Pre-pandemic, I was a regular dancer and cryer at Maria’s classes at the Mission Rec Center on Harrison Street.
Maria: 50-ish, vigorous, cherry red-lipsticked and bright-eyed. Maria, with her heart-shaped face and her wide smile, lugging in her speaker (as tall as she is) at just past 11 a.m. Saturday mornings.
First task: getting the pingpong players to fold up their tables, “OK, gentlemen, this is our space now.”
We faced Maria, crowded together on a square mat between the treadmills and the young bucks lifting weights. Within 20 minutes, we all had a sheen, like we were bathed in light rain.
We were lucky if we had six INCHES of social distance between us. Kids ran around as their mothers danced, and I, well, I danced and I cried.
Maria played salsa and romances, and often danced up to each of us with her arms extended, a private moment of communion with each dancer, loving us. She played Gypsy Kings, “Ven, ven, ven, ven, ven, ven, Maria, ven ven ven!” as she sidled up and around us with her arms cajoling. She played slower romances. (Yes, you can dance to “Sabor a Mi.”)
We were a motley Mission collection of all-aged ladies, including a Certain Age; we were Latinas, Filipinas, Chinese, and gringas like me. There were tubby and chubby and scrawny and elegant, and I flung myself around, trying to make up with enthusiasm what I lack in skill (always in the back row).
How I miss dancing and crying during Zumba classes! Ah, we did not know how lucky we were. “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ’til its gone, ” (Joni Mitchell).
One of the great taken-for-granted gifts of the S.F. Department of Parks and Rec were the free, citywide Zumba in the Parks classes.
I cried during Dalia’s 5 p.m. Thursday classes at the Bernal Heights Rec Center on Cortland, (she wore funny hats and decorated the drab gym for the holidays). Dalia had a following of buoyant and ebullient young Latinas plus matronly, yoga-panted Bernalese.
As the song goes, “La cosecha de mujeres NUNCA se ACABA!!”
The custodian watched, amused, as we shimmied and sweated and sprayed droplets (WHO KNEW!) up and down the rec center basketball court. Dalia played Caribbean, reggae and salsa, uptempo and LOUD. In the back row, I hid out again.
When I couldn’t do what Dalia did, I did jumping jacks, or the twist, or ran in place like mad. The others gave me wide berth, but smiled encouragingly, and I only cried a few times there.
I especially cried during Jason’s Sunday morning athletic, acrobatic Cuban-inspired dances at the Crocker Amazon playground.
There were more moves I could not do in Jason’s class than in any other, but Jason was cool. Though I always took my place wherever I was most well hidden, I really stood out among the young, graceful, dancer-esque devotees of Jason’s Zumba.
To my chagrin, I saw he noticed my tears once.
“It’s just that I can’t do most of this, but thank you, “ I gasped, happily out of breath, “thank you so much for making a space for me to try!”
“This is your dance, mama. It’s all about moving. You are doing great,” he gallantly lied.
But really, no matter which instructor, the tears would begin to accumulate in my eyes and trickle down my cheeks. I leaked tears even while whipping my arms around like a propeller on a helicopter, and I swallowed the big lump in my throat when I concluded that I wouldn’t ever, never, really, salsa.
That train had left the station, as the Russian proverb goes.
I took pleasure in the older moms dancing with their millennial daughters. I loved watching the younger moms dancing with their kids, and I took comfort in the occasional guys, some awkward boomer men, in shorts and ivy league t-shirts who were even worse than me. Like true masters of the universe, they didn’t mind, and they never cried.
I cried with relief, ’cause I was really good at the grapevine step, (a legacy of folk-dance club in high school, long ago and far away).
I cried ’cause I wished I’d danced more, younger.
I cried because it was so good to be moving and because I could not move more gracefully.
I cried because I was grateful to be part of the great, saucy “cosecha” of ladies, all coming together for an hour of joyful noise and bobbing bodies, for the sheer exuberant hell of it!
I miss crying in Zumba class in the Mission, and I will be first in line when Maria lugs the Gypsy Kings back to Harrison Street.