“So, The Smurf starts with a bounce,” Heather says, dropping into her knees. A loose, mini-squat kind of motion. “It’s really just a bounce.”
“Why is it called The Smurf?” I ask, doing my own very stiff imitation.
“Add arms,” Heather calls across the empty studio. “Up like this, shoulder level. It’s kind of a side punch with the pinky finger edge of your hand. I’ll give you some old school history in a minute.”
I imitate again, loosely punching the air and leaning back into my bounce as much as I dare without throwing out my lower back. Punch, punch, but not in an aggressive way. In a fun, friendly social dance kind of way. In a look-at-my-moves-yo-come-groove-with-me kind of way.
And just like that I’m executing my first hip hop move.
Obviously I am a complete child when it comes to hip hop. Wait, scratch that. A child would be much looser than I am; I’m like a granny whose mind remembers how to move, even if her body needs re-educating.
Heather tells me I know how to isolate the muscles she’s talking about, and I do. I just don’t know that this isn’t a fitness routine. Not yet, anyway. “You’ll find your groove,” she smiles, demonstrating hers in that hopelessly sexy, liquid kind of style she has.
I’ve committed to doing this sort of thing at least once a month. Something new. Something untried. I’ve always wanted to sample a hip hop dance class, and so I jumped online a few weeks ago and found a studio, signed up. Then, surprisingly, I actually showed up to what turned out to be a private lesson because most of Portland is apparently camping right now.
Surprises on every level.
I got the full immersion from Heather. She did give me some history, gestural and loose—much the same way she dances. Hip hop is an infant itself, she told me. It was born of disco break beats that were isolated and looped over and over so that creative peeps could invent new moves around them without the old disco constraints.
These now old-school hip hop moves have names like The Smurf, The Reebock, and The Cabbage Patch. All coined for popular culture references during the eighties when hip hop began its rise. And we know these dances, even if we’ve never danced them. They are as visually familiar as they are physically foreign to most of us.
There are fundamental building blocks to hip hop, as taught by Heather, but even these are endlessly variant and versatile. The wave, for example, can happen from the sternum, the arm, or the head. The rock from the chest or the hips (and probably from other places as well). Heather waved and rocked and bounced, and I asked my body to do the same.
We covered a lot of ground. We even jumped into a move called The Party Monster, and for a moment I am. And I’m dancing.
Somewhere in the middle of it, I realized I had no expectations. Sure, I wanted to look good. But I was too busy watching Heather in the mirror to bother with too much self scrutiny. I was awkward—okay—but, hey, I was new. And you know what? It was kind of fun to be awkward. It was kind of fun to have nothing to prove.
I have spent so much time trying to avoid awkwardness. How many experiences have I sacrificed to the fear of feeling out of place? What if I’d done these things anyway, awkward as hell? What if, “Hey, I get to be the only person at the party who doesn’t know anyone” became a grand adventure instead of a reason to refuse the invitation?
Was I awkward with Heather in the studio? Absolutely. I mean, I showed up in preppy cropped yoga pants for crying out loud. And then there was Heather with her undershave and her Pumas and her perfect baggy gear. The way she could move like some kind of gorgeous animal, channeling fun and ease and playfulness through a simple shoulder roll or an arm thrown in opposition to a leg.
She was all funky grace to my stiff, new awkwardness, but together we made it happen. We danced, and will I do it again? Oh hell YES I will, and you guys it will be fierce. Or at least it will be incrementally less awkward. And what’s the worst that could happen, anyway? You can’t die in a hip hop class, can you?
Now, next week it’s on to the climbing gym…