I love to dance. I mean, that’s a good thing, since I’m going to be teaching Zumba, right? I took about three years of ballet when I was little (age 6-9, I would guess) and watched my VHS of The Nutcracker Motion Picture so many times that any strain of music from that ballet makes my brothers’ eyeballs twitch. It’s lucky that I married a man who loves the Nutcracker as much as I do!
But there are some pretty unhappy memories around dance that are floating around in my brain as well. I find them coming back to haunt me as I ponder what it will be like to step in front a Zumba class, face them, and expect them to follow me. And oddly enough, almost all of those bad memories associated with dance have to do with circles.
So, sorry to any Greek readers who enjoy circle dancing, but I just don’t like it: in contra dancing, when dancing The Chicken, the Hokey Pokey. Dancing in circles is not my jam. Let me tell you why I think that is.
I believe I was turning six when I invited a bunch of friends to our house for a party. I was so excited leading up to this event, because I planned to get everyone to dance. Since my mother is from Ireland, I listened to a lot of Irish music growing up (Clancy Brothers and the like). And, though I wasn’t trained in Irish dancing, I loved to dance around and around to it. So, I just naturally figured that everyone else would want to, too. Didn’t all American families listen to Irish music all the time?
I had a whole routine choreographed for a group in my head. And it started with everyone galloping in — can you guess? — a circle. So I started the music, and everyone sat around as I went in a circle and tried to get them to do the same.
Yeah, it didn’t go well. I really don’t remember who was at this party. Were they friends from first grade? Holdovers from kindergarten? Neighborhood kids? Friends of my brothers? It’s probably better that I don’t remember exactly. Because not only did no one follow me, they laughed, and they tripped me. I got up a couple of times and kept going until my mom stopped the music and moved us along to something else.
Unsurprisingly, I don’t really remember much else about that party. The year after, I tried to put together my own production of the Nutcracker, complete with hand-colored invitations, but no one came to my house to rehearse. Don’t worry; I did eventually launch two stellar basement productions: the Phantom of the Opera and Aladdin in the following years. Thankfully, there’s only video evidence of one.
Another source of embarrassment came in junior high, that era of sheer torture for all teens. I was at a school dance with a guy I was dating. It was a horrible time. He spent a lot of the dance pining over this girl he had dated previously, while I was hounded by this ridiculously hot popular guy trying to pretend that he liked me. And my boyfriend fell for it! It was one of those schemes cooked up by popular kids to humiliate an unpopular kid like me: make the girl think the cute guy likes her and laugh when she falls for it. I had evidently seen enough TV and movies to see right through it, much to their shock. “You’re breakin’ my heart!” Jim cried dramatically as his friends laughed. Boy, did the movie Carrie resonate with me when I finally saw it years later!
When I told my boyfriend I wanted to dance, he actually said I should go dance with Jim! “He really likes you.”
Are you fucking serious? Yeah, one of the most popular guys in the grade above likes the girl whose name he didn’t even know before tonight who has glasses and sings in the chorus during school mass (Catholic school … yaaaay). In fact, I doubt Jim even remembered my name AFTER that night. He never spoke to me again. But no, my boyfriend was totally falling for it. Somehow, by the end of the night, I finally convinced him to slow dance with me to Janet Jackson’s “Again.” But he was nervous and didn’t want to dance next to all of the other happy couples, so we danced a little bit away from them.
That was a mistake. The same crowd that had been trying to pair me off with Jim came and formed a circle around us, dancing around and laughing. I told my boyfriend to ignore them and, to his credit, he stuck it out until the song was over.
That was my first slow dance with a boy, by the way. Hijacked by a bunch of idiots dancing in a circle. This scene was unintentionally reenacted by my friends a few years later in high school. It was another school dance with another boyfriend, and my friends somehow thought it would be hilarious to dance in a circle around us.
Yeah, that time I didn’t stay quiet.
So, it’s good thing that Zumba almost never involves dancing in a big circle; I’ve never seen it done, at least. But to circle back around to the point (ha!), remembering that first party with the Irish dancing has been haunting me. What if I lead a class, and no one follows me? I’m going to be facing them, so I will see their reactions immediately. What if they all just get up and leave? What if they demand a refund?
None of those fears are rational, as the situations are so different. But anxiety and insecurity are seldom rational. I continue moving forward, picking songs, memorizing choreography, making some of own, and learning to cue it. I have people who are excited to take class with me, who are encouraging me. People who will hand me money to guide them through a workout. They want to be there, for the express purpose of dancing their cares away. I think I can give them that. I will try my best. It’s got to be easier than a bunch of six-year-olds, right?
Think they’d mind if I played the Clancy Brothers?