. Flip the clock back 24 hours and you will find me scrubbing pancake batter off the kitchen floor, herding reluctant children into cars, and asking my son, for the 46th time, to take his Legos off the dining room table. My clubbing days, for what they were, are a decade behind me.
Before you dip into the joy that this kind of class offers, there are side effects that bear mentioning. Number 1. Car dancing. One of the songs from class comes on the radio in the car, and the routine starts to seep out, to the amusement of other drivers who are waiting for the light to change. Shrieks of embarrassment emanate from my children in the backseat. Number 2. This has also been known to happen in grocery stores.
Hip hop class is a proxy for a parallel life I was never going to have; I was never going to be one of Jay-Z’s back up girls. Then why do I stand in the front row, anyway? Do I really think I’m all that and a bag of chips?
Let me try to answer the question this way.
‘Dance like no one is watching’ leaves out one crucial proviso: there will come a time when no one IS watching. We are no longer the women who walk down the street and turn heads. We are soccer moms, aunties, grannies, CEOs and retirees with all of the unavoidable accouterments of age, flinging our heads right and left like our necks are made of rubber. But watch out for us, because the roof, the roof, the roof is on fire.