Twenty-three years old and living in Toluca Lake: I joined a cool gym. Not the kind if gym your grandma goes to for water aerobics, but the type that is more like a nightclub with the lights on. (My church at the time was also like this, but that's another story.) I had to drive over the hill to Hollywood to get there, but I justified the drive as the cost of admission to plunge into the depths of LA-cool. I was simultaneously intimidated and dazzled to step foot on the gym floor. You know, the same way snotty hair salons can make you feel for walking through their doors with your normal-person hair. You get the picture. It was a scene.
I read the schedule of classes with my roommate: ”Cardio Hip Hop.” We thought it sounded fun. I was in show choir, and she had been a cheerleader, ”we got this.”
Upon arriving at the Prom Queen of all gyms, I surveyed our classmates. I quickly realized that I was not at the Burbank YMCA anymore and perhaps this is where pros work out. Pro dancers. Like real hip-hop dancers. I stood in the back, couldn't keep up and felt anxiety flood my body. I was transported to middle school when I was a five-foot-nine-inch-tall 11-year-old who could barely walk up a flight of stairs without scraping a knee.
My friend, who was following along with the class just fine, looked at me and read my mail. In either a grand act of solidarity or self-preservation she quickly smiled and said: ”let's go!” We ran out of the glass room 30 minutes before the class was over to seek refuge in the locker room. The hip-hop teacher shouted after us, ”Oh you were doing just fine! Don't leave!” I waved and mouthed ”have to go, sorry!” before the tears of embarrassment could start to flow.
And so a few days later I reviewed this whole event with a therapist I was seeing. I explained the anxiety, the flashback to middle school, the whole thing. I wanted to get to the bottom of the emotional reasons I froze in cardio hip hop class. ”Why can’t I seem to hip hop well?!!”
Without missing a beat, the good doctor asked, ”Do you want to know what I think?”
”Yes, of course,” I waited in silence for her expert and studied analysis.
”I think you’re good at so many things, but you're not good at Cardio Hip Hop. There is nothing wrong with you.”
Stunned and relieved, I rested more deeply into the cushions of her office couch. We both burst out laughing. Relief and grace: We don’t have to do it all well or perfectly.
”You're not good at hip-hop” (and its so so true, folks) has become a line I've written on post-its stuck to mirrors and computer screens as a daily reminder to live authentically. Don’t try to pretend to be something that’s just not “you.”
Step out of your comfort zone, absolutely. But don’t step outside of being “you.”
We are all given different gifts, and that's the way it’s supposed to be. Our uniqueness binds us together in an essential community because we have to lean on others.
What a simple and profound relief.
Perhaps you're great at hip hop. I'm happy for you, and I’ll cheer you on from the elliptical machine.