“Nice twerking today,” my friend said to me as she passed by me on the way out of my Zumba dancing class.
“What?” I spinned around in shock, but she was gone.
Who me? Twerking?
No, not me. I’m a Mom. Moms don’t twerk. I’m an out-of-shape, middle-aged mom. I certainly don’t twerk. I make sensible snacks, listen to NPR, and volunteer at the elementary school. Women like me don’t twerk. What would people think?
But, did I just twerk? And was it…nice?
I spent my very first Zumba class struggling to keep up with the teacher. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched people in class dancing. I marveled at how cool and happy everyone looked. I was sure they were rolling their eyes at me. I was awkward and always a count behind, but I left smiling and came back again. I loved being surrounded by music and infectious happiness.
In the next years of dance aerobics classes, I still found myself watching the others dancing. My favorites were the ones who have the biggest smiles. They danced with abandon and without regard to anyone else in the class. The gray-haired woman I saw in every class, the left side of her body noticeably affected by a stroke. The only man in a class full of women who leaped higher than everyone. The teacher who laughed at herself when she missed a step and encouraged us to laugh at ourselves. I was drawn to the dancers who moved with joy and happiness, not precision and perfection. I wondered what it felt like to move that way.
It’s a cliche to say ‘dance as if no one was watching,’ but what does it actually feel like? What would it feel like to move through the world without judgment? Judgment was a net covering every part of my life. Judgment for how I parented (What would people think if my children had dirty faces?), what I wore (Are these pants appropriate for someone my age?), what I said (I can’t believe I said that! They must think I’m such a dork.). Concern about what people were thinking about me was so comfortable and nearly transparent I forgot it was there half the time.
If there was one place where I would try moving without judgment, it would be the dance floor. My current Zumba class was full of supportive, smiling, dancing women of all ages. If I was going to try it by how I felt, not worrying about how I looked, it would be there. So I did, slowly at first, a moment here, a moment there. I moved away from the mirrors so I couldn’t see myself, and I silenced the voice in my head that wondered ‘How do I look?” It felt wonderful to stretch my arms out to their full extension and take up space in the world. I twirled and swiveled my hips in a salsa move; I tossed my head so my hair swung out, and felt my body move in an unapologetic way for the first time in a long time. Was I coordinated, in sync, and making every step? Probably not. Did I care? Nope. I was dancing with joy.
Where there is joy, there’s no room for judgment. Where’s there’s judgment, there’s no room for joy. Most things are not zero-sum, but joy and judgment are. There is room for one, but not the other. For years, I had accepted a life constrained by judgment without fully realizing the cost. The cost was pure joy. But now that I’ve had a taste of joy, I’m not giving it up again. I prioritize dancing in my life. The dance floor is the one place I choose joy.
And, apparently, I choose twerking.