And no, I’m not referring to the Evolution of Dance YouTube video…
I did, however, create a dance video to Karmin’s song “I Want it All” in order to win a competition. I lost miserably, but I still have the video that you can use to burn your eyeballs out! Filmed by the wonderful Emma Devine in front of some lovely graffiti at the University of Toulouse: Jean Jaures (formerly Le Mirail) when we were studying abroad.
Even if you find my dancing horrendous, I recommend watching it just for the artwork (and to downvote the video while laughing maniacally).
This post is about the evolution of dance in my own life, because while I never participated in any sort of dance troupe as a child, dance has become something that I retreat to in times of trouble and when I want to work out for a few minutes while washing my hands at the bathroom sink.
When I dance, I feel like the truest version of myself. As you all know, I don’t move off the couch often, but when I do, I move. Hell, dancing was one of my jobs in college. I became a Zumba instructor the summer after my freshman year, but I’m getting ahead of myself…
When I was younger, I was not “the dancer.” My niche was to be nerdy and get good grades while my elementary/middle school best friend Jenna was the dancer/cheerleader/gymnast. At talent shows, I acted in funny skits, and she danced. She made up dances with her friends for fun, even. It just wasn’t my thing.
That is, until our middle school dance. The dance after our 8th grade graduation was where I really learned that dancing wasn’t only something that I was decent at, but something that I enjoyed. I was just as confused as everyone else — Jenna was the dancer, after all, not me!
High school dances continued in a similar pattern. Girl gets good grades. Girl gets labeled as nerd. Girl kills it on the dance floor at school dance. People are confused because girl is nerd.
You know, your basic Cinderella movie plot, but I didn’t gain popularity or a prince or a cool pumpkin carriage, just some weird looks. I actually was very disappointed when our yearbook had no “Best Dancer” superlative. Sure, I ended up getting “Most Likely to Succeed,” but who wants that when they could be “Best Dancer”?
Knowing now that dancing was something that I enjoyed, I started looking forward to school dances and our annual line dance unit in gym class. In high school, each year, we had a line/square dancing gym unit. For two weeks every year, I actually tried in gym. These classes were the only times when I really worked up a sweat in gym class. During these two weeks, I would even skip my study hall to go and line dance in my friends’ gym classes. My friends and I used to make fun games out of the line dances, too. We would make our movements big and dramatic in order to see if we could dance across the entire gym. It felt like flying.
The line dancing unit was something that I missed most when I graduated from high school. When I had a tumultuous beginning to my college career and was looking for a sense of home and familiarity, I reached out to my high school gym teacher and asked her for the directions to the line dances that we did in class. Within a week, I had a manilla folder in my school mailbox with all of our school line dances. I still have it as a memento of my favorite days in high school. It will live with me in a folder with my favorite papers and projects, because like a true nerd, I like to keep all of these close.
With a difficult start to college, I was desperate to find ways to fit in and find my group. I decided that becoming a fitness instructor would be a great way to become more active on campus, in more ways than one. I knew that working out regularly would help me feel better, but I knew that I would have trouble motivating myself without having any sort of accountability. I took Modern Dance courses as a freshman, which I loved, but I knew that I would not have time for more dance courses after my freshman year. Instead of grades, I decided that being an instructor would hold me accountable. I would have to go to Zumba classes if I was instructing them!
So I became a certified Zumba instructor that summer. This was the best thing that I could have done for my confidence. Not only was I getting out of my room more, exercising, and doing something that I loved, but I was also instructing. This is an important distinction because instructing a fitness class is totally different from taking a fitness class.
When instructing, you have to show up, do the moves correctly, and be insanely energetic. You need to be the happiest person ever and dictate moves as confidently as possible. Everyone is following your every move. I think this can make you insecure, or confident, or both. As they say, even if you give 100%, you’re only going to get back 60%. Which means that if you want your students to be excited, you need to give 200%. You adopt what I call “Zumba instructor face,” which pretty much just means that your face is super expressive when you dance.
For me personally, I preferred to have a second instructor in the room with me. Obviously, it is nice to have the safety blanket of someone else who knows the moves, but as an extrovert, it was also just nice to have someone up there with me that understood the instructor struggles. Plus, the more instructors you have the more variations you can offer to the class — which is never a bad thing! As long as I wasn’t teaching alone, I was on top of the world. I was doing what I loved and getting people excited about getting fit. It was the best job ever.
And the fitness program at Dickinson just kept growing. By the end of my college career, there were 5 of us Zumba instructors as well as many more other instructors that taught other group fitness classes. They even created a student coordinator position to help keep track of everything, which I took on along with my Zumba instructing duties.
Now that I’ve been out of college for 5 years, I haven’t taught in a long time, but I’m really grateful for my time being a college Zumba instructor and what it did for my confidence. I even still have “Zumba instructor face” when I dance, smiling and winking in an attempt to keep everyone else engaged. Out of all of the habits I could have picked up as a Zumba instructor, I’m surprised that that’s the one my brain chose to latch onto, but hopefully it makes dancing with me more entertaining at the very least!
Dance had become an escape and a way to make a living, but also, it was something that connected me with my mom. When I was young and didn’t dance, my mom used to lament that she didn’t have anyone to dance with her. Once I was finally dancing, my mom was thrilled to have a buddy. My mom’s 50th birthday party was one summer when I was home from college, and she wanted a blowout in a dance hall. We were ready to jam.
My friends, family, and I got on the floor and just let the music move us. I will always remember going into the bathroom for a break and running into one of my grandmother’s friends, who told me that watching me dance made her feel like she had gone through a time machine and was watching my mom dance. As a ridiculously overly-sentimental person, that made me feel a lot of things.
Now, I unfortunately don’t have many opportunities for dancing while so many things are closed down. Between dancing at bars where I didn’t drink a lick of alcohol, to hip-shaking concerts in huge stadiums, to smaller live music events, dancing is almost always a social thing, and there just aren’t too many opportunities to be social anymore.
You can bet that as soon as we’re able to safely go back out in large groups, you’ll find me shaking my booty at the nearest place playing danceable music…and returning home for bed promptly by 10pm…