Joy and pain

Any failure of my body to find joy at the Body Joy Boogie was probably my fault. Running late, I attempted to “power walk” to the weekly event at the Clunie Community Center, resulting in dehydration, frustration and a freshly strained knee muscle—not the best way to begin a two-hour dance class.

I debated skipping it altogether as I loitered in the lobby, watching a handful of dancers swaying and stretching to mellow Latin music. I didn’t want to disrupt their happy vibes with my throbbing knee and increasingly sour mood.

Then the instructor, retired physical therapist Stacey Dreizler, came out to greet me. Smiling warmly, she gave me a mix CD for dancing at home and a detailed sheet of instructions for the class—which included not talking, listening to one’s body and respecting the space of others. The sheet also explained the evening’s format: a half-hour of self-guided warm-up, followed by an opening circle, 90 minutes of freestyle dancing to a variety of music and then a closing circle. I paid my $15 admission and went inside.

My initial feeling, after joining the six or seven people on the vast auditorium floor, was overwhelming embarrassment. This was so different from the relative anonymity of a nightclub’s dark atmosphere and dense crowds. We were in broad daylight, with the windows open to a steady stream of looky-loos on their way to the McKinley Library.

Feeling shy, I staked out a corner of the room and danced facing the wall. By then, the music had switched to some acoustic guitar number that I could not figure out how to move to. It had no beat. It was the kind of music that begs listeners to throw open their arms and gambol in a field of wild flowers, and, frankly, I wasn’t up to it.

I sat down and tried to look busy stretching. “There’d better be some drums soon,” I thought grumpily. “I am never going to last two hours without drums.”

The next song was the Beatles’ “Come Together.” It was the first and last tune I recognized all evening (the Body Joy repertoire relies heavily on instrumental world-beat music), but it was enough to snap me out of my funk. I got up, and I stayed up for the next hour.

The music got faster, and more people arrived. Eventually, there were about 20 of us spinning and shimmying throughout the room. Occasionally, Dreizler suggested an activity over her microphone headset, like running around greeting other people’s feet with your feet, but mostly we were left on our own.

The longer I moved, the less self-conscious I felt. I was reluctant to interact with others—many of whom seemed to know each other and weren’t shy about improvising duets—but I did my best to let my body lead, as the info sheet suggested. Delighted with its newfound freedom, my body led me to some funky booty shaking, punctuated by slides and hops worthy of Morris Day’s backup dancers. I tried not to judge, but I did have to snap the reins a few times to keep from breaking into the Running Man (never a pretty sight when set to world music). It was embarrassing, sure, but I can honestly say that the Body Joy dance class is the only place in Sacramento where I’ve danced with the same abandon as I do in my living room.

By 8 p.m., I was ravenous and really noticing the pain in my knee. I wanted to leave but didn’t want to seem rude, so I sat and waited for the closing circle. When it finally came, Dreizler asked everyone to say a few words. People threw out positive affirmations like “Reach!” and “Be your authentic selves!” When it was my turn, I let my body lead. “Chips and guacamole,” it said. Then I limped to Tres Hermanas Mexican restaurant for the kind of body joy that comes salted, in a basket, with free salsa.