Drowsy dancing

Afro-Caribbean dance classes are held Tuesday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m. in the Sierra 2 Dance Wing, 2791 24th Street. $12 drop-in or $30 for four classes per month. www.myspace.com/fenixdrumanddance

When do five hours of work feel like 40? When you’re hosting a garage sale.

As anyone who’s ever hawked used housewares on a driveway can attest, haggling about whether a dime is reasonable compensation for a VCR can age you faster than smoking cigarettes in a tanning booth. After a morning of hard bargaining, smart people spend the rest of the day in bed. Foolish people overextend themselves with a trip to a Goodwill donation center before heading home to do the same. Only someone truly idiotic would pick the afternoon after a garage sale to take up Afro-Caribbean dance.

Which explains why I sat in the Sierra 2 Dance Wing last Saturday, my arms sore from carrying boxes across the yard that morning, praying for enough energy to tackle my first Afro-Caribbean dance class. Hosted by members of local performance group Fenix Drum and Dance, the 90-minute class included live drumming. I hoped the rhythms would shake some life into me.

A young woman with bushy hair and a red-and-white skirt tied around her waist peeked around the studio door. “Are you here for the dance class?” she asked. I jumped up, the desire to make a good impression temporarily overriding my fatigue.

She introduced herself as Olivia and invited me to borrow a skirt from a suitcase on the floor. I wanted to look fashionable, but I wasn’t sure how to tie one on. I imagined the skirt falling to my ankles during class, tripping me and sending me careening into the drummers. In the interest of group safety, I stuck with my black yoga pants.

Adults and children, in a surprising variety of ages and ethnicities, chatted in front of the studio’s wall-length mirror. A little girl in a pink leotard announced she’d arrived from gymnastics class, which prompted a tumbling contest with a pony-tailed man in a capoeira T-shirt. Others attempted handstands. I concentrated on staying awake.

We began by moving in rows across the floor. The smallest children were in the first row. I was in the second. Olivia demonstrated a simple side-to-side step. I duplicated the step as she sent the kids across the floor. “This isn’t so hard,” I thought.

Then Olivia demonstrated a much more difficult combination and my confidence sank. The adult moves weren’t so easy. I did my best, using my sarong-wrapped neighbor—obviously a regular—like a cheat sheet.

As the combinations grew increasingly complicated, full of turns and hops, I progressed from barely keeping up to totally blowing it. I was so lost by the last lap that I merely walked across the floor. My accomplished neighbor wagged her finger at me.

“Now we’re going to really dance!” Olivia said, as we regrouped in front of the mirrors. “You’re going to be sweating!” I seriously contemplated running out the door. She pounded out a rhythm on the drums, repeating it until the other drummers caught on. When the boxy room pulsed with the beat, she returned front and center.

Olivia demonstrated a minute-long routine. Her regulars followed along, but the handful of new students looked increasingly bewildered. “There’s no way I’m going to remember this,” the woman next to me whispered.

After we attempted the routine once, Olivia split us into two groups so we could perform with an audience. Without her. The idea that I could execute a routine I’d seen for the first time three minutes ago seemed so crazy, I suddenly believed it might work. Olivia’s sudden-immersion technique would unlock my latent Afro-Caribbean dancer and I’d sail through the steps with precision.

Then the music started and I stumbled like a zombie. I turned the wrong direction. I stepped with the wrong feet. I forgot entire combinations, and I completely forgot to have fun.

It wasn’t until the next day, after I’d slept off both the garage sale and the dancing, that I realized neither activity had exhausted me as much as my own expectations. Next time, I’ll let things go for a dime, and let go of things when I dance.