There's a person in the class—gender unclear to me—who is doing a butt jiggling move in such a way that everything seems to be going in a different direction at once. It's completely fascinating; I can't take my eyes off it. Which might be why I keep losing my balance and can't keep up. (Imagine the Queen Mother at her 100th birthday party. Now imagine her trying to do the chicken noodle. That's me.) Gayle, ever curious and friendly, asks Butt Jiggler for advice about how to do the moves. BJ doesn't waste a second: "Get grimy," he/she says. At that moment, I know I'm never going to succeed at hip-hop. Though I think I know what grimy is—it's the hip-hop equivalent of dirty dancing—I have no idea how to get there. It's a state of being, a state of being for which I have enormous respect and admiration, but not one I will ever enter. I don't have the constitution for it. What I need is a dance that can be done with or without griminess. Like salsa.

Despite having failed utterly at hip-hop, I have learned a helpful lesson. A private class is more my style; for someone as hopelessly self-conscious as I, learning to dance in a room full of strangers is just too hard. (Every single time Tweetie had said, "Whatever you do, don't do this," and then demonstrated with great flair a move exactly, and I mean exactly, the way I had done it, all the lucky grimy people in the class burst out laughing and nodded at one another. Really, I just couldn't handle the humiliation.) So I sign up for a lesson at Dance New York with Jose, a competitive Latin dancer recommended by a friend. She said he'd be great, and he is. He's tightly wound, graceful, a sleek young Latin cat, and remarkably patient. He introduces me to the basic steps, going over and over them till I can master them. Even with the endless repetitions, I make lots of mistakes. But I hardly mind at all. Because whenever I mess up, Jose, with the kind of loving, indulgent laugh a parent has for his child when she does something adorably wrong, tells me it's okay. He calls me lover and mamasita and baby, and, if I make a really egregious move, baby lover. So I'm pretty fine with egregious. "Bup, bup, bup, mamasita, do it this way!" he says as he shows me a new step. With his hand lightly touching my back, he guides me, not quite pushing me along but suggesting. He shows me how to do a turn, and when I finally get it right, he murmurs, "Gorgeous, lover." He gives no indication of how bored he is till the end of the first lesson, when he starts a crazy, loose, kicking and scooping thing all around me, like he's street fighting with a little person, and I abruptly stop my back-and-forth to ask him what he's doing. "Don't mind me, lover," he says, fondly, "I'm trying not to get bored. Keep dancing." And I do.

As I'm slipping on my jacket after the lesson, I ask Jose brightly, "Should I practice at home?" A cloud passes over his face. "No," he says, "I don't think so." Why not? He stares off into the distance behind me, as if he were visualizing something. Something unpleasant. Finally he says, "You might do something wrong, again and again, and then I'll have to teach it out of you."


Next Story