Gotta Dance

I don’t know about everyone else, but dancing is in my genes. No, I’m not talking about an inherited ability to trip the light fantastic. I can hold my own on the dance floor, thank you very much, but would never win any contests. My lack of talent, however, in no way diminishes the joy I feel when dancing to a favorite song.

Dancing is behind three major weight loss episodes in my life. After a string of part-time jobs working around food, my activity level had dropped just as my caloric intake shot through the roof. Young people beware! Free Cokes as a fringe benefit are just a sneaky way to hook up new addicts. I remember getting up to about 225 pounds. Yeah. Seventeen years old and pushing an eighth of a ton — and this was 1975, when nobody was very fat or very fit.

The drama teacher strong-armed chubby me into auditioning for a role in a high school production of Oklahoma! In retrospect, a part was guaranteed, but I was nonetheless surprised to be cast as Judd in the dream ballet, as a cowboy in the Kansas City tap-dance number, and as a dancer in two other scenes. Yes folks, I was a high school chorus girl — in bluejeans and cowboy boots.

I practiced for two hours or more every day after school and dropped more than 25 pounds before the show. The dream ballet included a can-can sequence and by opening night, I could kick either leg as high as any girl in the line. And people paid to watch me dance. Well, not so much me, specifically. But every show sold out, and the attention-seeking whore that I am, loved it.

The weight came back in college, exacerbated by moving out. I didn’t have to eat home-cooked meals anymore. Like I’d always wanted, I was finally free to live on fast food, Chinese take-out, and delivered pizza. I had become a grown-assed man. Or so I thought, anyway. Were I to run into 20-something me today, I’d turn him over my knee and wear his ass out.

Turning 21 meant I could get into clubs to dance. Sock hops, proms, and formals were fun, and I had moments of bliss. But the joy was never fully expressed until after I came out and found my all time favorite dance floor at Johnny Angels, the gay bar in Lexington, KY.

The weight I lost then wasn’t entirely due to dancing. Drugs, alcohol, and that I didn’t really have money left for food had a slenderizing affect as well. Steve, my first love, took a picture of me at the time — sitting naked on the side of the bed with my legs crossed, smoking a cigarette and talking on the phone. I look like a poster child for anorexia — with fabulous hair.

The name of the gay bar in Lexington changed several times, but the dance floor was always the same. Seduction played a role in my enjoyment, of course. But the best moments came when I lost myself in the music and danced like nobody else was in the room. Do others sometimes experience euphoria like this when they dance?  Since finding out some women have died without ever experiencing orgasm, I take nothing for granted.

My love for dance never went away, but as I grew older, opportunities to unleash my happy feet grew scarce. The less I went out dancing, the more unfamiliar I was with the music, and the less I danced when I did go out. When I couldn’t stay up late enough to arrive with the in crowd, I quit going out all together.

For forty days and forty nights, I roamed my dance-free desert. Something inside of me died. I lost my faith and came to believe I would never dance again. My life sucked and the world was a rotten place. I’d given up cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol. Overeating became my raison d’être, pronounced with a distinctly southern accent, and I don’t mean la sud de la France, either.

Dance Dance Revolution, a video game, got me off an ass on a collision course with three hundred pounds. The ex and I practiced a couple of hours every day until we got good enough to show-off at arcades in shopping centers and malls. Yeah. That was us. I don’t recall losing a ton of weight with DDR. But the dancing was fun, and the learning curve is such that you work your way up to a decent activity level over weeks or even months, depending on how often you play.

Then I found Zumba. Lots of people talk about losing tons of weight from this dance-based form of aerobic exercise. I’ve been going to the same classes for more than eighteen months, and from my vantage point on the front row — so I can watch myself in the mirror — I see women who’ve lost a lot of weight.

I’ve lost a lot of weight, too. Hard to say how big a role Zumba has played when I also run as often as I can and lift weights two or three times a week (theoretically). I hate the strength training, but force myself through the workouts because of the longterm results, and plan to be centerfold hot before I’m sixty. Hey, it’s good to have goals. The endorphin rush from a long run is nice, but my devotion to running is more about gut-busting and getting the greatest exercise bang for the time invested.

Zumba is good for the body. I haven’t read any official studies, but I’m sure there must be lots of physical benefits. I’m more flexible in my neck and shoulders, and can move my hips like very few men my age can do. Not exactly something to put on my resume, but useful, nonetheless. If you don’t think so, you haven’t been doing it right.

Running and weight-lifting are solitary activities — at least for me. I’m too slow to run with anybody else. Besides, the ability to just up and go for a run on a pretty day is part of the appeal. With the weight-lifting, my goal is to get through my workout as fast as I can. No chitchat. I’m busy. Having a workout bud would definitely help me push myself harder than I can alone. If it happens, it happens, but I’m not looking for it.

I go to Zumba, not for the exercise, but because I want need to dance. Having now gone long enough to have memorized the choreography for most of the songs, everyone in my classes will tell you, I do my own thing. My deep affection for spins and turns causes me to add them to songs I really like. It’s tribal or something.

Losing myself in the music I hear at Zumba isn’t really an option. I have to pay attention. If I mess up, I could hurt women half my size who dance around me. Picture those images, plastered under the headline: Zumba King Tramples Dozens. I can hear the lead-in now: Disaster on the Dance Floor.

Dancing makes me happy. I’ve got a playlist on my iPhone of  bar music from the decade or so after I came out, another with nothing but Zumba songs, and a third of popular songs from the last decade or so that make me want to shake my groove thing. I can’t help myself. When Call Me Maybe comes on, I gotta dance — never mind the eye candy in the video.

No telling what my neighbors think when they see me dance-walking Toodles down the sidewalk. She’s a six-pound, long-haired chihuahua. Whether they think I’m happy or one of its synonyms, they’d be right.