Last weekend I was visiting my friend Debbie at the beach in Oxnard, CA. We woke to a cloudy, cool Saturday and pondered about options for the morning as we sipped our coffee.
“I take a Zumba class most Saturdays. Are you game?” she asked as she worked the crossword puzzle in the paper.
“Sure.” Zumba? Urrgh. I am not a Zumba person. I have walked past that saucy gym class for months now. I’ve seen the undulating hips, the sweaty brows, the salsa experts. I have no illusions as to my dancing ability. I move with the grace of a wooden soldier, like I was born with five less vertebrae than the average female.
“Great, starts at 8:30.”
This is the kind of trouble my new life of adventure gets me into. I have challenged myself to seize all opportunities that come my way, even if I am sure I will hate it. My goal is to open myself to the possibility that there are hidden joys in everyday life of which I am presently unaware. Sometimes I am more successful than others.
We hopped on bicycles and pedaled through the neighborhood and past a sleepy marina to the fitness club.
“Better hurry,” she called over her shoulder. “This class is popular. We might not get in.”
That would be a shame, I grimaced as I pedaled faster. Ten minutes later we were lined up in the back row of a mirrored room filled to capacity with smiling faces. I limbered up as I positioned myself in a way that no one casually walking by the door would be able to see me and wonder who I thought I was amid a sea of Latin beauties and dance majors making their big come back.
A ball of energy zipped to the front of the room and commanded our attention. With a flash of white teeth and washboard stomach she began the class. Within seconds I was behind. I could barely see her from my vantage point and knew my steps were all wrong. Debbie bounced away with confidence to my right so I scrambled to figure it out. These were unknown rhythms to me. By the time I eked out one clumsy rendition the class was on to the next move. I glanced at the clock on the wall and grimaced, fifty-eight minutes to go.
I fought all urges to run screaming from the room. To be perfectly blunt, I sucked at this. The nimble instructor threw her left arm in the air and shook her hips while she moved them in a figure eight. How was that even possible? I decided to do the best I could and be thankful that my heart muscle was getting a workout if nothing else. There’s joy in that, right? Forty-eight minutes to go.
Debbie cued me in to a spicy gal in a tan leotard that was close enough for us to follow. I stared at her shoes like they held the key to dance heaven and my feet began to find their way. Thirty-two minutes and counting.
Another song ended and the class clapped and cheered for more. Despite myself, I realized that somewhere between the belly dance and the tango I began to enjoy it. I had put the mental image of an aging wooden soldieress out of my mind and was suddenly feeling light of foot and fresh of breath. I unbuckled the shackles of self consciousness and joined these people who knew how to turn fitness into a fitness party on a cool grey Saturday morning in Oxnard.
As we moved left and right like waves in a swimming pool, I gained enough confidence that I was able to enjoy watching some of the other dancers. My favorite was a man in his sixties in pressed denim shorts with a phone attached to his belt, black shoes, and a bright yellow t-shirt with a cartoon sketch of a Mr. Pancake emblazoned across the back. He was the crowd favorite and women of all ages keep approaching him to shimmy in unison like it was midnight in some hot new dance club in Manhattan.
A forty-something woman in a worn light blue t-shirt and sweatpants was working up a healthy sweat to my left. She came late to class and caught my eye as she would cross the room from time to time with a sense of urgency and exclaim something in people’s faces. The expressions of the recipients of her message told me that they did not know her. For some reason she conjured up visions of sandwiches bursting with sprouts and crystals twirling in the sun from braided rainbow thread. I was dying to get wind of what she felt so compelled to share.
Up front was a woman in her late 70’s in black leggings and a sweatshirt off one shoulder, the reflection of her face in the mirror a visage of serenity. Over her head the clock ticked away. Oh no, only fourteen minutes to go.
The lady in blue passed by again and halted squarely before a slight, Hispanic woman diagonally to my right. I leaned in to catch the declaration this time and heard her rejoice, with childlike excitement, “You are in an unexpected space of happiness!” And then she salsa-ed her way back to her spot. My heart skipped a beat.
That was exactly where I was, an unexpected space where happiness reigned and people forgot about the trials of their lives or their imperfections for an hour. Where older man could shine like John Travolta and a grandmother could glide to the left like she did when she was sixteen.
All too soon, the music stopped, the dancers left the room, and I thanked Debbie for allowing me to join her for this lesson. The continuing lesson that is urging me to embrace everyday adventure by giving all those things that “are not for me” a try.