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Everything I Need to Feel Confident I Learned in Kelly Rowland Dance Class

I might have worn the wrong shoes and no deodorant, but I can dance

When one leaves the house, especially for the gym, it behooves one to be wearing deodorant. I wasn’t. Firmly in the "work out AFTER work" club, I was not used to leaving my apartment at 8am to exercise. As such, I forgot not only my deodorant, but my actual gym sneakers, leaving me in my low-top Converse. This would not actually seem so bad, except I was taking a dance class with Destiny’s own Child, Kelly Rowland.

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Rowland’s new show on BET, Chasing Destiny, revolves around her trying to find the next big girl group, "while also coming into her own as a music mogul and #bosslady of her own." She’s helped by choreographer Frank Gatson, who worked with Destiny’s Child and is now Beyonce’s creative director. He’s danced with Michael Jackson, En Vogue, and Usher, and he’s who would be teaching our dance class. The class where I showed up with no deodorant and in inferior shoes. The class that was going to be filmed for promotion, and that Kelly Rowland was going to join any second.

When I think of my own fitness abilities, the word that comes to mind is "competent."

When I think of my own fitness abilities, the word that comes to mind is "competent." I can’t run a mile, and I don’t own a single stitch of Lululemon, but I can do pushups. The same goes for my dancing skills. I dropped out of ballet when I was six, but I did high school theater, and have spent at least 10 hours trying to learn the dance to "Single Ladies" (which Mr. Gatson choreographed). I have no problem dropping into the occasional dance fitness class, but this was different. The point was not fitness, but actual dance, where remembering to point your toes and consider your lines and sell it actually mattered.

I got to Crunch too early and fiddled with my phone until other people started showing up. One of them said that, since we had time to kill, it might be a good idea to warm up on the treadmill. Wanting to seem like I belonged, I agreed, and gulped hard as she set her treadmill to 6.5 mph to start. I teetered along at about 5.5 for five minutes before getting a stitch in my side and dropping down to a quick walk at 4. She hit increase. I excused myself to the bathroom.

There are two schools of workout theory, I believe. First there’s what I call the Outback brand: "No Rules, Just Right."

There are two schools of workout theory, I believe. First there’s what I call the Outback brand: "No Rules, Just Right," no judgments, you do you and don’t worry, no one is watching. This is not great if you’re worried about things like form, or have a hard time motivating yourself, but the benefit is that the only person you have to answer to is yourself, and you can be a very forgiving person. You can even get away with it in a gym class, in the back and with an inattentive teacher. Second is the option is like the Chasing Destiny class, when a real-ass celebrity is going to watch you dance and you just found out you still can’t run a mile. Other than break, your only option is to get motivated.

When Gatson started talking to the class, it took me a few minutes to realize he was the teacher. He’s fit and graceful, but he’s 57 — and I’m apparently an ageist millennial. He spoke about how dance classes have changed, and how he wanted to teach a class where the focus is on the dance and expression, not the workout. He name dropped Cyd Charisse and Dorothy Dandridge. I looked around and found I was somehow in the front. And then I looked down, and saw that Gatson was wearing Converse too.

It’s too easy to say "impostor syndrome." I am not an impostor.

Kelly Rowland with Frank Gatson. Image: Crunch

I deserved to be in that class as much as anyone. What I wanted to be was the best. I wanted Gatson to say I was the best first-time student he’d ever seen. I wanted Kelly Rowland to put me in her next video. My fear wasn’t of inadequacy, but mediocrity. That I’d be fine, but nothing special, and certainly no one memorable.

What I found was that I was good. Not because Gatson told me I was, but because I felt it. Gatson’s teaching put emphasis on style and acting. You have to sell your dance. That’s why nobody noticed when Beyonce nearly fell over at the Superbowl. That’s why everybody loves Left Shark instead of being embarrassed for him.

The moves Gatson taught were simple — there was lots of swaying and snapping — but easy to get lost in. When you didn’t have to think about where your feet were going, it was easy to feel like you knew what you were doing. Maybe the class was designed to make amateur dancers feel professional, or maybe that’s what a good choreographer is capable of.

For an hour we were walking, snapping, turning and jumping, with the occasional inspirational pep talk from Gatson, and the occasional casual sexism. (He was prone to saying things like "The reason so many people don’t like male dancers is they’re in a class with too many women" and "I don’t want men to dance, I want them to stage [ed note: like, macho voguing, I think], and have beautiful females dance around them.") We were getting it, we were feeling good, and then five minutes before the end Kelly Rowland walked in.

It’s too easy to say "impostor syndrome." I am not an impostor.

She looked, of course, perfect. She was wearing a skin-tight, black, off-shoulder dress, a choker, and stilettos that incorporated see-through plastic. Any other moment, my raging imperfections would have become immediately apparent to me. I can’t walk in heels like that, I don’t look like that in a pencil skirt, and chokers make me look ridiculous. But Gatson started up the music (sidenote: we were doing a modified version of the choreography to Beyonce’s "Love on Top," which seems an odd pick for a Kelly Rowland venture?), and I could do it. I was doing it. And I thought I looked pretty damn good.

After the class Kelly said she was impressed. She and Gatson exchanged some cute quips and clapped for us. And then they were gone, just as soon as Kelly had appeared, whisked away to whatever other press business they had going on while the Crunch staff distracted us with free smoothie samples. Nobody told me I was the best in the class. Nobody told me I was even particularly good. But I can do the dance now, and I can sell the shit out of it.

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