How I Finally Found a Way to Fulfill My Dancing Queen Fantasies

I’ve always harbored a secret dream to be a dancer. To move with poise, confidence, and power like the characters in A Chorus Line or Fame. I’m pretty athletic. But I wasn’t one of those girls who grew up taking dance lessons. I was way too self-conscious for that. I was blessed with strength. Endurance. Grace and coordination? Not so much.

By middle age, I figured it was time to let go of my Dancing Queen fantasies. Then, my 10-year-old started taking hip-hop at our local dance studio. My buried longings for dance resurfaced as I watched her and the other girls bust funky moves. They were having a blast.

And the steps didn’t look that hard.

I finally found a way to live out my dancing queen fantasies. (Jennifer Lopez – Let’s Get Loud – Official Video)

I signed up for beginner’s hip-hop

Maybe it wasn’t too late for me. Maybe there was a hip-hop class for tight-hipped older women with zero dance training. Turns out, the studio did indeed offer a beginning hip-hop class for adults — no experience required. I signed up.

Driving to the studio for my first class, I pictured a small group of women around my age who were also dance newbies. I assumed we’d practice one or two simple steps during each session under the guidance of a patient teacher. Since this was a class for beginners, we wouldn’t start a new step until everyone had the current one down.

Upon arriving at the studio, I quickly discovered I’d been duped. A toothpick-thin drill sergeant in a baseball cap cropped Madonna concert tee, and baggy white joggers, Janelle, the instructor, had no tolerance for anyone who couldn’t master a move in one or two tries.

My classmates were all younger and better dancers than I was

My classmates, who all looked to be under 25, had no trouble getting the fast-paced, increasingly tricky choreography down. But I floundered from the first basic kickball- change. The more I fixated on my stumbles, the more anxious I became and the more mistakes I made.

Then, the absolute hell began. Janelle ordered us to break into eight small groups and line up in the back of the studio. We would take turns performing the routine she’d taught us while the rest of the class watched.

As she cranked up the volume on Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk,” I prayed the floor would crack open and swallow me. “All right, ladies…show me what you got!” she barked, clapping her hands to the beat. “And three, two, one…go!”

The first row of dancers kicked, bounced, and booty-popped their way to the other side of the room with precision and sass. One by one, the other rows followed. They were all just as good, in sync with the music and each other.

Then, it was my row’s turn. I felt the weight of all those eyes on us. On me. Janelle gave the nod. My rowmates smiled, happy to finally be in the spotlight. My mind went blank. I have no idea how I made it across the studio. I just know it didn’t involve anything resembling the steps we’d practiced.

I toyed with quitting the class. But I forced myself to return, hoping I might get the hang of things if I kept showing up. I didn’t. I flailed my way through five more weeks of torture. Janelle was too busy with the other dancers to offer any pointers. I breathed a sigh of relief when I drove away from the studio for the last time. I was not hip-hop material. Maybe I was just too clumsy and awkward to be a dancer.

Ten years passed before I decided to try again

Ten years passed. The only dancing I attempted after the hip-hop fiasco took place in the privacy of my living room or at the rare wedding. Then, I joined a gym near my apartment and noticed a dance class on the schedule. The familiar words “beginner friendly” jumped out at me.

Yeah, right. I wasn’t getting burned by that again. Yet I couldn’t squelch the desire to dance that still flickered in my soul.

I’d done some big, scary things in the past few years. I’d climbed Mount Shasta on my sixtieth birthday and left my unhappy marriage. And after my daughter moved out, I fulfilled my long-time goal of trading a home in the burbs for an apartment in San Francisco. My reservoir of self-confidence was fuller; my willingness to try new things was stronger. Perhaps I could give dance class another whirl.

Rather than risk a repeat of the hip-hop disaster, I played it safe and spied on the class from the doorway. This one was also filled with women who’d been dancing forever. When the teacher broke into a dizzying mix of Rockette kicks, ballerina spins, and stripper-style shimmies, they easily mimicked her. To my horror, each woman also performed a few solo steps in the middle of the studio. I scurried away, relieved that I’d dodged a bullet.

Maybe I needed to set my sites a little lower

But I was disappointed that my dancing dreams had once again been crushed. I perused the gym schedule at home, hoping to find a more suitable class. Nothing. Well, nothing except Zumba, which I didn’t consider dance. I assumed it was jazzercise set to Latin music. A class for grannies. And then it hit me — maybe I needed to set my sites a little lower. I was certainly old enough to be a grandma, after all.

I showed up for my first class a few days later, hiding in the back of the room. Most of my classmates were my age or older. The teacher, a trim, silver-haired man named Luis, entered the room.

“This is a dance class for people who aren’t dancers,” he announced. “The steps are easy, but if you can’t do them — don’t worry. Just make something up.”

My people!

I found something I could do, succeed at, and enjoy

True to his word, Luis led us through a few steps that weren’t too complicated. I still made plenty of mistakes. But the relaxed, friendly energy of the class and slower pace put me at ease. While a couple of the women were flawless dancers, several made almost as many blunders as I did. That didn’t stop them from enjoying themselves. Heeding Andres’ advice, they just did their own thing. I tried to follow their example. To my surprise, I was getting more steps right than wrong by the end of the class.

Soon, I was planning my days around my noon-time Zumba classes. I couldn’t wait to hear the first strains of J.Lo’s “Let’s Get Loud,” our usual warm-up song, and to follow Andres as he taught us simple routines with steps borrowed from the cha-cha, tango, and mambo.

One day, as I was rushing to class, I got a text from my daughter.

“Can’t talk — I’m late for Zumba,” I responded.

“LOL…Zumba. Okay, Boomer,” she replied.

“Don’t judge,” I wrote back. “It’s fun!”

One afternoon, I made it through a routine without a single misstep. Luis noticed.

“Looks like you’ve got it down, Dorothy,” he said.

My heart soared. It was true. The steps felt a little more natural each week, and I moved with more confidence. There were fleeting moments when I danced in an almost graceful way. But even on my klutzier days, that hour of Zumba was pure joy. I was a dancing queen at last.

More Great Reading:

Midlife Is When You Should be Reaching for Your Goals, Like this Mom

About Dorothy ODonnell

Dorothy O’Donnell is a writer based in San Francisco. Her articles and essays have been published by the Los Angeles Times, Great Schools, Scary Mommy, Salon and other outlets. She is working on a memoir about raising a young child diagnosed with early onset bipolar disorder.

Read more posts by Dorothy

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