Ever since the day in February 2010 when I returned from a weekend run hobbling in pain, not a day goes by that I don’t obsess about my hips. This past weekend was no different, but instead of thinking about all the anatomical components of a labral tear, I was focusing more on the girly-girl aspect of my hips; specifically, how to move and groove them!

Thanks to a dance-related group I recently joined on Meetup.com, I was motivated to join some new friends on Saturday in Center City for a dancehall class. Shamefully, I had never heard about the style until I read the description on the instructor’s website:

“…a Caribbean street dance that is all about confidence and attitude. This style of dance includes elements of African, Hip-Hop, House, Zouk, Salsa, and Jamaican Folklore. The Flava style is creative, expressive, fun, and the music takes you away. Dancehall Flava dance can be seen in videos by artists such as Beyonce, Rihanna, M.I.A., and Sean Paul.”

In short: You shake your hips. A lot.

My closest friends know that even though I am a contender for the Nerdiest White Girl of 2012 award, I have this unexplainable attraction to African-rooted dance forms and music. I love gospel music. African drumming. African dance. I think I love The Lion King on Broadway more for its African chorus than its association with Disney. I love reading African travelogues. I think I was the only one in my circle of childhood friends who so desperately wanted a black Barbie doll at age 8.

An art festival print I couldn't resist, from contemporary African artist Hussein Saidi.

I am still very white in many ways, but I’d like to think that I’ve come a long way honing my movement since my high school days studying the standard ballet, tap, and jazz at Cute Little Suburban Dance School. There was a time where I was the whitest of white girls, always on my toes, my gangly arms awkwardly akimbo, but somewhere between college and now, things changed, and I finally feel the earth when I dance. Maybe it’s all the yoga, the fact that I’ve been practicing “being grounded” for the past nine years. Maybe all that root chakra stuff, the countless tadasanas with my feet nestling into the earth, being in tune with the body’s own music (the breath) finally got me away from always wanting to be in releve, balancing on my toes. There was a time when lifting my foot in the flexed position gave me the heebie-jeebies. If it was pointed, it wasn’t right.

But now, I love being barefoot. I can flex my feet when I dance, and point them when I have to. Instead of constantly being in releve, most of my movement is in plie. My arms aren’t gangly anymore, and I can control their movement. I’m not afraid to throw back my head or swing my entire body side to side.

All that said…the dancehall class was still a bit of a challenge for me. But a fun challenge! First off, my bum hip doesn’t like to roll to the left. Everyone agrees on having a “bad” side of doing a certain move, but seriously, that is my honest-to-god bad side. I roll too much to the left, and things could get out of whack. My Shakira days are over.

Second, it’s been a while since I’ve had choreography. And not even a full-blown combination, but just someone at the head of the studio saying, “Do this move, with the arms like this and the legs like this.” The technical side of my brain needs to learn the move first before the creative side is allowed to take over and add my own flair. When that technical side of my brain is working, the creative side just shuts off. That’s when the nerdy white girl emerges, so eager to get the form right, trying to get the counts. The flow shuts off, and I am more concerned about where all my body parts are supposed to be rather than just feeling the move from the inside out.

Fortunately, the instructor was very down-to-earth, all smiles, and just there to provide us with a good sweat, a good time, and a good variety of moves to whip out at the club. At some points we just followed along with her and mirrored her movement; for the latter half of class we worked on a combination. By the end of the hour-long class, I was feeling more comfortable with the choreography and finally got a chance to feel the movement and really let myself loose. I am still very self-conscious of my balletic upper body and envied the others girls in the room whose shoulders rolled effortlessly like butter. Even though I was the minority race in the class, there was never any notion of competition or snobbery or discrimination. I was probably less nervous in this class than some of the group classes at my gym. (Ever been the newbie at a Body Pump class?!)

The few girls from the Meetup group gathered briefly afterward for a chat, and we discussed ideas for future dance events. Looks like I’ll be getting in touch with my African roots yet again next weekend for what else but…an African dance class!

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