The Handmaid’s Tale: When My Zumba-Loving Heart Hit the Dance Floor

In Houston, Texas, Zumba is what God hath intendeth it to be. You will never […]

Sarah Condon / 5.23.17

In Houston, Texas, Zumba is what God hath intendeth it to be. You will never hear a song in English because it is almost exclusively Latin music. Praise Jesus. Also, you will not hear many words spoken in English either. All of my teachers have been native Spanish speakers. Which is perfect, because many of the classes participants are too. So, Spanglish it is. God bless Texas. And Houston. #sanctuarycity4lyfe

Some years ago, I attended my first Zumba class when we lived in Westchester County, New York. To say the least, I was not impressed. The music was mostly from the 70s and the environment felt oddly competitive for a group of people who were learning to do the Hustle (again). Of course, this is an apt description of much of my time in Westchester County, everything is very important and very serious, even Zumba. So when we lived there, I just danced in the kitchen a lot by myself.

As a child, I remember watching my mother head off to Jazzercise classes in the late 80s and she never looked serious to me. She looked playful and ready to boogie. And let’s be real, Zumba is the Jazzercise of our era.

These days, my one hour of Zumba is the best part of my week. I know I should be saying that it is church but God don’t like liars. And I don’t have to haul my children with me to Zumba class.

To be clear, I am a terrible dancer. In college I took a ballet class on a whim and the professor asked if I could “just stand in the back for the semester.” I’m like real bad. And in Zumba class, this is obvious to everyone. There are huge mirrors, loads of lighting, and a mass of moving bodies. On more than one occasion I have seen a very pale arm fly up at the wrong moment and thought, “That girl needs to get it together,” only to realize it was my alabaster appendage that was gloriously off beat.

Recently, I was enduring and enjoying another episode of The Handmaid’s Tale and my Zumba-loving heart fell right to the floor. If you’re not familiar with the book/series, it portrays a kind of “new America,” ruled by a far right Christian totalitarian government, where the great catastrophe is that people can rarely get pregnant. And so, the very few women who can conceive are forced to become “handmaids” who produce babies for the country’s elite. Put more clearly, women who can still get pregnant are raped so that rich families can continue to have children.

At the center of the story is a handmaid named June. Over the course of the season, we don’t just bear witness to June’s currently terrifying existence, but we see her history, we see what her life was like before everything changed.

In the third episode of the season, there’s a flashback scene of June and her friend going for a run. They look like any other normal women out for a breath of fresh air and some exercise. What is decisively not normal are the expressions on the faces of the strangers they pass. People glance at June’s sports bra and glistening skin with total disgust. Then, when June and her friend end up in a coffee shop, they are refused service and called “sluts.” The culture around them is shifting. Almost overnight, women are expected to solely be home with children (and clothed like Colonial Williamsburg).

Long before June lost her total freedom, she lost the freedom to take a jog. I cannot exactly explain why, but the scene will not leave me.

Christianity is full of demands for justice movements we should all be a part of. I look at the news and feel the anxious weight of feminism, of conversations about women’s bodies, the helpless poor, immigrants, soldiers and their families, and countless other people on the fringes of our society. And I feel totally and utterly helpless. I can call my senators. I can write lengthy statements on Facebook. Hell, I can drag my kids to a protest.

I realize that dancing at a Zumba class is inadequate in the eyes of the world, that it is not the solution to abuse and every other societal injustice. But it feels like a small prayer to me. And for that reason, I do not believe it is inadequate in the eyes of God. That a group of women of all shapes and sizes, of so many skin colors, can gather in a room in Houston, Texas and dance to a language many of us do not speak, feels important, oddly defiant, and enormously comforting.

For a while, I beat myself up about drawing such a grandiose conclusion from an aerobics class. But I stopped that. Zumba reminds me that I am the goofy, tall, uncoordinated white girl in the room, joyfully grateful that I can dance without worry to music from beyond perceived walls with people who God loves.

What I do is enough because God is enough. And God has placed me in this very moment, in this very time, to show up and dance.