As a family, we vacation at a certain beach destination every year and we love the place. It’s full of life, year end festivities; all in all a beautiful place. Suffice to say the trip has become a family tradition and my kids look forward to this annual trip.
Though, on return each year, we promise ourselves we’ll go elsewhere the following year, that has never come to pass. Each December we successfully break the promise.
Consequently, our preparations for the trip begin the weekend before the trip is due (because, remember we had to break our promise at the last minute). Invariably, on the Friday before the holidays begin, my husband and I realize we have delayed hunting an alternate location and are left with ‘our destination’. The travel agent is called in a hurry and tickets and hotel are booked in desperation. We spend our time that weekend Sunday buying clothes and essentials. In other words, we get one day to cover four peoples’ shopping lists, three ladies and one man, who is equally, if not more, flamboyant than the ladies.
The lists stretch from shoes to bags, swim wear to lounge wear, casuals to formals. While we pick bikinis and one pieces for the kids, when it comes to my turn I continue to pick bikinis and one pieces for the kids. When push comes to shove, I pick shorts and baggy (a ‘90s fashion term) T-shirts. Yes, it could well have been blankets and tents. My excuse, “I don’t swim.”
So last year, I decided, enough was enough! I learnt to swim. Head in water, hands stretched out in front and legs pushed back flapping ever so gracefully. That one miracle day when I covered one lap of the shallow end of the pool, I was ecstatic. I had accomplished a task that I had been trying to master since I was 12. Struggling to breath underwater, I had given up on swimming for nearly 20 years. Finally, decades later, on that blessed day, I realized I was not supposed to breath underwater. I had, thus, mastered the beginner level of swimming.
The feel of floating weightlessly in water was fascinating. I loved floating on my back with my face looking up at the sky from the ground. The entire universe staring down at me while I lay, as if, stuck to ground zero. As if, my body were carved into the ground and the surface of my body flattened along the surface of the earth by a masonry trowel; a feeling of being one with the Earth bringing immense peace and realization of the minuscule fitment of myself in this huge machinery a.k.a. the Universe.
As I peep out and lift my head to look at my feet, I see my tummy blocking the view and a gush of water at my face; I am about to drown. I gasp to catch my breath and realise I need to hold my breath to float back up. Yet the lightweight feeling is the most exhilarating I have felt since I bid farewell to amusement parks during my pregnancies and baby care. Yes, as a child, I was that kid who ran from one ride to the other for fear of nothing. For, back then, fear feared the joy of that child.
Thus, with the much needed skill now acquired, I entered last December with determination. We booked our travel and hotel much in advance. We were going prepared this time! We headed shopping way before the last weekend. Sunscreen, check. Hat, check. Chappals, check. Swimwear…mm….hmm! Not so much a check.
At the store, as I walked along the aisles of swimwear I looked at a swim dress in solid black and pondered for a while. While it looked decent, I thought to myself ‘I was going to a beach, girl! This was good for a pool, where you wore the dress, wrapped yourself in a towel, took off the towel, jumped in water, swam, came out of water, ran to the towel camouflaging the run to look like a walk as much as possible, wrapped yourself again in the towel, and then changed back into your clothes. In short, outside water, strangers got not as much as a glimpse of what you wore.'
'But, a swimwear for a beach destination was a whole new ball game. At a beach, you show off your swim wear.'
'You sit at a bed on the beach, the umbrella giving you shade and pretending to give you privacy. You take off the sarong or dress that was covering your sexy fashion statement so long. You slowly strut towards the water, sink in, swim a bit near the shore, and either get washed to the shore or emerge from the water and walk the Bo Derek walk back to the beach, hoping with each step that someone notices your appearance from the deep blue depths of the majestic ocean. Hoping all along for sexy music in the background and perfectly tanned skin on a perfectly chiselled body.
In other words, I should be looking for sexy swimwear and not sporty swim covers. I moved forward in the aisle and touched a halter neck swimsuit in green with big yellow leaves all over. ‘Ooh! That felt smooth and beautiful.’ I picked one in my size, a size smaller and a size bigger and headed to the trial room. I was eager to see myself in a swimwear I had only seen in magazines. I had never known these things would be available in my size. Of course, I should have guessed, there were other large women in the world and “Large” sized people in other countries freely swam in the ocean and enjoyed the beaches. With the arrival of foreign brands in India, their clothes were coming to our land too. Yippeee! Life was definitely looking up.
All this, as I pulled my swimwear up. Okay, so I had to roll the whole swimwear between my hands and stretch each leg wide apart with both hands. I pushed one of my legs in. As the entire swimwear sat rolled up on my thigh, I pulled apart the other leg of the swimwear with both hands. Phew! With both my legs in the swimwear now, I breathed in and slowly released the roll of swimwear while pulling it up my body. Twisting and turning my butt and stomach I helped the swimwear reach my armpit. Finally, I breathed out. “But, that’s the case with any swimwear, you need to pull it a bit. Anyway, it’s a rule, swimwear should be one size smaller, cause it becomes lose once you are in water. Yes, go on, ask anybody!”
I tied the strings around my neck and turned to look at the mirror, hopefully. ‘Hmm! Okay! I better eat humble pie. Sexy swimsuit, not this year.’ I resigned.
That moment, I promised myself, ‘Next year, this time, I will be in a beach destination wearing a sexy swimwear and look like a woman and not a toad!’
Breath in, hold your breath, breath out-2. I gently peeled the swimwear, walked out of the trial room and handed it back to the girl at the counter without meeting her eye.
“Ma’am, was it okay?” she asked me.
“I think I’ll try another one,” I lied and walked off towards shorts. In conclusion, it was shorts and T-shirts for me again.
That night, I returned home with the strong resolve to tuck my tummy in by the end of next year, ready for that sexy one piece.
Thus, I started working on my new year resolution. 2016 began with clean eating challenges and the need to meet 10,000 steps per day. I bought a pedometer and began walking for an hour at varied BPMs for maximum calorie burn. I also started scouting for other challenging and fun ways to burn more calories.
That is when my 60+ aunt landed from the U.S. I was meeting her after decades. Was it decades back or forward, I wondered when I saw her. She had lost innumerable inches and looked like a school girl; only, with wrinkles on her face (of course, she was 60+). Her secret, Zumba!
Zumba was fun, did not hurt her knees and she was able to continue it with consistency cause it was fun. She felt healthier than ever before. The result, “Voila! I was determined to jump on the bandwagon. Zumba! Zumba!”
The universe worked to grant me my wish, when the next month someone in our housing complex announced the start of Zumba classes in our apartment. I was the first one to agree, amidst a slow trickle of acceptances by others in the apartment WhatsApp group. All the while, I prayed for a quorum, lest the class fizzle out due to a lack in numbers. Slowly, as we approached the day of the trial class, we the hopefuls (or perhaps just me the hopeful) scraped by and crossed over the line at the end of the race towards success. And, victory was mine! “The trial class was to happen.”
I prepared rigorously. Leggings – check, T-shirt – check, shoes – check, sipper – check. I was all set to dance my way down the weighing scale.
With hope and a bounce in my step, I headed to the society club for the first class. As I opened the door to the club lobby, I could smell fresh hope and motivation in the stale AC air of the room. There were hopes of sexiness and smiles of welcome splayed across the faces gathered. We greeted each other as the enthusiastic participants scurried about setting up the place. One was listing down the names of the attendees. Another was trying to organize the space, deciding between the club lobby and the terrace considering the heat and the number of participants. A third was trying to setup music. We were eager to get some muscles shaken, stirred and tightened.
I caught a glimpse of the trainer running around. He looked "Zumba’ish". I realized it had been long since I had left my young days behind. Too long a duration of looking at corporate workers in their neat formal suits, neatly cut hair and formal shoes. Even Friday dressing was casually formal in the corporate world. In contrast, our Zumba trainer had a few long locks of hair at the back of his head, while the rest of it was covered in a military crew cut. The long locks were streaked blonde to contrast the mahogany of the crew. The sleeves of his shirt were cut into deep holes and his black slacks were loose enough to allow free movement.
“Pheet!” A twisted bite of his lower lip was enough for the whistle and our attention. “Guys! Let’s start with warm up,” he screamed and I was transported nearly two generations back in age. A new surge to feel younger filled me and I pumped my hands and feet to the count of “Single, Single, Double, Double!” “Come on guys, faster.”
“Single, single, double, double!
Single, single, double, double!”
The lobby reverberated with the sound of pumps, puffs, counts and thumps. We jumped, we squatted, we pulled our biceps and triceps, and stretched our hamstrings. Some creaked, some screeched, some bumped on others, some hopped, and most were beginning to enjoy.
The music was Latin and we could not understand any of it. But, we tried to dance to the count of our trainer. I realized, I had lost the moves I had acquired during my childhood days of Bharatnatayam, aspiring to be a danseuse. Back to the current, as I hopped around the trainer screamed “twerk girls twerk!” and he began to thrust his pelvis forward and backward. I was flabbergasted. ‘Are we supposed to do that?’ I wondered. ‘Wasn’t Miley Cyrus ostracised for that?’ As I froze and looked back in an attempt to show off my decency and morality, I realized that some of the other participants were pros at it. While many were struggling, I seemed to be the only show off. At last, I attempted a twerk.
The next came the boob thrust, `a la Bollywood style. ‘That! I could not and would not do;’ especially since the trainer came and stood right in front of me. With a toothy grin and rhythmic beats playing in the background, he encouraged me to follow his step, or rather prompted me to a dual of thrusts. I refused; I stood still. My convent education would not allow me to oblige. My years of shunning the pelvic and boob thrusts of a certain colourful actor of our times, forbade me from trying the dance move. A dance move that had acquired acceptance long back and was now considered decent. Thankfully, the trainer moved away towards other participants and the step passed. And I realized I would have to let go, let go of my inhibitions, let go of my fake morality.
I psyched up. The next repeat of the twerk and thrust, I decided to follow. And follow I did. But, my hands and feet were taking their day to sync up to the beats. So while a thrust happens by pushing the hands forward and the chest backward, I did just the opposite. While my hands pushed back, my chest also pushed back, and the thrust did not look like one. ‘Well, this was just the first class, ahead of me lay enough classes to master the skill. At least, I was trying.’ I consoled myself.
As we panted and gulped down water during the half-hour break, I could see smiles and the joy of new movement flashing across the faces. Yes, there was confusion and the failure of coordination spotting the faces too, but that was scarce.
“Pheet!” the trainer whistled and we were back on the dance floor. That day, we learnt basic Zumba moves.
Towards the end of the class, the trainer played a Bollywood number. ‘Finally! Familiar territory,’ I relaxed. But, my moment of mental respite was shattered with the realization that the moves were going to be Zumba, the yet unknown, mixed with a bit of Bhangra, latkas and jhatkas.
My muscles struggled to coordinate the unfamiliar moves. They were wondering what was happening, and my legs and hips could not understand how to mattak. While it was supposed to be a graceful move of my hip, my brain could not process the new technique of a mattak. As a child, I would stand on one foot and stump the toes of my other foot. Then, would softly sway my hips helped by the raised foot. Apparently, over the decades, the technique had changed. While, the left foot stayed firmly on the ground, the right one was extended out front and some twist of the right foot seemed to be creating a mattak. This was combined with a movement of the arm in the opposite direction, all this based on what I could see the trainer perform. Unfortunately, when I tried it my right foot refused to twist. It got stuck, but my hand moved. All in all, it looked like I was teasing the lady behind me by thrusting my buttocks out in arrogance. A sight not too pleasing to the eye. But, I laboured on and eventually the class came to an end. That day, in spite of our weaknesses, we enjoyed the class and I could sense each of us promise ourselves to get better.
That night and the following night, I practiced my hip thrust and foot twists in the bathroom. A look in the mirror behind proved that practice made a woman perfect.
Thanks to the practice, I entered the next class an iota more confident than the first class. We repeated the moves and a lot of the misses. But, a marked difference was clearly visible in all the participants. We had definitely become better.
In this class, I also realized that my style was flowy, from my childhood days of learning to become a Bharatanatyam danseuse. But Zumba was mean. In Zumba, the jerks were supposed to be aggressive, the pumps and pushes hard-hitting and the mattaks vigorous and fast. But my mattaks landed slow, comfortable and graceful. Nonetheless, I decided to enjoy dancing and flow to the music. It was only at the end of the class that the trainer out of frustration addressed the participants. It was a pep talk and in pure Zumba style it was mean.
“Okay people, you need to step up. I know this is just your second class, but you need to start trying. Some of you are walking when Zumba calls for a run, some of you are shying away from twerks and thrusts as if you are performing in a temple, while some of you are dancing to some imaginary melodious, classical ballad with a gentle mattak here and a lovely twirl there.” At that last bit, he demonstrated the move. I could have sworn he passed me a look at that last bit. I felt guilty and ashamed and then defensive. ‘At least, I was enjoying myself.’
Though I was pissed off at him for having called out my fowl, I knew he was right. I knew I was being sissy and fake. ‘Who was I kidding, I was mean. I had been mean all my life, at home, at work. Mean came to me by default,’ and so I decided to be me.
The next class I shed my inhibitions and became mean. I twerked, thrust, pushed, jerked, pumped, jumped and slid to the mean beat. I was mean and I was me.
Unfortunately, the trainer for this class was different and I was unable to redeem myself with the first trainer. To my relief, when the first trainer returned a couple classes later he noticed and remarked about our improvement as a batch.
Its two months now, and though I have improved vastly, I have miles to go before I sleep and twerks to perfect for that elusive but not impossible flat belly that I have resolved to achieve by the year end.
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© 2015 by Donna Abraham
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