Photo: Francesco Lagnese
How our dance-phobic beauty director went from I'll-look-ridiculous to "Ay, chica!" Rule # 1: Don't "think." Valerie Monroe sheds her last inhibition.
Just over a year ago, I wrote a story here examining how it felt to go out in public wearing the kind of extremely revealing clothing that was being touted as the height of fashion (and why a woman might choose to expose herself in it). For a week, I wore a lot of almost nothing: a scrap of black fabric only very generously called a dress, another dress, transparent, revealing my underwear as if behind a pale violet scrim, a pair of bloomers—yes, bloomers—so abbreviated they were interrupted almost before they bloomed. After the story came out, a number of people congratulated me on my courage. The thing is, I didn't feel courageous at all. I could walk down the street in a bra and panties and feel pretty comfortable (if I didn't think I'd be arrested). Nude beaches? Hand me the sunscreen and point the way. I'm just not very inhibited about my body.
But I have a secret: I won't dance. Don't ask me.
That wouldn't be a problem, necessarily, except that I want to dance. Especially at parties and weddings and bar mitzvahs and anywhere else I hear music that beats out a deep, pulsing rhythm that gets into the blood. I'm just too inhibited to take the floor; I'm afraid the moment I get out there, I won't know what to do. I'm even—and I hate, especially, to admit this—afraid to try.
That's why I decided to take a hip-hop class. And who wanted to join me but Gayle King, O editor at large, who claimed that she'd been using the same dance moves since seventh grade and desperately needed an upgrade.
We decided on one of the Ailey Extension dance and fitness classes at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Manhattan. It's called Hip-Hop for the Absolute Beginner. If there were a class called Not Even Anywhere Near Approaching Absolute Beginner, we'd have preferred that. But this is the best we can do. We're late to the first class, on a Monday evening after work. More than 20 people of all shapes and sizes are doing stretching exercises in a large room with a wall of mirrors and a cement floor. The class is led by Tweetie, a small, muscular, wildly energetic, fast-talking young woman. Gayle and I rush to a corner in the back of the class, where Gayle drops her stuff (she came in sweats) and I change from my heels into sneakers. As I'm tying my shoe, I get a terrific cramp in my side. (Not a good sign.) Neither Gayle nor I can do most of the stretches, and I notice that when we're asked to lie down on the floor, we both hold our heads up uncomfortably because we don't want to mess up our hair. (Another bad sign.) Tweetie starts the class by showing us in slow motion a simple kind of shuffle-off-to-Buffalo routine, and I'm thinking that if I have enough practice, I'll be able to get it. Things are looking up. Funky step, step, step, forward, slide, hop, slide, hop. "I don't know," says Gayle as she shuffles and hops along beside me, "this seems very vaudeville…." She does indeed look as if she could use a top hat and a cane. But we keep at it, as Tweetie, talking at warp speed and with a kind of hip-hop inflection I have to squint to understand, tells us we need some attitude, which she then demonstrates with a move, and another, and another, till it's obvious the hip-hop train has left the station while I'm still standing on the platform awkwardly juggling my bags.