My friend Lisa invited me to her Zumba class here in Harvard. Every Thursday morning she bravely leads us as we shake our hineys to salsa music and Katy Perry in the local Congregational Church. I am terrified to go every week, and every week I have so much fun. Sweaty, breathless fun, fun that makes my knees ache, more fun than I’ve ever had exercising.
Every week, around Wednesday afternoon, I start to get nervous. Sure I’ll hate it this time around, sure I’d rather be doing something else. And on Thursday morning I diligently put on my sweats, telling myself if I really hate it I can leave, I can stop whenever I want to. It is an act of will to get myself there, harder than getting myself in the chair to write or even online to do our taxes. I’ve started wearing lipstick to Zumba, a trick to boost my confidence, and a way of protecting myself from the inevitable unprettyness that happens when I work out. I have always considered sweating ugly, my red face an indication of shame and a beacon to everyone showing how unfit my body is. It scares me to go out in the world and be unbeautiful, like I’m intentionally giving over my power and my voice and my value and telling people “I’m not here to please you,” which feels the closest to exile I come. I know this is crazy – that mental knowing doesn’t help the fear get smaller though. The fear isn’t logical fear, its heart fear, its a lack of nerve, and an opening to the deep concern I nurture that I am not and will never be enough, no matter how big or small I am, no matter how quiet or beautiful or valuable or smart. In my deepest self I still do not believe I have been loved with an everlasting love. Zumba makes me confront this bitter root every week.
And then I get there and the music starts and my butt starts to shake and even as I’m dubious I’m filled with joy, pure physical delight and lightness, even as I sweat, even as I feel myself tired and breathless. For an hour, I’m free. Free to be myself, to be in my body, to let my body do its work of sweating and breathing and flexing and growing without shame or evaluation. So this is how it feels to be happy in my body, so this is how it feels to live outside of fear. So this is how it feels to be truly, deeply, everlastingly loved. For an hour every Thursday, I believe it.