Monday, November 5, 2012
Roundhouse to Rumba
I had a bizarre feeling of deja vu today. I had arrived late to Zumba, as usual. I threw off my black jacket and half full water bottle that had been on the passenger seat of my car. I glanced quickly at the well attended, but not crowded fitness room. All women aged anywhere from 18 to 70. I was the only person wearing neon yellow, but I wasn't embarrassed. If I were embarrassed about my obnoxious wardrobe I would still be wearing black and grey. Black, the color that dominated my wardrobe for 15 years, my attempt to camouflage my body. It helped...atleast in my head. I took my place in the second row right smack dab in the center. It's easier to predict the moves that the teacher will do if she is right in front of me. I can anticipate her next move generally. The 16 years of dance have given me a slight edge, not that I need it in this room. This is a very inclusive group and my neon yellow has already flagged me as an atypical participant. I felt right at home swinging my hips (which I don't do well btw) among the eclectic class. The music fills my body with energy, with joy. I have no idea what the hell the lyrics are, but they don't matter. The beat, the instruments, the freedom take over. I watch one person the entire class (aside from an occasional obnoxious wink or gesture to my friend Teresa in the row behind me, Mary the Latin Zumba Instructor. She is mesmerizing. In a moment I look out the doors across the hall and feel a pang of sadness, and guilt. Mostly guilt. I should be in the other room. I started in the other room. I feel like a traitor. The room across the hall has no room for neon yellow. It is an environment where structure is vital. Uniform, strict, disciplined...but beautiful nevertheless. I see a handful of white gi's, and bo staffs. Jen, Paul, Sensei, and Tony, the man who assumed at first glance that I could never be a martial artist. I remember our first conversation. He was doing my favorite tournament kata in the hallway outside of the karate room. I came out of the fitness room wearing jeans and a hoodie and told him that the kata looked great and that it was my favorite kata. His eyes narrowed and he asked me a question, smirking, expecting me to be tripped up, "And exactly WHICH kata would that be?" "That would be Saifa Kata...and I'd appreciate if you didn't patronize me". I can see why he would patronize me. I was 230 lbs. I was in street clothes, and I had a really trashy glittery buttercup shadow on my eyes and a really deep wine colored lipstick. I looked like a tacky obese bystander talking out my ass to try and sound cool to a man with a black belt and faded black gi. Sorry Dude, I don't impress easily, and cockiness isn't becoming of a black belt. Especially an old one who, just a few weeks later refused to spar me. I think he knew that 230 lbs of angry female martial artist wouldn't be afraid to risk safety in an effort to prove a point. I guess he profiled me correctly on that one, because while I know I would have lost that fight, it would have been more painful for him than for me. I had more cushion. I had trained, fought, and had my ass kicked by 20 year old male black belts in the City weekly. We had done pain tolerance exercises. Between the rage (which would work against me in the mental part of the fight) and my mass I would be able to take more blows which means that any roundhouse he didn't block would leave a mark. I don't wear foot gear. I'd rather jack up my shin and have my opponent feel my tibia slam into their ribs than have the kicks dulled. Angry. I was almost always angry. Eventually, the anger faded, but my size didn't. I loved the ladies in my class and I would never try and hurt them. When I was first training I was dangerous, not on purpose though, I was just untrained. While I was, in fact very overweight, my body was disproportionate and I was middle heavy. My legs, long and fairly toned. I think its because they were packing around my heavy body, but regardless, my legs were strong. I danced from the time I was three until I gained 90lbs after getting married and gave up on all things physical. But my body remembered the movement, and the flexibility had stayed with me. I kicked naturally to the height of an average mans head and being tall I had a significant advantage against any other female in my dojo. After some time I could pull a kick inches before it would have connected with a face, and without rage propelling it, the precision was exhilarating. In the dojo though, there were always new students coming in, men and women. I fought the men like a man would have, and I fought the women one step above where I thought their ability was. I would pull the punch or kick, making them aware of where their stance, or blocking was vulnerable, but never to injure. Still, my size, my flexibility and my overall aura was off-putting and I was the bad guy. Some men refused to spar me, and the women would quit class sooner than later. If I didn't throw a punch or kick I became a human punching bag, and frankly, sparring half-assed is dangerous in that the kicks aren't clean and injuries were more likely going to occur than If I had thrown a legit kick. I didn't knee, or elbow, or fight dirty, but I was nevertheless...the villain. There were two women who knew me, not just the me when I had gloves on, but the real me. They knew the me without the sparkly makeup and other gimmicks. They tried to help people see that I wasn't bad, but I guess my "actions" spoke louder, because I was a hiss and a byword. I couldn't win in this situation and I am too codependent to "not care" what was being said about me. I was the fat bad guy. In order to be liked, I would have to lose. Losing would be painful, deceptive, and weak. I was too proud. I would look across the hall at the happy dancing weirdos. They were not ALL fit, they could wear whatever obnoxious garb they wanted to. Tacky glittery makeup wouldn't make a difference and I wouldn't have to hurt anyone or get hurt... It seemed too good to be true. I'm sure I'd be made fun of silently by some of the people who know me, or who don't know me. What would they say..."Look at her, she thinks she can dance, muahaha, yeah, she's shakin it...like a tub full of gelatin", Or "Who does she think she is? She is taking this so seriously! Poor thing thinks she's a dancer". The phrase "She was probably ACTUALLY a decent dancer...150 pounds ago (INSERT CACKLING)" The music filled room of sweaty ladies scared me more than any male black belt looking to preserve his pride by laying my ass out. So I did what I do best. I walked away. I stopped going to karate, and I walked toward the zumba room, saw a familiar face, caught my reflection in the glass windows. Too fat, I was just too fat. I had gone to a Zumba class in Albuquerque, really excited to have some form of dance in my life again. I stood in the front so I could see the teacher from behind them as well as their reflection. About five minutes into the dance class a girl behind me said loudly to her friend "You know, this would be a lot easier if we could see around THAT". I was directly between them and the teacher. I don't doubt that they could have found a way to see the teacher inspite of my location, but the words poisoned the experience. I walked out of the room immediately, crying. Time has passed, the weight has been lifted and I look back and feel silly for believing that all women in zumba would mock me. There could possibly be a couple who do. It won't be for my weight anymore, but surely there is something. There may have been 50 people in the class in Albuquerque and I happened to stand in front of the only bitchy lasses. Or maybe I needed that moment in my life so that I can show empathy when someone walks timidly, insecurely into any studio. Today I made a 61 year old friend named Gale at Zumba. It was her first time there. She is short and stocky and wore ear plugs because the music was too loud for her. I gave her a high five after class and told her she did great and she thanked me and asked me an interesting question. "How is it you smiled during that entire class?" I didn't realize I had been smiling the entire time. I grinned and explained how I had allowed my obesity and insecurity to govern me and that I had missed dancing for 13 or so years and how dancing was liberating and that I do love every second I get to dance. She is great and is an inspiration to me. I'm grateful for the opportunity to glance into the karate room and see where I started. Angry, obese, aggressive, then sad, dependent, and defensive. Without karate to transition from, I wouldn't have met Gale, a timid but friendly woman who did not judge me for my neon garb, or trashy glittery makeup, but who noticed the smile. This Thanksgiving season, I'm thankful for music, and for the ability to use dance to express myself.