What’s the best way for a stressed out mom of difficult kids to escape and find some relief? Short of flying the coop and permanently abandoning your offspring, every mother should avail herself of a temporary release. Dare I say “me time?” I’m not talking about the occasional vacation—which usually involves the chicks and its own anxieties and preparations. I’m talking about self- mothering. Self-nurturing will be different for each mom, depending on her budget and time constraints. But all women should heed the advice of magazines that extol the virtues of exercise, manicures, and massages, in addition to finding a hobby that’s inspiring or rejuvenating.
For me, dance class is that hobby. But it can’t be any old boring dance-exercise class, where you jump up and down on a platform while heaving weights in the air. Been there, done that, and have the injuries and eroded cartilage to prove it. Now that I’m—gulp— in my late 50s, I need to dance more selectively and thoughtfully. A challenging but mostly-low impact routine I can follow is the first requirement (safety first!) Next, it MUST be fun. That means no rap music, and nothing loud, atonal, tedious or too angry. I can read about violence, politics and global warming in the newspaper from the comfort of my couch. In dance class I need show tunes, jazz, rock n roll, Motown, pop tunes—just mix it up and keep adding new songs.
As for the teacher, he/she MUST have a good physique. If the instructor is overweight and flabby, and is in worse shape than I am in my 50s, well, sorry, call me bitchy or uncharitable, but I’m NOT impressed or inspired. And I don’t like the teachers who demonstrate a routine and then only do half of it, exhorting the students to finish the rest from the sidelines, like a surly over-privileged coach. I’m also not keen on the young super-duper dancers with complicated choreography who expect me to learn lots of steps immediately. Who gave these young, whipper snapper exercise teachers permission to become nasty and condescending if I don’t catch on as quickly as the 20-something student next to me?
Some people might say I’m impossible to please. But not quite. For more than 10 years, I took a wonderful class at Equinox called Move N’ Groove with James Darling. After James left, I—along with his many other devoted students—felt bereft. We all missed James’s amazing energy, his wonderful music and the pure joy of watching him dance while we tried to keep up. He was fun and gorgeous and all ours for an inspiring and endorphin producing hour. After James left, all of us ladies (and a few men)—mostly in our 40s, 50s and 60s—suffered through the dud-of-the-week replacements, wondering if we could ever recapture the joy of dance we’d experienced with James.
But now there’s a new kid on the block. We will always miss James, but Matthew Johnson is amazing in his own way. A slim and wiry 25, Matthew is the answer to a depressed mother’s prayers (and anyone else who might be down in the dumps or going through a crisis). He is always smiling (yes, always) and radiating positive energy. He’s actually grateful for the opportunity to be teaching a bunch of mostly middle-aged and older women (who tend to be a LOT less cheerful and energetic). Wouldn’t Matthew rather be singing and dancing on Broadway where he clearly belongs? Are we dance students falling in love with someone destined to leave us for those bright lights?
Matthew assures us his dream is to dance with us in the mornings, relax in the afternoon and then perform on stage at night. We almost believe him. But no matter, we say, carpe diem. He plays music from the 60s, songs from Hair, All that Jazz, Beyonce, Tina Turner. Some songs are constant–“Africa” and “Let the Sunshine In”– but new ones are always being added. In the beginning, Matthew had classes with musical themes. There were “diva classes” and classes with “older” music. Ah, how we baby boomers love those oldies.
At the beginning of every class, Matthew welcomes us, says that we make his day (!?) At first I didn’t believe him. What planet does he come from? Is it in our solar system? All I can think of is the deli scene from Harry Met Sally when Meg Ryan sounds like she’s having an orgasm, and the woman ordering her meal at the next table says: “I’ll have what she’s having.”
Although it’s hard to believe that anyone can be so joyful and positive week after week, somehow our dance teacher manages. Every week Matthew scrawls an inspiring word up on the mirror with a hashtag: courage, inspiration, energy, etc. This week it was #legacy. “Think about what you want to leave behind,” he says, after telling us how awesome he thinks we are.
I didn’t think it was possible to end every class with “Let the Sunshine In” and still feel exhilarated. All I can say is that the tired, discouraged moms rushing off to work or home, leave Matthew’s dance class shining with sweat, happy and serene, (at least for a little while). Maybe it’s contagious. Everyone is smiling, even me.
We thank him and he thanks us. “It’s all about positive energy,” he says.