Pop, jump, clap, party with it

I’ve acquired some pretty silly injuries working this column. I’ve pulled thigh muscles in strip aerobics, overheated in a giant plush cat costume and bruised my dignity more times than I can count. This weekend I reached a new level when I hurt myself by clapping too hard.

I’ve got a goose egg the size of a quarter on my left palm, but it was worth it! What good is life if you can’t get overly excited now and again? If you can’t applaud so enthusiastically that you forget the bounds of your own skin? If you never dance to old-school Michael Jackson in synchronicity with a room full of strangers?

That last item has been a dream of mine ever since my family attempted jerky moonwalks in our living room after Jackson’s appearance on the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever special in 1983. My parents had the Beatles and Ed Sullivan. I had Jackson and his sequined socks. The desire born that day, to move in smoothly choreographed music-video perfection, has never left me.

Of course, I had no way of knowing I’d be dancing to Jackson at Studio T Urban Dance Academy’s Friday night hip-hop workshop. I expected something contemporary, 50 Cent or Jay-Z, but it turns out old school is the new new school.

Ten minutes before the workshop, the Studio T lobby fairly throbbed with the beat of Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative.” I heard the sounds of dance classes in session: rhythmic footfalls and plenty of “five, six, seven, eight!” I followed the music to the nearest classroom and noticed a sign near the door: “No watching! No exceptions.”

Chastened, I studied the kids and adults milling about the lobby instead. I marveled at hip-hop’s ability to attract such a diverse age range, until I realized the adults were parents who had no intention of taking the class. The workshop was for all ages, but if my observations were correct, I would be one of two students who’d completed elementary school. Before I could fully consider the awkward possibilities of crashing a children’s dance class, Tamaira Sandifer, the choreographer who puts the T in Studio T, called us into the room where Bobby Brown had just ceased declaring his prerogative.

Some of the teenagers in the previous class stayed for the workshop, so we ended up with six “shorties” and six adults (or people of adult height, anyway). Though she’d just taught an hour-long class, Sandifer seemed full of energy as she bounced around the room in a gray sweatsuit. She divided us by age into two groups and led us through a warm-up routine in front of a mirrored wall. This included lots of hopping and clapping in unison—which is how I acquired the goose egg.

Then she sent us across the floor dancing increasingly difficult combinations. I kept up fairly well at first, but by the time the instructions went something like “party with it, party with it, step, step, kick, down, pop, jump, clap, party with it, party with it,” I was lost. The moves made sense when I watched Sandifer, but my body couldn’t duplicate them.

Fortunately, she soon led us back to the mirrors. “What do you want, y’all?” Sandifer called out as she walked to the stereo and picked up her iPod. “Old school or new school?”

Most of us were too shy to venture a preference, but her regulars shouted “Old school!”

Sandifer nodded. “How about a little Michael Jackson—before he went crazy?” She put on “Working Day and Night.” As I watched the teens dust off moves I remembered from junior high, I had the sudden epiphany that I am old school, just by virtue of being old.

I didn’t let that stop me, though. Per Sandifer’s instructions, I burned my “shy hat” and gave her improvised hip-hop routine my all—even when I forgot the moves, even when my classmates’ parents defied the sign and came in to watch, even as my palm continued to swell. I did it for Michael, before he went crazy, before we were both old school.