She Was (not) a Dancing Queen

In my last post I wrote of my ignominious history with Physical Education, and in particular, about the kayaking debacle in which I almost killed my first college P.E. teacher. After three terrifying kayak sessions, I came to my senses and slunk back to where I belonged…a Beginner Aerobics class.

Don’t imagine for a moment that this aerobics class didn’t also hold its own challenges for me. It’s not something I like to talk about, but I suffer from S.K.I.: Severe Kinetic Ineptitude. I’m clumsy, prone to falling, and find it extremely challenging to mimic physical movements. Despite these serious limitations, I managed to plod and stumble my way through the first quarter of aerobics. I gazed with real satisfaction at that first CR (credit) on my report card.

Emboldened by this modest success, the next quarter I signed up for another aerobics class. In my overweening arrogance, I thought I could slack off a bit. I began to miss a class here or there. No big deal…until I missed one too many classes to earn my P.E. credit. I didn’t worry too much about this. I still had four years to take the two more classes I needed to fulfill the phys ed requirement. I figured the credit would simply not show up on my transcript. Imagine my surprise when I found an “F” for Beginner Aerobics on my report card. The shame of it was almost too much to bear. Despite the fact that the failing grade did not count towards my G.P.A., my mother was livid. I resolved to sign up for Jazz dance the following quarter. It would be so much fun, I wouldn’t want to miss a single class!

Have I ever mentioned that I am a spectacularly bad dancer? In high school I used to be in all the musicals. I could sing, I could sort of act, but I most definitely could not dance. For big dance numbers when the whole cast was on stage, the choreographer would hide me in the back row where my graceless flailing wouldn’t be so visible. Sometimes there would be others back there with me. We back row dancers never had to move our feet at all. Occasionally we would be assigned a dead-simple semaphore-like movement to perform with our arms to justify our presence on stage. The choreographer charitably dubbed us “the disco line.” During performances I would grimly fix my gaze into the distance as I performed my moves, pretending not to notice my family members in the audience, poking each other and pointing at me as they squirmed and gasped and yelped in paroxysms of helpless laughter.

I boldly showed up to my first jazz dance class ready to leave my sorry terpsichorean past behind me. I came wearing a ratty t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers and was slightly dismayed to see that everyone else was sporting leotards, leggings, and jazz shoes. The teacher began showing us some basic jazz moves. She eased into things by teaching us how to do “jazz hands.” I have to admit, I was pretty damn amazing at “jazz hands.” I actually kind of blew myself away. She taught us a few more moves. “Step touch” – a piece of cake! A “jazz square” was a little more complicated, but just about manageable. “Step, ball, change” – yes! Chassé – got it! She had us practice these basic moves for about half the class.

It was going pretty well, though she wouldn’t stop squawking at me.

“Adrienne! Relax your shoulders!…RELAX your shoulders.”

At one point, clearly exasperated, she stomped over to me and said as she forcefully pressed down on my shoulders, “Re-LAX your shoulders!”

Suddenly, a surprised expression dawned on her face, “Oh…you have really broad shoulders. Kind of like a football player.”

At that moment, a deeply suppressed memory from my high school days came flooding back into my mind. One day, my dad questioned me about what I wanted to do with my life. I had no answer for him, so I flippantly tossed off the most preposterous thing I could think of…

“I’m going to be a go-go dancer, Dad!”

A pained look passed over his face.

“Adrienne,” he said solemnly, gently, and with the utmost kindness, “to be a dancer, you have to have a fancy body. You don’t have a fancy body.”

Just as I had back then, I soldiered on.

“OK, class! Now we’re going to have some fun! We’re going to put these moves together into a dance sequence!”

The teacher shimmied and pirouetted, kicked and pranced across the gym floor as she called out the moves she was performing.

“It’s your turn now. Form a line and go one at a time. 5! 6! 7! 8! Jump lunge, hitch kick, chassé, cross, side kick, barrel turn, kick, ball change, step touch, step touch, soutane piqué, chaîné, aaaaaaaand jazz hands!”

This was, without a shadow of a doubt, even more horrifying than having to hang upside down in a kayak in the icy cold Connecticut River.

One by one my classmates strutted and danced across the floor with bored expressions on their faces, expertly executing the sequence like a whole chorus line of Bob Fosse protégés.

When it was my turn, I lumbered through the moves like a drunken ox. (I did finish strong, however, with my awesome “jazz hands”). The room grew silent. My classmates gazed intently at the ceiling, at a piece of lint they suddenly discovered on their leotard, at the floor…As for my teacher, she said nothing, but stood there with a thoughtful and slightly stunned expression on her face. Somehow or other, I managed to get through enough of these torture sessions to get another P.E. credit under my belt. Eventually, I got my third and final P.E. credit after one last round of Beginner Aerobics.

Hope you have a wonderful, wonderful weekend and week. I’m leaving today to go to Korea for work. My sister’s coming with me, so I’ll get to play too! I’ll be back in a week with photos and more stories…See you then!

Kayaking: or, How I almost killed my P.E. teacher

I’ve had a long and chequered past with Physical Education, but I hit my nadir at Dartmouth. There were a couple phys ed requirements for graduation. First, every student had to pass a swimming test. On my first day on campus, I swam the required lap and promptly lost my contact lens in the pool. I fared no better at the second requirement, which was to take three P.E. classes.

The array of options was astounding. Sure, you could do something pedestrian like aerobics. But what kind of boob would choose to do something like that when you could do skiing, fencing, or water polo for P.E. credit?! My eyes lit up when I saw kayaking on the list of possible classes. Although I had never done any kayaking before, I was sure it couldn’t be difficult. In my mind, I envisioned myself peacefully floating down the Connecticut River, taking in the scenery as I gently rowed along, all while earning a P.E. credit with practically no effort on my part. It was the obvious choice for an out of shape, unathletic couch potato like myself.

I showed up at the docks on the first day of class wearing a wool sweater as I had been instructed. We got our kayaks into the water and the hour passed by just as I had imagined it. It was one of those perfect, crisp Fall days in New Hampshire. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be checking off a mandatory requirement in such a thoroughly pleasant way. As we rowed back to the river’s edge at the end of the class, I congratulated myself on having stayed upright in my kayak. I congratulated myself on so cleverly figuring out how to get P.E. credit without having to break a sweat.

And then one of the instructors announced that it was time to learn how to do a wet exit. I was horrified as I listened to him describe what this would entail and then watch as he actually demonstrated the technique himself. A wet exit meant that I would have to deliberately flip the kayak I had so proudly managed to keep upright for the whole class upside down. Hanging upside down in the water?! This was the stuff of my worst nightmares! I had to then pull open the spray skirt that had kept my bottom half nice and dry during my little jaunt down the river, and then swim out from the kayak into the icy cold river.

I managed to quell the panic attack induced by being upside down in water. (It’s also very possible that I was just stupefied by the freezing cold). When the instructor demonstrated the maneuver for us, he had swum out from his kayak like a sleek otter, his head serenely bobbing up out of the water. I pulled the spray skirt open and fell heavily onto the jagged rocks. I blindly scrabbled against the rocks with my eyes tightly shut (trying not to lose yet another contact lens) before finally getting my bearings. I made my way back to the surface, glugging, snorting, and choking in a most undignified manner. I staggered back to my dorm room trailing behind me: blood, river water, and my sorry, deflated delusions of an easy P.E. credit.

The wet exit had been traumatic, but I figured I could just about handle it. I’d done it once, I could do it again. The next class went by much as the first had, but this time the hour spent floating down the river was marred by the knowledge of what was to come. I braced myself as we rowed again to the river’s edge at the end of the class.

“Today we’re going to do C-rolls,” the instructor chirped. He proceeded to demonstrate how we would deliberately flip our kayaks sideways into the water and then right ourselves by using our torsos to propel ourselves out of the water. We did it multiple times on our left sides. And then to even things out, we did it multiple times on our right sides. Our instructor told us that we would work our way up to complete rolls in the water. When our torsos were completely soaked and numb, we finished the job on our lower halves by doing another wet exit.

I thought it could get no worse. I was wrong. On the third class the instructors informed us that we were going to learn how to do a rescue. They demonstrated this by having one of the instructors flip himself upside down in the water. He tapped with his hands against the hull of his boat to indicate that he needed help. The second instructor expertly maneuvered his kayak so that the front of it hit the upside down kayak close to the tapping hands. The upside down instructor placed his hands on the kayak and used it for leverage to right himself.

“Now it’s your turn,” the rescued instructor said. There were a dozen other people in that class, but he looked straight at me. “I’ll flip upside down again and when you see me tapping my hull, you’ll gently bump the front of your kayak as close to my hands as you can.”

Before I had a chance to demur, he flipped upside down in the water. He began tapping the side of his boat with his hands. I tried to maneuver my kayak to where he was. The tapping got faster. I still couldn’t manage to get my kayak to touch his. The tapping gained a distinctly frantic edge to it. I desperately tried, but failed again and again to get my kayak to touch his. Finally, the second instructor nosed his kayak into position and the upside down instructor righted himself. He no longer looked like a sleek, serene otter. He looked pretty pissed, in fact. He ended the class by grimly announcing that we would all be practicing rescues on each other next time.

I switched to aerobics that afternoon.