Thursday, July 25, 2013

The difference between the back row and the front row

A couple posts ago, I mentioned that somewhere along the line, I became a front row dancer. At the time, it wasn't my choice but it happened nevertheless.

I bought my first pair of shoes at the beginning of February in 2010 but let's skip ahead to May. In the five months total that I had been taking classes once a week, I had actually made a surprising amount a progress, coming a long way from where I started; even if I did think so myself. By May, I had learned how to clap and what "single single double" meant and thus how to properly do the Beto Shuffle. I was still working hard on pivoting and that was coming along, but ball changes were laughable. Hey, progress is progress though, right? At the end of May, Rae had the misfortune to break her toe. When you're a fitness instructor, and being on your feet is your livelihood, this is misfortune indeed! All credit to Rae though, she was a trooper and still showed up to teach every class.

Zumba is a high impact, high energy exercise. You're thinking, that sure must be hard to do with a broken toe right? It was, but she managed it, and had a little help from her front row. As a teacher, if you have a front row full of regular attendees, you can pick songs you know they know well and then tone down some of the higher impact moves. The front row was happy to help be the high impact example, no problem. So that's the context, the set up if you will.

One warm summer evening (it's common to cancel Saturday morning class through the summer) in the first week of June, I show up to class and find a nice little spot in the back corner and make myself comfortable. Rae starts making announcements before class, as usual, and then wraps up with " if any of you know the dances and the steps really well, could you please come up to the front." I just kept standing where I was standing because why on earth would I move? Until I heard her call me by name. Me. By. Name. Wait, me? She's waving -me- forward? While I stood there blinking at her like a deer in the headlights, the rest of the class turns and looks at me expectantly and in my head I was quickly running through possible options. 1) politely decline and then become known as that student who would not help the teacher with broken toe, 2) decline less politely by collecting my things and running for the exit as fast as possible and let them all hear my car squeal as I drove away never to show my face in class again, or 3) suck it up and change spots. And oh, wasn't the rest of the class just all too helpful, shuffling themselves around and different women saying "Here, trade with me!" as I nervously made my way forward. That is how I came to find myself in the front row slightly to Rae's right.

Remember how I said before that people aren't watching you, they're watching the teacher? That's only true until the teacher makes you stand in the front row for the specific purpose of being an example. That first night was pretty nerve-wracking actually. I tried hard to make myself relax so I wouldn't start making mistakes but that was easier in theory than in practice. Especially when, in the process of scrolling through her iPod, Rae asked me if I had done the song Fire Burning. It's by Sean Kingston, and back in 2010 that one was really new to the class in general. My answer was, yeah, once. Great! she exclaimed and got it playing.

Honestly, I was amazed at what I was able to do, and do well, that night. In that moment, it felt pretty surreal and scary, but something clicked in my head and it all came together. Today, I look back and laugh at what a big deal I thought it all was. See, what I slowly began to understand as that summer wore on was that the me that Rae saw, was a very different one than the me I thought I was. She saw a confident dancer worthy of being in the front row, but all I could see was someone who -still- couldn't do a ball change. Reconciling these two very different versions of me was as difficult as figuring out that blasted ball change and I still hadn't managed to do either by the first week of September.

September came, and Saturday classes started again.
**Side note: some time back before the summer, Don had recruited me to work her reception desk on Saturdays and check in all the students coming for Zumba. This meant I was always the last one into the studio before class started.**
The morning of the first class, I took care of my reception duties and then went to the studio only to find that the entire room was completely packed and there was only one open spot left. Want to guess where it was? Yeah, front row and slightly to Rae's right. One of the women said, "We saved you a spot!", ...thanks for that. Another one said, "That's what happens when you're late to church, you sit in the first pew.", ...uh huh, sure. The present me has to once again laugh at that past me and here's why. After spending the entire summer in the front row, at the behest of Rae no less, I was more than willing to just take up my spot in the back all over again. I really would have too, if there hadn't already been someone else standing in it. So had I learned nothing all summer? Not nothing.... Just not as much as I should've.
That spot, slightly to the teacher's right, has belonged to me ever since that September morning. There even came a point where I felt proprietary towards it and annoyed the two times someone dared to steal it. About that same point was when I began to have some of the confidence in myself that Rae had seen in me from the beginning.

Best advice: When someone decides to believe in you and put their faith in you, do your best to live up to that even if, on the inside, you disagree. You never know where it might carry you. This is something that still challenges me even now, so I try to follow my own advice.


  1. I love this story! It applies to more than Zumba class. :)

    1. Yeah. There can be a lot of applications I suppose. It certainly was a life lesson for me. To this day, I do not know how long I would have hid in the back if none of that had ever happened. I might still be there now! And the idea of -that- is more scary to me, than being in the front row for the first time was.

      Rae was so annoyed and frustrated with that toe. She actually called the boot the doctor told her to wear "obnoxious". But if there's only one good thing about all of it that she can point to, it's me and what I learned. She had a good reason to push me that I could not say no to.