Like most little girls, my daughter loved twirling. She'd spread her arms wide, throw her head back and spin and spin and spin. We have countless pictures of her laughing merrily as she watched the world go round. Eventually, she came to understand that dancing and music were related and she choreographed a signature move that we called, 'the elbow dance.' It was a rhythmic upper body back-and-forth motion that could be adapted to pretty much any musical genre from rock to jazz to her favorite songs in Disney cartoons.
When she was four, I enrolled her in a dance class. One afternoon a week, her nanny would drop her off and I'd head home from work early enough to pick her up (and, if I was lucky, catch the last few minutes of the class from the parent viewing area). She stayed in the dance school three years, which meant three separate recitals. We still have the costumes: a sweet pink and green fairy the first year; then bright purple velvet and sequins the second; and silver lamé with pink feathers the third. Between the juvenile stripper attire and all the stage make-up, my daughter and her classmates could have held their own on "Toddlers and Tiaras." All things come to an end, however, and by the time she was seven, my daughter was no longer a girly-girl. She'd abandoned dance (and swimming and gymnastics) for horseback riding. Despite the costumes (and associated costs), I was sorry to see her stop.
In my own youth, dance played an important role. My sister and I studied at the prestigious New York School of Ballet, under the strict tutelage of Barbara Fallis, former New York City Ballet soloist and mother of Richard (John-Boy Walton) Thomas. It was all very serious and we dutifully showed up each session in our pale pink tights and black leotards, hair pulled back in an unshakable bun. Soon, it became apparent that I wasn't going to have a career in ballet (I'd like to blame my hyperextended elbows but I fear a severe lack of balletic talent is the real cause). So, I turned away from the barre and moved into musical theatre. I was a triple threat: acting, singing and dancing, but the latter was always my weakest link. Still, I held my own and in college, I took so many studio classes that I qualified for a minor in dance. Finally, as a young working adult, Jazzercise and Step Aerobics filled my need to move (it was the big 80s, after all).
Dance also appears in the mythology my husband and I have woven together. We were coworkers and attending a big marketing meeting in Sandusky, Ohio. I was being harassed by one of our company's regional marketing directors — the man was all over me at the hotel bar and I didn't know how to get away. My then colleague (eventually boyfriend and now husband) stepped in and rescued me. "You owe me a dance," he said as he literally swept me out from under my lecherous suitor and onto the dance floor. He ran interference for me the rest of the week. It was all very knight in shining armor. Later as we became friends and eventually lovers, we compared notes about favorite hobbies and activities. "I like to go out dancing," I told him. "So do I," he asserted. This is proof that when you're falling for someone, you're willing to stretch the truth to make them like you. For the record, my husband didn't like dancing then ... and doesn't like dancing now.
Eventually, we married and moved to a little seaside town north of Boston. I became busy; I became pregnant. Except for the occasional wedding or bar mitzvah, dance sort of fell by the wayside.
Then, two years ago, I discovered Zumba. Zumba's philosophy is "Ditch the workout, join the party!" Choreographed to a fusion of Latin and international music, the classes are a terrific way to burn calories and have fun. More recently, I've fallen in love with Nia. This combination of eastern martial arts and modern dance is also a tremendous workout. But, the emphasis is on the joy of movement and on listening to and honoring your individual body. While I'm often one of the oldest women in my Zumba class, Nia tends to attract a more mature crowd. There are women of every shape and size and we are all there to "dance as if no one is watching."
A couple of weeks ago, two college students joined our class. They were gorgeous with big blue eyes, light brown hair and long, lean bodies. They wore running shorts and tank tops, while the rest of us were in oversized tee shirts and sweat pants. And, here's the remarkable thing. The girls were younger than any of us ... by at least a couple of decades. They were absolutely better looking by any conventional standard. Thinner, taller, tanner. But, they were so self-conscious. While we stretched and extended and leaped around the studio, the girls kept their limbs close into their bodies. We closed our eyes and let the music take us where it would. They watched themselves in the mirror and they were too embarrassed to move.
Here's what I think. Someday, they'll look back and remember just how beautiful, buoyant and gravity-defying their bodies were. Perhaps, as I do, they'll shake their heads and think like so many before them that "Youth is wasted on the young."
Then, I hope, they'll turn up the music, throw their heads back, take their fallen assets, and start twirling.