Monday, March 28, 2016

Failure To Launch

Every quarter I get to learn new batches of choreography for two of the classes I teach at the gym. I download two hours of video, two hours of music, and two books of notes, and then I memorize all of it. I essentially teach myself to teach it. The week that all instructors begin using that new choreography in class is called "launch." Our next launch kicks off this Sunday.

Tonight I finished teaching my two Monday classes and was UP HERE. I was in such a great mood, I wanted to hug everyone, and I was ready to go home and eat everything in my refrigerator and relax. Then I remembered I actually needed to leave the studio, get myself cleaned up and out the door, and put my headphones in ASAP so I could get back to studying new choreography. It's the week before launch, my friends. My laptop will sit on top of the washing machine in my bathroom while I put my makeup on in the morning so I can watch and listen to the videos for a bit before I leave the apartment. Every walk to the T, every trip to the water fountain at work, every elevator ride, the entire time I'm cooking breakfast, my commute home, all of my free time belongs to learning this new stuff. It owns my brain. I will suddenly yell out "shoulder WHIP" on the street if I remember something. I will slowly rock back and forth in my chair at work thinking about deadlifts and their timing. I will look a cashier at CVS square in the eye wordlessly for an awkwardly long time and then say, "step touch."

It's a process, and tonight I was in the I DON'T WANNA phase with it. Arms folded. Pouting. Brazenly listening to a song I'm considering for Zumba instead of the 27 songs on my to-learn list. Looking around the train at all the lucky people who AREN'T fitness instructors and who get to just go home and shut their brains off and and laugh at their TVs and brush their dumb teeth and go to sleep with smug grins on their faces. WAHHHHHHH!

But then I remembered the first time I ever heard the term "launch" and it made me rethink my quarterly tantrum. I was a member of the gym for which I now teach. I was really new. I was just starting to get interested in this new dance class called BodyJam. I loved it because I'd taken ballet pretty seriously when I was a kid, and it felt really good to dance again. The instructor, Brooke, who is now a close friend of mine but who at the time I felt was WAY too cool for me to speak to, told us that later that week there would be a special class where they'd teach us some brand new choreography. There would be three instructors, they'd have some sort of theme, and there would be a disco section. Sold. This shit was keeping me alive and I HAD to be at this launch thing. I left the studio, I wrote it down, it was on.

Snag. This was NOT the best time in my life. I had depression. I'd been laid off,  I was not coping well, I was overweight, I was smoking a lot, I was drinking a lot, I was dating someone who wasn't the best version of himself at that point, I was really sad and angry, and I was struggling to see a way out of it. This new class was the first thing in a long time that made me feel like I was going to be alright. I was so depressed sometimes I couldn't even look straight ahead. Truth. This class made me look up. I was going to that launch thing no matter what.

Nope. I was sitting in the courtyard across the street from my apartment building when I realized it. I'd had a terrible night the night before and stayed inside most of the day. I crept out to smoke a cigarette. I felt awful. I was super hungry. I was all puffy from crying. My ribs were killing me. Everything hurt. I brought my notebook outside with me so I could do some writing and saw the note I'd written that said, "Special Body Jam launch class Back Bay Friday." I was so sad. I missed it. I missed the new stuff. I missed the disco. The theme. The three instructors. I missed it.

I'd love to say that this was the moment that changed everything and that right then and there I stood up and threw my cigarettes in the trash and dumped my boyfriend and became the picture of health. Not so much. It wasn't immediate, but I do credit BodyJam with bringing me back to life. A few months later, I was taking a class and Brooke, the instructor I mentioned above, sort of stopped what she was doing and looked out at the class and said, "I love what I do." I remember thinking, "I want to feel like THAT." After class I got online and wrote down a list of every single BodyJam class the gym offered. I had nothing but time. I was unemployed. I could take that class everyday except Wednesday. Eventually, the schedule evolved and I could even take it twice on Thursday if I wanted to. Sometimes I did.

Then one day I was standing outside the studio at the gym's brand new Coolidge Corner location on a Sunday morning waiting for my class, when a girl named Berkley came up to me and said, "Hey, you sometimes go to Back Bay, right?" Someone at the gym actually KNEW me. From another location! A healthy person in a gym knew ME. I think I turned nine shades of red and was so beside myself I nearly fainted from excitement and walked away to pretend to fill my water bottle. From then on I started to feel a real sense of community from this class and this gym. I started to "make the first move" and introduce myself to people. I moved from the back row to the front row. (NOT THAT THERE'S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THE BACK ROW, BACK ROW PEOPLE!)

Maybe a year later I registered for an initial instructor training for BodyJam. I had NO intention of ever actually teaching it, I just wanted to learn more about this hobby I loved so much. The training was in Bedford, MA. Not too far away. (Okay, fine, my parents drove me.) (My mom loves the TJ Maxx in Bedford.) The first time I stood up to present during the training I didn't feel nervous at all. I felt calm for the first time in... ever?

To this day, the second I put the microphone on my head at the beginning of class I feel better. I feel like me for the first time all day, I know exactly what to do. I feel like I can 100% be myself. And I feel like I lose the ability to think about anything or anyone outside of the people standing in front of me and the things I need to teach them. It is so relaxing to totally immerse yourself in something and forget about everything else. I'm so bad at this, and so thankful to have teaching be this kind of escape for me.

This was why at the end of my classes tonight I'd completely forgotten about my studying, about launch coming up next week, and about all the things I need to memorize and perfect before then. But as I was sitting on the train heading home pouting and defiantly listening to Ricky Martin instead of Diplo, I remembered that lousy day in the courtyard. I remembered how sad I felt that I'd failed to make it to launch, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I leaned forward in my seat like I was secretly practicing a deadlift at my desk and got a bit choked up.

I haven't missed a single BodyJam launch since that terrible courtyard day. Over the past four years I've participated as a member, I've danced alongside more senior instructors as they taught new choreography, I've launched with other members of our Jam team, I've launched by myself. I even picked up another certification along the way. Two of them.

I got to the gym tonight and there was a flier on the studio door for our special launch event coming up this Sunday. My name was one of the four listed as teaching at the event. I sort of glanced at it and made a sarcastic comment about the photo that was used since it was of an EXTREMELY fit woman, i.e. NOT me. But later on the train when I was thinking about all of this, I got really emotional about that flier because there was a time when I was really devastated to not be in the room for launch, and now I was going to be at the front of the room for it.

That said, teaching is not about me. I'm conscious of the fact that each time I teach, there could be someone in the studio having her version of a "courtyard" phase. There could also be someone in the room who simply had a crappy day and who really needs to dance her face off and/or lift really heavy things and then go home and sleep and get back in the ring tomorrow. Sometimes people come to just like... exercise and burn calories and stuff. Anyway. It's my hope that I can create a space where all of those things can happen, and where my participants can feel strong, safe, empowered, and creative; where they can forget every single horrible or wonderful thing happening outside of the room, and see where that might take them.

BodyJam 60, 62, and 70 launches; Zumba on the Esplanade


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