The author's Zumba instructor, Asya Deliahmedova, dancing at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. (Photo/Instagram @asinka82)
The author's Zumba instructor, Asya Deliahmedova, dancing at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. (Photo/Instagram @asinka82)

True confessions of a lifelong klutz now hooked on Zumba

When my son was 3, he played at being a bigshot on the preschool monkey bars. Like the other 3-year-olds, he’d place the hood of his windbreaker on his head, tying it under his chin and letting the rest of the jacket flap behind him like a cape. Then he’d shout, “Dah da dahhh, Superman!”

“When I do that,” he told me, “Nobody’s mean!”

At 3, my son learned it’s all about attitude. I wish I had known that when kids at camp called me a klutz. That klutz cloud followed me all through junior high until I learned the power of pretending: If I smiled and looked confident on the dance floor, nobody was mean. I’ve even come in second in ballroom competitions if I had a good partner. I can accept second place.

That said, no matter how many affirmations I may utter, I will never be a dancer or an athlete. I don’t have the chops. That truth was brought home to me in fourth grade when my ballet teacher demoted me to a class with kids from a younger grade, so I quit, turning my attention to the piano.

But in my dotage, my inner dancer is taking flight in Zumba Gold, the slower-paced classes at the Palo Alto JCC that are geared down for older folks who cringe at percussive movements and ear-blasting music. In these classes, I can keep up with the bubbes.

Occasionally, I can even let go with a good spin or execute a tango step with panache. Hint: Tango dancers don’t smile. But if I step into the regular Zumba classes, I slink into the back of the room because my panache takes a nosedive. Sometimes I’m on the wrong foot. Sometimes I’m moving in the wrong direction. And sometimes I barely get through the hour without collapsing.

Occasionally, I can even let go with a good spin or execute a tango step with panache.

Mat exercise is another challenge, particularly with sideways planks that exorcise (pun intended) my confidence. My 80-year-old oblique muscles are not up to the job, and maybe they never will be. But as others in the class have told me, “I can’t do everything, either. You’re here. That’s a plus. Think of the many people your age who can’t be.” Sadly, I think of my best friend from childhood who was a phenomenal dancer. Lately, she’s using a walker.

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote it is “self-evident” that “all men are created equal,” but that doesn’t mean we all have the same skills. In junior high, my social studies teacher told me she would give me higher grades if I made nicer report covers. Other teachers marked me down because I had big, sloppy handwriting, a disgraceful trait “for a girl.” It’s not that I didn’t try to be neater. I just lacked the dexterity. Years later, when I was a fashion writer, I stopped doing layouts when my editor told me my strength was in my writing.

My husband has his own tale of woe. When he was a college freshman, he was in danger of flunking a required drafting class, during the days when all the work had to be done by hand. The professor thought Allen was a hopeless case.

“No matter how many times you repeat this class, you will never be able to pass,” the professor warned him. “However, I’ll make a deal with you: If you promise never to take another class in my department, I will give you a passing grade.”

My husband went on to earn around 100 patents, and he now uses software that does the drafting for him. Meanwhile, thanks to computer technology, I can draft a passable layout, but if I want something more than just passable, like a website, I rely on a designer. We all have our strengths.

As I was leaving the JCC recently, one of the Zumba participants who has a flexible body and a formidable style told me she enjoys my columns. I smiled and thanked her. But I still wish I had her moves.

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of the forthcoming book “Love Atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].