Day 107: organs

After I got chucked out of the Royal Ballet School because of my stumpy legs I started taking classes at the London School of Classical Dance, run by the extraordinary Natasha Lisakova. Natasha was beautiful, imperious, and never tired of insisting that we could and should all have eighteen-inch waists because the spine was the only thing that took up any room in your waist region. A number of us argued with her, insisting that there were organs as well bones between your ribcage and your hips, but she would hear none of it.

I bring up the London School of Classical Dance because I had a flashback this morning to one of our dance recitals.

I was, I think, eleven (so it would have been 1985 or thereabouts), and everyone in my year was dancing in a sedate, beautiful dance based on a section of La Bayadère[1] We were dressed in white and it was a highly orderly and symmetrical piece of choreography. After we’d performed our dance we were allowed to sit in the audience with our parents so we could watch the senior students perform. I vaguely remember that there was a modern ballet to Mozart’s Requiem, which I found quite boring and difficult to sit through.

But then, at the very end, there was the dance that all the seniors had choreographed themselves, which was to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” It was a clever segue from the Mozart, because “Let’s Go Crazy” begins, you’ll recall, with that funereal sounding organ, and it’s only when the drum kicks in when Prince says, “so when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills …” that it turns into something else.

We all sat there with our eyes wide as saucers. The dancers who had just been performing the austere dance to the Requiem were now cutting loose and dancing with wild abandon and silliness. One dancer was wearing a tutu. Another was wearing bikini. Most of the others were just wearing their ripped up footless tights and leg-warmers. They were tumbling and leaping and throwing each other around and spinning so hard they were almost toppling over. It was full on Kids-from-Fame-meets-Footloose-tastic.

Zumba started with “Let’s Go Crazy” this morning. As soon as I heard the words “Dearly beloved …” I let out a little squeal. Dancing to Prince like a whirling dervish is my kind of Sunday service.


[1] If you don’t know the ballet, this will give you an idea. Watch any part of the clip from 2:30 onwards.


Day 95: My life in aerobics

1985 was an important year in the duck-rabbit’s aerobics education. It was the first year of secondary school, and our curriculum included dance class once a week. Our teacher, Ms Cheeseman, was Australian, deeply tanned, with blond streaked hair. Her daily attire always included hole-ridden footless tights and a oversized T-shirt, often that one from Cats with the two green eyes on a black background, a T-shirt which I immediately coveted.

I knew immediately that Ms Cheeseman and I were kin because we both considered jazz shoes appropriate everyday footwear.

That first day in the hall where lunch would later be served (meaning there was always a strong possibility of feeling the squish of a stray chip or mushy pea underfoot) my excitement was palpable, particularly by contrast to the extraordinary listlessness displayed by my classmates at the prospect of having to dance. I had on a new pink and black striped leotard and black footless tights. It’s a distinct possibility that I had my hair in a side ponytail. I was ready to shine.

Ms Cheeseman led us in a simple routine to Harold Faltmeyer’s Axel F (i.e. the theme from Beverly Hills Cop). Go on, listen to it. You won’t be sorry.

It was awesome. Or, rather, as I would have said at the time, it was brill.

Just a couple of months later, we visited my cousins in Delhi, where I vividly remember, Mahin, joining your mum as she did Jane Fonda’s Workout video, the one where the cover to the VHS tape has Jane on her back supported on one elbow, her leg-warmer clad legs scissoring upwards, toes pointed. If you’ve never done that video, I’ll just say that Jane Fonda is not kidding when she says it’s a workout. I remember being really sore for days afterwards.

The next significant episode in my aerobics education was not until grad school. [1] There were the aerobics classes led by perky undergrads at the MAC, the main gym. Often Laura and I would go together, sometimes having an enormous post-aerobics breakfast at Johnny’s diner on Mass Ave. But the classes I attended most avidly during grad school were Andy’s cardio kickboxing classes at the Boston Sports Club in Central Square. I became a regular, which meant that he was always pulling me from the back of the class into a prominent front row position, which I accepted, as it was intended, as a mark of favor; it also meant that I had a nickname, which was “London.”

I thanked Andy in the Acknowledgements to my dissertation. I am not kidding.

Although in the intervening years since grad school I’ve taken a bunch of different sorts of exercise and dance classes, I’ve not done anything until recently that embodies both the spirit and form of aerobics.

But then I discovered Zumba.

I’ll be honest, I never would have gone if KJ Rabbit, a zumba veteran, hadn’t been visiting, even though Dr. F had months earlier given me the name of this very same “cardio dance” studio, and urged me to go; she wanted me to try it not so much because she thought I needed the exercise, but because she thought it would make me happy – and she was right! (Note to self: always listen to psychiatrist.) [2]

I had never tried Zumba because … I dunno, I didn’t really get what it was. If only someone had told me earlier it is just gussied up aerobics! Do you do grapevines in zumba, you may ask? Do you ever!

I had forgotten how fun it is to be dripping with sweat doing completely ridiculous dance moves with a bunch of other women (and a couple of men) to early noughties raunchy pop music (today’s top tune: “Yeah!” by Usher) on a Sunday morning.

After class today I took the elevator down from the studio with a very tall, svelte blond woman who had been in the class with me. She asked me if I’d taken the class before and if I liked the teacher. I told her that, yes, I’d taken it before, and that I liked the teacher.

“He’s really … ” I paused, searching for the right word, “committed.”

She nodded, “yeah, it’s really authentic zumba,” she observed.

This somewhat floored me, so I just nodded and smiled while thinking, “what the fuck is authentic zumba? Is that not a contradiction in terms?” [3]

My point about the teacher being “committed” had nothing to do with authenticity. This teacher has the same quality that Andy my cardio-kick-boxing teacher had of performing each movement with vigor and precision and panache. Even in a made-up ridiculous genre of pseudo-dance like zumba or cardio-kick-boxing, it’s a joy to see someone move their body with such grace and deliberation.

I am hoping to coast on my zumba high for the rest of the week. I might need to buy myself some new jazz shoes. And a “Cats” T-shirt.


[1] Here it is important to note that I am only including classes in this history that I believe can properly be classified as aerobics, My evaluation criteria here are both thematic and formal. In terms of theme, just as Mikhail Bakhtin argues that there is a spirit of the novel that transcends different literary forms so too I would argue there is a “spirit” of aerobics that manifests itself in different shapes. So, yes, Ms Cheeseman’s class was technically a dance class but one that fully embodied the spirit of aerobics. More formally, I’d argue that if any exercise class requires that you perform a grapevine, or any variation thereof, it is ipso facto an aerobics class.

[2] Note that the studio calls itself a “cardio dance” studio. That is basically what aerobics is: cardio dance. But, clearly, in avoiding that word the studio is attempting to shed the Jane-Fonda-spandex-clad associations that I find so endearing but which, clearly, others do not.

[3] I decided that it was like saying that a pizza from California Pizza Kitchen was an authentic BBQ chicken pizza, a statement in which the word “authentic” comes simply to mean “consistent with the concept foisted upon us by an international multi-million dollar franchise.”