Dancing My Ass Off

Best I can remember, weight was never an issue for me growing up. Mom served nutritionally balanced meals and didn’t keep much junk food around. I was active, too. After school, on weekends and during summer breaks, the kids in our neighborhood spent every waking moment outside climbing trees, riding bikes, and playing pickup games of various team sports.

Getting a job when I was fourteen changed everything. With my own money and no financial responsibilities, junk food consumed the lion’s share of my meager income. My caloric intake shot through the roof, my activity level plummeted, and I got fat and sassy.

Okay. Maybe I’ve always been sassy.


The first time I lost a ton of weight was my senior year in high school. After a tremendous amount of arm-twisting from Mrs. Hume, the drama teacher, I auditioned for dancing roles in a production of Oklahoma!  Despite a lack of training, experience, or anything vaguely resembling grace, I got a part — along with the other guys in danger of failing Mrs. Hume’s class. We were in all the dance numbers and practiced for a couple of hours every day for weeks. By opening night, I’d lost twenty pounds and could kick like a Rockette.

The unwelcome pounds returned in college, thanks to free popcorn and soft drinks from my job at a movie theater, late night pizza-gorging, and beer. Walking to class would have helped my waistline as much as my GPA, but I had more important things to do — like sleeping, drinking, and finding myself. When I finally figured out I was gay at the age of 21, I started going to the gay bar every night and literally danced my ass off. In pictures from the era, I look like a poster child for malnutrition.

Fast forward through the next fifteen or twenty years and the two or three pounds I gained with each one. Moving to the heat and humidity of the Deep South significantly curtailed my activity level again, and along with sweet tea, cathead biscuits, and a nearby restaurant serving warm homemade banana pudding, caused me to gain even more weight. Rock bottom came one hot day when I was shirtless in my yard. As they passed by me, a little girl asked her daddy why that fat man wasn’t wearing any clothes. #SkimpyShortsFail

A segment on the Today Show about kids losing weight playing Dance Dance Revolution prompted the ex to buy a game system and everything we needed to give DDR a try. The learning curve was huge. The beginner level wasn’t much of a workout, but because the game is so fun (and addictive), we ended up playing for hours every day. The more we played, the better we got, and the more of a workout DDR became. Then we got Guitar Hero and I returned to the couch.

A host of health problems arose in 2008 — all exacerbated by my obesity. After struggling to lose a few pounds on my own, I joined the online version of Weight Watchers in 2010. Tracking points was a real education. Some, Most, All of the choices I’d been making were much worse than I’d ever imagined — especially those I believed to be the healthier options. My eating habits changed and weight came off, but exercise was the only cure for much of what still ailed me.

Finding an enjoyable activity was a challenge. Even if I could have stayed up late enough, going to clubs and dancing every night wasn’t an attractive option for a man my age. As overweight and out of shape as I was, even walking was more than I wanted to do. For the self-generated breeze, I ended up buying a bicycle I rode up and down my little street, progressing to longer and longer rides until local drivers convinced me to consider something safer — like skydiving without a parachute, swimming with sharks, or bungee jumping with frayed cables.

Enter Zumba — the aerobic exercise inspired by Latin dance steps. Choreographed dance routines really float my boat. I’m serious. From peewee football and continuing through junior high, high school, and college athletic events, I knew every pompom routine the (all girl) cheerleading squads performed. Should a last minute substitute ever be needed, I was ready to step in. An ironic aside: I had no idea I was gay.

Finding Zumba was like finally making the squad. I bought uniforms and performed hit classes at various locations around town several times a week. Buying a gym membership was cheaper than paying by the class. Knowing a desire to get my money’s worth would motivate me to drag my fat ass to the gym, I signed a contract for one of the more expensive memberships with weekly personal training sessions.

The couch potato I was in 2008 wouldn’t recognize the guy I am today. Between Weight Watchers, Zumba, and the guidance of three different trainers, I’ve lost weight — more than forty pounds I’ve kept off for going on two years. I’d like to lose more, but it’s really not about the weight anymore.

I like being active. Every day now, I try to either run three miles or go to the gym for an hour or two of weight lifting. On days off, I’m likely to do both. I miss a day or two here and there most weeks, and on rare occasions, may even miss a week or more. But I miss it too much and have come too far to quit now.

I still hit Zumba once or twice a month. I don’t want to get rusty. When the opportunity to dance comes along — and sooner or later it will — you’ll see some head-turning moves on the dance floor from your pal…

The Crotchety Old Man

3 responses to “Dancing My Ass Off”

  1. Love the new look here, Michael…nice job on the site.

    Weight is hard to keep off…congratulations! I never had much problem with weight except during pregnancy, thank whatever gods there be. As long as I run/walk consistently, and do a few upper body workouts my weight is healthy. Probably a combination of vegetarian and gardening! I have watched friends work at maintaining a healthy weight, and suffered with and for them.

    My daughter loves dance, too. I am totally dance challenged.:D Although, she did manage to teach me a short aerobic routine. Miraculous. Trust me.

    Our culture is not kind to the overweight. (Which is amazing when you consider how many Americans are obese these days.) It’s like growing older…very little support, and a lot of condescension and invisibility. Sad.

    • Thank you! I’m thrilled with the new site–especially the behind-the-scenes features you can’t see (described in a future blog post). There’s lots of obesity in my family. I decided years ago I didn’t want that for my future. The battle continues, and I know I’m fortunate to be able to do what I do. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Thanks for sharing your story! I identify with a lot of it, especially the increase in eating with the increase in finances that you could spend how you wished. My story has some similarities and some differences… I’d be happy to share in more detail with you or anyone else at a later time (right now I have other obligations calling my name). The basic summary is that I’ve had disordered eating all my life, and at 23, found something that works for me – a recovery program, which I’d be happy to share about with anyone who wants to contact me privately. I tried WW but that wasn’t enough; I needed to work on my emotional issues as well as the physical ones. I’m really grateful that support groups are out there for people with different needs. I don’t really exercise much, but am losing weight anyway, because of better eating habits. I would like to exercise more in theory, but have yet to find my niche. I do love DDR, though… we’ll see.