Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The ball-change (or as I like to call it: my arch nemesis)

Having come to Zumba in my late twenties with absolutely no dance background to speak of, there was a great deal that I didn't know. Much of this, as I came to realize, was actually pretty common knowledge to people who knew dance. Enter the ball-change. Wait, let me try that again in my best James Earl Jones voice... Enter the dreaded ball-change! The first time I ever encountered this step in a song, and for a really, really long time afterwards, I felt like everyone in the room knew some secret I didn't.

I know the origin, I can pinpoint it. Having taken 10 weeks of classes back in 2010, I decided to be brave an try out a little dance fitness studio that had only recently opened in a little strip mall next door to a grocery store. The owner said they had moved in because at their previous location they were next door to an insurance company and apparently those guys didn't appreciate loud Zumba music all day long, I can't imagine why.... No, really, I can't imagine it! She said she was just tired of hearing them complain. It was a nice little place and to attract clientele they offered the first class free as a trial. I had two friends with me, Don and Kay. Kay had taken two or three classes before and was, just like me, attracted to the idea of a free trial. So one Friday afternoon in March we all trooped out there. I can definitely say it was an interesting experience, interesting for a few reasons.

This was my first time doing a Zumba class without Rae. That all by itself was pretty weird for me. I had gotten very used to her particular style and these ladies had a completely different style. That was the second thing, the owner and another lady were team-teaching the class. They were very good dancers, no question, but they put the music on at the start of the class and didn't shut it off again for an hour. If I wanted to stop in between songs for some water, good for me, but then I'd better be prepared to catch up. I was definitely not used to no water breaks. And when I say break, I don't mean we all stand around for ten minutes chatting before we start again, no I mean we take 20 seconds between songs to rehydrate! Since they didn't stop in between, they also never went over a single step. For me, that was a little confusing, but I'd had ten classes so I knew at least some stuff. Poor Kay though, this little excursion was only her fourth class and she told me after that she'd spent most of it dancing in a circle and waving her arms (basically doing her own thing) because the teachers were too hard to follow. I was inclined to agree with her and in that moment, I truly understood why people would try Zumba and then not want to go back because they found it too difficult. As I said, these ladies had great skill as dancers, but their class really was sink or swim. I came away from that thinking how lucky I was to have had Rae to start with because if my first class ever had been at with them instead I probably would not have lasted a month.

Okay, that was some background for you. Where does the ball change come in? Let me get to that. The last song these ladies did before cooling down the class was Let Me Think About It by Ida Corr.
**Side note: I found out much later that this is a ZIN song. Zumba provides CD's and DVD's of music and choreography to the members of ZIN and this means that many songs are very widely used. For the individual instructor, it's up to them how much or how little of that provided  choreography they want to keep the same or want to change. The song will typically have the same foundation from instructor to instructor with variations that reflect their own personalities and styles.**
http://www.pinterest.com/mirandadezeeuw/the-zumba/So, Let Me Think About It... This song would continue to mess with my head for years until Jae finally straightened me out (she excels at straightening out any dance issue I have). It has a lot of ball-changes in it, only I didn't know back then that that's what I was looking at. Every time I would encounter this song, the teacher called it "footwork". The step is difficult to describe, but here goes: With your weight on your left foot bring your right foot in front and a little across your body and tap the floor with your heel; swing that same foot around to your right side and tap the floor there with your toe; swing that same foot around behind you and put your weight on it; shift your weight quickly back to the left then just as quickly back to the right again. Now all your weight's on the right and you're free to swing your left around and do the same move on that side. The quick shift in weight from right to left to right is in fact the ball-change but it would be a long time before I actually knew that. Encountering that step for the first time with no background knowledge or initial instruction, I didn't understand it and I couldn't follow it. So what did I do back then when I couldn't follow a step? Remember anyone? I'd stop to watch!

That's exactly what I did in this situation. I stopped moving to let my brain absorb and process what it was seeing without interruption. I kind of leaned in and cocked my head to one side to get a better look and I did it without even thinking about where I was. When the song was over, every single person in the room turned and looked at me and one of the teachers said something like, "Oh! I felt so bad for you! You just stopped!" Looking around, I was thinking how do all these people know that? I was in the back row, with nobody behind me... The answer was, that like many dance studios, this one had its entire front wall mirrored. Oops! I wasn't used to thinking about mirrors because the yoga studio where I did my Saturday class didn't have any. So I was a little self-conscious... No, I'll be honest, I was mortified. I was thankful it was the last song so my friends and I could stretch and leave. Before we could, the teacher who "felt so bad" came over and offered to show me that step I'd been trying to figure out. Okay, that was pretty nice of her, maybe she really did feel bad. She slowed the whole thing way way down: Tap... Tap... Shift... Your... Weight. At that pace, if I thought really really hard about every last little nuance, I could do it. As soon as I'd try it full speed, it all fell apart. I left there thankful beyond belief for the kind of teacher Rae was and the fact that Let Me Think About It wasn't a song she did.

As I said, that song messed with me for a long time. And as I also said, many ZIN songs are widely used. One weekend, some time later, Rae had to be away so a sub came to teach the class. Nice fellow, the first and only male teacher I've ever encountered in the wild (a rare species around here in spite of the founder of Zumba being male). He had a pretty good playlist actually, and one of the songs on it sounded strangely familiar but I couldn't place it, the memory was elusive. I was having a good time with it too....right up until he yelled, "Footwork!" Then I was seized with the memory of exactly what song this was and that was it for me, it was all over and the fat lady had sung (not Ida Corr - the figurative fat lady). I sort of shuffled my way through the rest of the song, all the while noticing that every single other person in the room could do this but me. Why was I the only person who had trouble with Let Me Think About It? I never found out the answer.

Lets skip ahead to May, 2009. A friend of mine, whose name also happens to be Rae but for distinction I'll have to call her Rae-Mae, invited me to a Zumbathon in celebration of Cinco De Mayo. Two hours of Zumba? Sounded like great fun. So I pick up Rae-Mae and we ride out to this little place in a really nice part of town. It was packed. I was amazed that many people could fit on that floor. This event happened to have two teachers and they were dressed alike which I thought was kind of cute (Rae? Jae? Hrmm? Kidding...). I was having a great time at this thing with Rae-Mae and there came a point where I heard a song come on. I turned to her and said, "I feel like I know this one but I'm not sure from where.". I'm sure by now you can guess what's going to happen. You'd think I'd learn, but the fact is I much preferred to put that song out of my head entirely which...let me -not- think about it... Heh. So my first introductions to the ball-change were filled with neuroses. Frankly, reading this back to myself, I realize I should be giving Jae considerably more credit because she's the one who got me past all the BS with this song.

Let's switch songs for a quick minute. Now I don't know the name of it, so sorry. The description is: the fast tap ball-change one with the cross/rock step where the guy sings in Spanish about his kitchen. Vague much? Again, sorry. Rae introduced this one that summer. Yes it has a ball-change, and she actually called it a ball-change (thanks Rae, proper vocabulary matters!). So as far as I knew back then, -this- was my first real introduction the ball-change. Because the other was always called "footwork", I had no idea it was basically the same thing. So the song. It has three main parts: the cross/rock step, the ball-change, and merengue arms in the middle. Once again, I was the only one in the room that couldn't do a step. You see why I call the ball-change my arch nemesis? But with this song, something interesting happened for the first time ever and it had to do with the cross/rock step. I was one of about three others in the room beside Rae that could actually do it the first time out. What? Me? Apparently. Afterward people actually asked me how I was doing that. I didn't know! My feet just did it and I still don't know why. Everyone thought that was the hard part, and there I am going, "Forget that, how are you doing the ball-change?" It figures my weird self would pick the simple thing to get worked up about instead of the hard thing. I got Rae to show it to me after class and when it was slow enough, I could do it. At full speed... As much as I hate to admit it, I stepped on my own foot. For this particular song, it took a long time for me to really get it. I spent a great many months doing a "fake it til you make it", but made it I eventually did. The more often we did the song, the more often I got to watch the step and then one day, almost like magic, I could just see it clearly.

Back to Let Me Think About It. About a year had gone by since the first time I'd heard the song and it was late winter of 2010. There had been so much time between the Cinco De Mayo party and then that I'd really just forgotten about it. I walk into class one Saturday morning and like always Rae has her music going before class. What did I hear playing? One guess. I froze in the doorway. I may have been blocking other people, I don't even know. It was at least half a minute before I could get my body to move. Panic! Why, WHY must every instructor have this song? I took a few deep breathes and tried to reassure myself that it was Rae, and if she was introducing a new song, she always went over new stuff. I took my spot and just tried to relax but that was hard, standing there thinking at any minute that song was going to start. It never did and at first I thought that was good, then I decided that was bad because she must be planning it for the next week. But the next week came and went with no Ida Corr, and two weeks turned into four, which turned into eight, and in all that time, no song. In fact, she never even played it before class again. So once more, I just let all of it fade to nothingness.

Skip ahead two years and it's early summer in 2012. In that amount of time there were a couple big changes that I won't go into to much detail about right now. One was that I was back after recovering from delivering my second son. And the second was that Jae had taken over teaching Saturday mornings. One morning after class, and I don't even remember how the conversation began, I confessed to Jae that there was a song I didn't like because I couldn't do it. She hadn't heard of it before. At least there was one other person in the world besides me who didn't already know that song. That didn't last long. She decided, after finding the song that she was going to do it for class. "Don't hate me, but I'm going to do this one." "Okay, that's fine." Panic! More deep breathes... It'll be okay, she'll actually teach it, find a way to make me understand. And that good readers is exactly what happened.

Once Jae had the song ready for class, she demonstrated the step and said these magic words: "This step is just a ball-change." You know all the bells and whistles that go off when someone wins big on The Price Is Right? That's what was happening inside my head at that moment. Having already figured out the other ball-change from the other song some time back, I knew that was a step I could handle and when we got into the song and hit the "footwork" (try to imagine me saying that word sarcastically) it just all came together and suddenly I could do this thing and it wasn't scary and there was no more panic. Empowered! In truth, I felt like I was kicking its butt. Take that, Let Me Think About It! Take that.

Best advice: Take deep breaths and keep calm. Try not to panic. Whatever it is, it's not so bad. Just keep at it, because whatever -it- is for you will happen eventually.

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