Sometimes I feel this cheerleader vs band geek vibe with the ladies who Zumba in the studio next to my dojo. Here I am in my baggy uniform, focused on perfecting my technique and translating principles into action, the nerd who wants to do better, be better, learn and understand it all. And there they are in their neon spandex and crop tops, laughing and Instagramming and letting it all hang loose. They came here to party and exercise is the byproduct. And they’re not gonna let anyone forget that.
Back when I was a band geek, I watched those cheery bitches look down their perfect little noses at people like me and I thought, “What are you doing that I can’t do?” And then I said it out loud to anyone who would listen. And then, because I had something to prove, I did it. I tried out. I made the squad. I did everything those girls did! And I hated every second.
Not the cheerleading part. That was fun. But spending all that time with people who obviously had different values than me, who prioritized social events and physical appearance, whose ambitions were so far removed from mine that I questioned whether I wanted to even pretend to follow the path they were leading me down.
Eventually, I quit. I went back to band. I spent my time with people who liked the same things I liked, who wanted to be and to do similar things, whose friendships added to my high school experience rather than taking away from it. That’s where the value was, I thought, in comfort and support and belonging.
And that’s true. One of the things I keep reading about self-esteem in children and teenagers is needing to feel a sense of belonging. I never felt it on the cheer squad. I did in band. I do in the martial arts. Both of those activities helped me discover my strengths and weaknesses, my needs and wants in an environment where I felt cared for and supported. Those are the experiences that help us define ourselves.
The thing is, cheerleading was a valuable experience too and more so for the people it meant something to. So is Zumba. The whole goal of the place next door, their very mission statement, is to empower people (especially women) to feel good in their skin, to feel sexy and confident and to love their bodies in a healthy, productive way. I love it! I love the owner, who is fiery and passionate and inspiring. I love the way the members support each other openly on social media, praising accomplishments and coming together over tragedies. I even think Zumba itself is a pretty cool way to exercise if that’s your thing.
It’s just not my thing. It’s too loud, there are too many people, the neon lights and disco balls are too much for me and I don’t feel empowered by dancing. I feel empowered by fighting. I like moderately-lighted quiet rooms with plenty of space between people. I like to concentrate on what I’m doing and what I’m learning. I want to feel like I have control over my body and my movements and I want to be comfortable in loose-fitting clothes while I do it.
I prefer to spend my time with people who feel the same way as me. I’m sure the Zumba women do too.
And we’re not teenagers. For the most part, we’re middle-aged women trying to find time for ourselves outside of our children or families or work or responsibilities. We’re trying to relieve our stress before it destroys us, keep our bodies from falling apart when it feels inevitable, and we’re trying to take care of ourselves by surrounding ourselves with like-minded people with similar values and goals.
We’re more alike than unalike*, I remind myself when their music gets a little loud. We’re all here for the same reason, I say when someone from my world comments on theirs. We all deserve to feel like we belong and that we’re worth the effort, I stress to anyone who will listen, especially when they take up too much time in the single women’s bathroom we all share.
And also, this place needs more bathrooms.
*My dojo had the Maya Angelou poem, Human Family, on the bulletin board recently.