I’m that black girl who can’t dance. Don’t look at me with that shock and disappointment in your eyes. And I hate to say it’s universal disappointment – like, every group of humans on this planet feels deflated by the fact that I cannot booty pop or drop it like it’s hot to save my life. I’ve already had 2 white people admit to me this year that they thought I would be able to dance because I’m black. I appreciated their honesty, but I had to let them down gently with a demonstrative two step. You know, that Grandma shuffle – kind of like an arthritic cha cha slide. That is what I do. You’re never going to see me on Britain’s got talent as part of some multi cultural hip hop break dance collective. Ever. There will be no dancing at my wedding unless I marry a Nigerian and have a money dance because frankly, I will unashamedly and awkwardly shake till I drop for some extra cash. (I mean that in the most benign and un-gutterish way folks.)
Somewhere deep inside of me, I know there is a Shaniqua fighting to get out – she can twerk, she can do migraine skanks, diabetes jives, or whatever new dance move they’ve managed to concoct in Peckham. Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately actually) my Christian upbringing and attending a majority white private primary school have suppressed Shaniqua right down to the depths of my body so that she lurks just behind my right kidney, and she ain’t never coming out. Nope, never. Well, not in public at least.
So I don’t go clubbing and if I end up at a house party it’s definitely accidental, so I’ve kind of managed to keep my lack of coordination on the down low. Unfortunately sometime around 2010, some dreg of humanity decided to invent this phenomenon called Zumba. Why oh why, I will never know. It has left my dysfunctional limbs naked and bare, exposed for all to see, leaving a pile of disbelief and mockery in it’s wake.
My first, and only experience of this devilment they call Zumba was on a university placement in Yeovil. For those of you who don’t know where Yeovil is, I congratulate you – may you continue to avoid that town for the rest of your life. Amen. If by some unfortunate turn of fate or trial sent to test you, you end up living there, do NOT go to Zumba at the local gym unless you are one of Beyonce’s backing dancers. I arrived at the class, innocent and unsuspecting bait only to be devoured by a barrage of impossibly difficult dance moves that involved me wiggling both my thighs, gyrating my rear end, and waving my arms around like some kind of air traffic controller on speed, ALL AT THE SAME TIME. All this with fairly inappropriate bashment music in the background. There I was, looking like some kind of stiff Backstreet Boys extra with Sean Paul in the background mocking me – “Shake dat ting gyal, unnu betta shake dat ting..”. And I don’t know how to shake my ‘ting’. It was just a travesty of existence. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so uncomfortable. Which double tripled my resolve to never go clubbing – the thought of a crowd of people all doing zumba like things in the dark and strange men possibly attempting to touch me absolutely petrifies me.
More recently, my friend invited me to go to ‘Cubatone’ with her. “Ha, I thought – you can’t fool me Zumba demon. I know Cubatone is just another word for Zumba – you can change the name, but under the fancy terminology is just another hour of embarrassment and mental strain as I try and learn the latest complex thigh gyration”. Ain’t nobody got time fo’ that.
I can sing though, and I used to be able to run really fast before everyone had their growth spurt in yr 8 and left my 5 ft 2 body searching for an air pocket on the tube instead of someone’s armpit. Those are the things that allow me to keep my black girl card. There are just some things people expect you to be able to do. How much must it suck to be that Chinese person who got a D in GCSE Maths? It must be super annoying when everyone expects you to be able to do complex equations when you’ve barely got past long division.
One of my favourite authors says “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Assuming I can dance makes one story the only story. You haven’t heard my story. Assuming a woman doesn’t like football makes one story the only story. Assuming that men are emotionless sex fiends makes one story the only story. Assuming that all fat people hate their bodies and want to lose weight makes one story the only story. There are so many stories we create for people instead of taking the time to listen to their story. I know I do it all the time….but I hate it when people do it to me. There isn’t some genetic predisposition to singing or dancing lurking somewhere inside of me, so take the time to get to know me and understand my story. I hope I can start being better at listening to other people’s.
Are you a fellow black girl who can’t dance? Let’s form a support group. Or an Asian who hates Math? Or a white person who runs super fast? What are some things people expect of you that you just don’t live up to?